How to choose a helmet or virtual reality glasses
As you know, a person uses several types of sensory systems, sense organs to coordinate his actions and obtain information about the world around him. In addition, even with its lack, the brain can think out what is happening (which is called imagination). At the same time, with the development of technology, our imagination is used less and less (for better or worse). Let’s explain this statement:
When any electronics, and simply electrical appliances did not exist, the main means of transmitting information were text and static pictures, drawings. In the case when a person reads, for example, a book, his imagination is used to the maximum. In the case of paintings and drawings, one has to think about what happens outside the depicted moment in time.
With the advent of cinema and television, a person got the opportunity to receive information using a moving picture combined with sound. It can be said that at this moment the information began to be presented in a ready-made form, without requiring additional efforts from a person.
However, in the real world, unlike in the cinema, we can interact with what is happening around us at any time. With the advent of computer technology, this became possible in fictional worlds: the so-called virtual reality appeared. It differs from cinema in its interactivity property: here we can move and interact with objects. For the most part, this is used in computer games. However, at first, computer graphics were so primitive that they did not even allow one to get closer to cinema in the details of the image.
With the advent of advanced 3D graphics, this detail appeared, but there were additional obstacles to immersion in a fictional world. For example, here are two of them:
- The human visual system uses the stereo effect to determine the distance to objects. For this we have two eyes. A flat picture of a computer monitor does not give this effect.
- Thanks to the turns and tilts of the head, we can better navigate in space. With classic mouse and keyboard control, the direction of a virtual character’s gaze is controlled with the help of hands, and it is clear that this is one of the barriers for our brain to perceive what is happening on the screen as reality.
In order for these two obstacles to disappear, so-called virtual reality helmets were developed. They are worn on the head and completely close the eyes, forming a separate picture for each of them using a display and lenses.
In addition, the design of these helmets contains orientation sensors in space, thanks to which the movements of the user’s head are transmitted to the virtual character.
To shorten the expression virtual reality, the abbreviation VR is used, and we will use it.
One of the first non-professional VR helmets appeared in 1995 and was called Forte VFX1, however, the graphics in games then were not the same as they are now, and it is not as popular as the manufacturer would like.
Now computer graphics have improved, and we can observe a new round of development of such devices. Consider their main representatives.
The development of the Oculus Rift helmet began in 2012, however, since the manufacturer had to invent everything from scratch, the so-called developer versions initially appeared.
The custom version is called the Oculus Rift CV1 and hit the market in 2016.
Oculus Rift CV1 Helmet
Oculus Rift CV1 works on the following principle: the image of the device is displayed on two OLED displays with a resolution of 1920×1200, and, using a lens system, an image is formed for each eye. The refresh rate is 90 Hz, while the displays have a low response time, which is very important for such a device. The helmet is connected to a device called a control box, which, in turn, connects to a computer via HDMI (or DVI) and USB connectors.
A feature of the Oculus Rift is that motion tracking occurs here using Constellation infrared sensors, which are placed in the room and register the location of the LEDs located on the device itself.
The disadvantage of such a system is that if there is an obstacle between the sensor and the helmet, malfunctions appear. Therefore, the manufacturer recommends purchasing additional Constellation sensors.
The Oculus Rift requires a fairly powerful computer to run, as the graphics card here works with double the load (displaying a picture for each eye).
What about controls in games? The simplest manipulator for working with VR games is a gamepad, and it comes with the basic version.
However, for the full experience in Oculus Rift, you need to purchase special manipulators Oculus Touch.
Oculus Touch Manipulators
For each hand, a separate manipulator with a motion sensor is used here. Each of the controllers has an analog stick, three buttons, and two triggers, one of which controls the «taking» of items in the game.
However, to register movements, the controllers must be turned towards the receiver, which again limits the player’s freedom of movement. In fact, you need four Constellations for maximum sensitivity and coverage, which is an additional expense. This is the main disadvantage of this system.
This helmet was developed in collaboration between two companies, HTC — the manufacturer of smartphones and Valve — the developer of the Steam gaming platform and various games.
Helmet HTC Vive
It differs from the Oculus Rift in that special base stations are used for positioning, scanning the space around with the help of laser beams. They look like black boxes, which are recommended to be mounted in diagonally opposite corners of the room, at a height.
HTC Vive Base Stations
Of all the VR helmets available for sale, the HTC Vive stands out in that the two base stations that come with the kit can cover a space of up to 5×5 meters, making it accessible for movement during the game. In fact, that’s twice the footprint of an Oculus Rift with three Constellation sensors.
The resolution of the HTC Vive is the same as that of the Oculus Rift, i.e. 1080×1200 for each eye, the refresh rate is also 90Hz.
HTC Vive comes with specialized manipulators right away; instead of an analog stick, a round touchpad is used here.
Manipulators HTC Vive
Sony PlayStation VR
As the name implies, the PlayStation VR is a device of a slightly different kind than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — this helmet is designed for the Sony PlayStation 4 game console.
PlayStation VR helmet
The PlayStation VR helmet itself has a simple and comfortable head mount that adjusts faster than the aforementioned competitors. In addition, the image here has a higher refresh rate — 120 Hz, which contributes to a smoother picture. The supported maximum resolution is 1920X1080, and only half of it is used for each of the eyes, and this is understandable, it “rests” on the capabilities of the set-top box.
The motion controllers used here are the Playstation Move with a camera and are not included with the helmet. In fact, this motion tracking system was developed in 2010, even for the previous generation of set-top boxes.
VR headsets designed for use with smartphones
As you can see, the resolution and screen sizes in the above helmets are similar to those of smartphones. So why not use a smartphone in such a device? The positive side of this solution will be the low cost of the product, since it will not include electronic components. The smartphone will be able to display a picture and use its own sensors to track the movement of the head. Given all these properties, many manufacturers produce glasses and helmets that work on this principle. Let’s talk about them using the example of Xiaomi helmets and glasses.
Xiaomi Mi VR
This device, indeed, can be called a helmet, because outwardly it strongly resembles the PlayStation VR.
Xiaomi Mi VR Helmet
However, the similarity is only superficial: a smartphone is inserted into the helmet, and the built-in lenses focus the image for the user’s eyes. At the same time, the image on the smartphone consists of two parts, that is, the screen is divided into two halves, each of which displays a picture for its own eye.
Xiaomi Mi VR Toy Version
This is a simpler option, this configuration can also be called VR glasses.
Xiaomi Mi VR Toy Version
The technical difference from the previous version is that the glasses are smaller and are attached to the head with straps. The very principle of operation is the same.
How to choose?
So, we have described some of the most common solutions for virtual reality, how to choose from them?
To do this, you need to answer a few questions for yourself:
The first question is what will the device be used for? If you are a gamer and are going to play with a VR helmet, then a lot depends on the platform. On a personal computer, as usual, more options, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive display a high quality picture for each eye, with the possibility of improving graphics in the future by upgrading the video card. PlayStation VR is inferior to them in terms of performance, but is cheaper and much easier to set up.
If you’re just going to try VR technology, or don’t pursue big game projects, or just watch 3D videos, then you can try smartphone-based options.
The second question is how much space am I willing to allocate for my entertainment? If you want to play standing up, using a large area of the room, then out of the box it will be preferable to HTC Vive, it is he who is “sharpened” to work in this mode. If you are not going to walk around the room, then you can buy the basic version of the Oculus Rift, which comes with a gamepad in the kit.
The third question is how well I tolerate the use of a virtual reality helmet, will I be “sick” (yes, there is such a problem)? To answer this question, you can use one of the demonstration stands of VR helmets, information about the location of which can be found on the Internet. At the same time, it is better to try different helmets, since the speed of the sensors and the refresh rate differ in different solutions, and negative symptoms can be associated with this.
When choosing a VR helmet, you immediately pay attention to several points. Firstly, these devices differ quite a lot in price, so what your budget will have a huge impact on the choice.
The second point is that it is quite difficult to understand how it all works without trying it in practice. To solve this problem, as mentioned, it is better to find device demonstration stands.
The third one — how relevant the device will be — depends heavily on content developers, because without it, VR devices are useless.
In any case, the opportunity to try is there, and you can decide what you want.
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