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VR headset (virtual reality headset)

A virtual reality headset is a heads-up display (HUD) that allows users to interact with simulated environments and experience a first-person view (FPV). VR headsets replace the user’s natural environment with virtual reality content, such as a movie, a game or a prerecorded 360-degree VR environment that allows the user to turn and look around, just as in the physical world.

Although virtual reality has been around for years, the tethered hardware to experience it has traditionally been expensive, bulky and power-hungry. Today, mobile VR headsets, which are basically goggles that will hold a smartphone, have allowed VR apps to spread into the consumer market. The goal of each type of VR headset is to provide the viewer with an experience that is so real, the headset itself is forgotten.

VR apps for both mobile and tethered apps incorporate technology such as gaze tracking, IR sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers to move the user’s point of view in a natural manner. Mobile apps often include stereo sound, while tethered apps may feature surround or even 3D sound. Development challenges for all VR apps and headsets include eliminating latency to reduce viewer disorientation, headache and nausea.

Types of VR headsets:

Oculus Rift - a computer-based system that reignited interest in virtual reality when the Oculus VR startup launched a successful Kickstarter campaign. Rift works with positioning technology that lets the user move physically through 3D space and has Touch controllers.

Microsoft’s Hololens - a standalone VR headset. The system features 3D spatialized sound, Wi-Fi, a Kinect-like camera with a 120-degree spatial sensing system, a fleet of gyroscopes and accelerometers and a transparent screen for each eye.

HTC Vive - plugs into a powerful gaming PC for its performance. Dual base stations allow users to move freely through a 15' X 15' area. The system was developed collaboratively with Portal, a video game software company.

PlayStation VR - works with PlayStation 4 rather than a PC. The system duplicates the headset VR display on a TV.

Samsung Gear VR - a smartphone container that uses the phone's processing power. The system, which works with high-end Samsung Galaxy models, was developed in collaboration with Oculus VR.

Google Cardboard - a low-cost, smartphone container made of plain cardboard. There are a number of inexpensive headsets based on the original open source model.

This was last updated in March 2016

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