Virtual Reality, what's the real deal?

Take an adventure from the comfort of your armchair with VR technology.

Virtual Reality

Imagine being able to take a balloon ride over the Grand Canyon, a stroll around the Palace of Versailles or even an out-of-this-world spacewalk in a distant galaxy – and all without leaving the safety and comfort of your own home.

These are just some of the exciting possibilities of virtual reality. As it’s name suggests, virtual reality—or VR—allows you to step out of the real world and into a pretend one that seems real.

It uses computer hardware and software to place you into a digitally created environment complete with realistic images, sounds and other sensations.

These digitally created environments could be real world settings or entirely imaginary.

In most cases, VR involves users wearing a special headset with motion sensors that detect which way you are looking and two small lenses that feed images to your eyes.

Speakers or headphones provide any sound whilst handheld controllers are sometimes used to let you touch or interact with objects, animals or people.

By detaching you from external stimuli VR is highly immersive, making it easier for you to be entirely focused on your digital world.

A virtual world of possibilities

VR is still in its infancy but it has the potential to deliver revolutionary benefits across so many different areas and activities.

Not only does it bring an exciting new dimension to computer games but it could also transform how we enjoy entertainment. When you watch a film, you’ll be surrounded by video making you feel like you’re right at the heart of the action.

There are impressive possibilities for education and training too. Students will be able to take a class trip to ancient Egypt or a tour along the bottom of the ocean. Trainee doctors and pilots will be able to hone their skills without any risk to safety.

In addition, engineers and architects will be able to prototype and test new designs and components in a virtual environment before attempting to do so in the real world.

VR will also enable us to indulge in virtual tourism, visiting far-flung destinations and landmarks, and to go internet shopping like never before. Imagine being able to walk into a clothes shop with infinite shelf space, where you can try on every item on sale.

In one recently reported case, a veteran used VR to revisit a French town he helped to liberate in the Second World War. Frank Mouque was a corporal in the 263 Field Company of the Royal Engineers which freed the town of Armentières from Nazi occupation in 1944.

Now 91 and a Chelsea Pensioner, Frank was treated to the virtual reality experience ahead of Remembrance Sunday. It enabled him to see and hear messages of thanks from residents of the town without leaving the Royal Hospital Chelsea and also to receive a medal from the town’s mayor.

Experiencing VR

VR can currently be experienced in a number of different ways with differing levels of cost. For just £15 you can buy Google Cardboard, which - with the help of an app - enables you to turn any smartphone in to a VR viewer.

Other smartphone-based products include Samsung Gear VR which is designed for use with the latest Samsung phones.

More powerful VR systems entail a headset attached by a cable to either a computer games console or a high spec PC. These systems include Oculus Rift, Sony Playstation VR and HTC Vive. The price of these more powerful systems varies - from around £349 to £689.

If you’d like to learn more about VR, many technology stores stage regular demonstrations enabling you to explore this new technology free of charge.

Have you tried VR? If so we’d love to know what you think. Email