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What Are the Different Types of Virtual Reality Systems?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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Stereoscopic displays, haptic systems, and augmented reality are virtual reality systems available to individual consumers and industries alike. Virtual reality systems allow people to view three-dimensional (3D) movies on a television screen and to interact with virtual reality images superimposed on real life environments. These technologies can be used for entertainment, as training tools, and as rehabilitative aids.

Some virtual reality systems provide an altered visual experience that transforms 2D images into 3D images. For decades, industries created this effect by filming images at different camera angles, which produced a 3D effect when viewed while wearing stereoscopic lenses. 3D televisions and advanced imaging displays create the same effect without requiring additional eyewear. Virtual reality games create the sense of a multi-dimensional environment by changing the viewing angle of the game camera through remote controls. Gamers have the option of playing games on 3D TVs or by using eyewear.

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Some electronic eyewear devices provide stereoscopic scene views while others attach to game units or personal computers and project large or life-sized 3D virtual reality environments. More advanced technology includes devices equipped with head tracking sensors, providing users with the sense of being surrounded by the virtual reality environment. By changing head positions up, down, or sideways, players visualize the game scene as if standing in a real environment. Computer simulated environments take this experience one-step further by incorporating movable platforms that tilt and turn in accordance with what occurs on the screen, creating a haptic interface.

Haptic systems are virtual reality systems that provide viewers with a combination of audio, visual, and tactile effects. This technology generally requires stereoscopic glasses in addition to sensory gloves, vests, or moving platforms. Sensors detect body movement and create the corresponding physical sensations. Headgear contains stereo audio output while providing 3D head tracking visualizations. Sensory gloves may detect arm and hand movements and display these actions on the screen.

Full haptic interface gloves send tactile sensations back to the participant in the form of pressure or vibrations. Similarly, haptic sensory vests detect physical location and respond with physical multi-directional pressure. Besides being popular for gaming environments, these virtual reality systems train pilots with flight simulation, soldiers in combat situations, and medical students in surgical procedures. Advanced prosthetic limbs contain haptic sensory technology, enabling patients to experience tactile sensations through the device or to control a limb using mental stimulation.

Using specially designed headgear, cameras, or finger sensors, individuals experience augmented reality systems similar to the technology sometimes seen in popular science fiction movies. These virtual reality systems allow users to produce and manipulate virtual life objects in real life in the form of three-dimensional displays or other forms of visual data. The technology enables users to rearrange virtual furniture in a real living space or to view additional information concerning a product or destination while simultaneously viewing the actual item or location.

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