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What Makes VR Looks Real?

Virtual reality technology is getting better and more accessible. You can use it to play games, teach technical skills, or present experiential marketing campaigns to customers. Just put on a headset and you’re suddenly somewhere else. It’s all possible thanks to stereoscopic technology. That’s what makes VR look real. And the history of this technical magic trick starts long before the digital age.

The human body has binocular vision. That means most people view the world through two eyes. Because our eyes are positioned side-by-side, our brains are able to combine that input into a single image.

In reality, each of your eyes sees from a slightly different angle. That means each eye projects a subtly different image back to your retina. Every time you look at something, your brain performs a magic trick. It turns two slightly different views into one 3D image. That trick is what makes red and blue 3D glasses, those View-Master toys you had as a kid, and the more advanced technology of VR feel real. Let’s find out why.

The View-Master brought stereoscopic technology to the toybox with round disks of film that children could click through to view 3D images. Several toy companies have produced variations of this toy over the years.

Making VR Look Real with Stereoscopy

All of that work to refine stereoscopy helped researchers make VR look real. Virtual reality is a fully immersive computer-simulated environment that uses an advanced form of stereoscopy. Replacing glasses with headsets blocks ambient light so users only see the simulated environment. Some add headphones, motion sensors, and even gesture controls to fully immerse all of the senses in a virtual world.

The most popular way to experience virtual reality is with a VR headset. Virtual reality headsets use a stereoscopic display to give three-dimensional depth to what you are seeing. Like stereoscopic technology before it, the headset shows each eye a slightly different angle of the same scene. The YouTube video below is an animation designed to be viewed with a VR headset.

Many companies have jumped on the VR bandwagon. Oculus–owned by Facebook–was one of the first big players. Today companies like Samsung, Valve, HTC, HP and Microsoft all offer VR headsets. Google even has a low-tech cardboard headset that works with a smartphone.

The Future of VR and Stereoscopy

Game developers aren’t the only ones taking advantage of VR technology. The medical field has been using virtual reality to train doctors and to help war veterans cope with PTSD.

The pandemic plunged VR technology into the mainstream. Educational institutions are simulating hands-on experiences for students and companies are training employees using VR technology. Museums offer VR experiences to patrons who can’t visit in person. And brands create VR experiences to engage customers and sell products. This renewed interest in VR technology shows that necessity really is the mother of invention.

But none of this would be possible without stereoscopic technology. Today we use it to make VR look real so we can train employees, entertain ourselves, sell products, and improve our lives. What will stereoscopy do for us next? The possibilities are limited only by our vision.


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