February 19, 2020
Virtual and Augmented Reality: A Brief Explainer .
What is virtual or augmented reality?
Virtual (VR) and augmented (AR) reality are created when you project a computer-generated 3-D world or object onto a screen. Augmented reality adds computer-generated elements to a live view of the world around you, such as an object or some text, while virtual reality immerses you completely in 3-D images through a headset. While VR and AR can be used in many different ways- from playing an immersive game fighting off aliens on another planet to practicing a brain surgery using 3-D models of a patient.
How does VR/AR work?
The digital worlds you see inside a VR headset are very similar to video games—they are based on 3-D computer-generated environments that have been around for a long time in the games you play on a wireless device, TV or computer. The main difference with VR is that instead of looking at just one flat view of a world on a traditional rectangular screen, you see projections inside a headset, such as the HTC Vive, that cover your entire field of vision by splitting an image over two screens, one for each eye. This difference is what gives VR and AR such a realistic and immersive feel.
To enhance this effect, many headsets use headphones that adjust the ambient noise around you in the virtual environment the same way noise would change as you move through the real world. If a bird was chirping in a tree, turning towards it would help you hear it better, for example. In VR and AR, programmers can use this feature to make the environment feel more real—like by adding bubbling noises to a virtual underwater world, or the sizzling sound of some bacon frying up on your virtual stove.
The human eye is a sophisticated image processor, so it’s important to have the right computing power for VR and AR. The images inside a headset need to have a fast frame rate—around 60 frames per second—to trick your eyes into thinking they’re looking at a real environment. Processing that frame rate quickly in every part of a 3-D world has been made much easier by recent technological advances in latency reduction on 5G networks—so much so that VR and AR are easy to use even on your smartphone.
Wireless and VR
Today’s smartphones are perfect tools for experiencing the benefits of VR and AR. You can use your smartphone to watch a short film shot in VR about reef conservation in Indonesia, or open up Pokémon Go and catch a new creature projected onto a live view of the sidewalk in front of you through your smartphone’s camera.
With the advent of 5G, the possibilities for VR and AR on our wireless devices will explode. 5G’s ultra-low latency— a fivefold reduction from the latency of existing 4G networks — will make the frame rate required for seamless VR/AR viewing possible anywhere you can connect to a wireless network. 5G will have speeds up to 100 times faster than current 4G networks, meaning that data-intensive processes like VR and AR will run effortlessly on a wireless device.
Thanks to a combination of innovative headsets and high-tech computing, VR and AR provide a transformative way to view digital content and experience the world. This immersive technology enables 3-D training tools useful across industries from healthcare to the military, creates virtual worlds not only for entertainment but useful for healing mental health traumas like PTSD, and enhances education by showing students the places and topics they are studying in a new way. As 5G rollouts continue across the United States, wireless is poised to take us to new frontiers in the digital world.