SALTZMAN: Mind-blowing things you can do in virtual reality

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If you think today’s video games are exciting — between its photorealistic graphics, surround sound, and massively multiplayer maps — wait until you step into the world of virtual reality (“VR”).

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Simply slip on a lightweight headset, and you’ll be transported to a fully immersive digital world, complete with 360-degree visuals, tied to head tracking, which means wherever you turn your head in real life (up, down, side-to -side, or even looking behind you), it’s as if you’re looking at this virtual world with your own eyes.

This effect is so realistic, it can trick your brain into thinking what you see is the real deal.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Audio is also “spatialized” in a VR world; Therefore, you can hear sounds all around you, such as a moaning zombie creeping up from behind you.

And most VR systems let you “touch” virtual content by using a controller in each hand, or in some cases, using nothing but your hands (because a camera in the headset sees your hands in real life).

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How to get going

All you need is a virtual reality system and some content you can download (a lot of it is free, too).

The latest virtual reality systems don’t plug into anything — as all content is stored in memory inside the headset itself — but other VR solutions might require a PC, video game console, or smartphone.

With standalone VR headsets like Meta’s popular Oculus Quest 2 (from $459), simply plug into the wall or a computer’s USB port to charge up, just as you would your smartphone.

With most VR systems, you’ll be prompted to establish a play area around you using a controller, and should you accidentally get too close to something, such as a wall, you may see a faint outline of the real-world object while inside your virtual world, to alert you. Some games can be played while sitting down, too.

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Most headsets can fit comfortably over eyeglasses.

The ‘metaverse’ is coming

VR experiences are perfect for video game fans, naturally. After all, even while playing on a huge TV or PC monitor, you can still see the four edges of the screen, which could break suspension of disbelief.

With VR, you’re “in” the game.

But the applications for VR go well beyond gaming, especially in the near future, when the “metaverse” materializes.

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While definitions vary a little, the metaverse will be a comprehensive (and connected) virtual world, in which to work, play, learn, transact, and socialize, using a combination of VR and AR (augmented reality) technology.

With major companies behind it — including the likes of Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, Apple, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Unity, Qualcomm, and Roblox, to name a few — the metaverse will also fuse the digital with the physical, like two friends attending a concert: one is there in person and wearing AR glasses, so it looks like her friend is there beside him, like a hologram, though she is at home donning a VR headset and also enjoying the show.

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Or, while in the metaverse, you invite a friend over to the digital home you built, decorated with pieces of art you own (via NFTs: non-fungible tokens), and your two “avatars” hang out and watch a flick together on what appears to be the equivalent of a 200-foot TV.

You get the idea.

Other applications for VR, AR

While their metaverse is mostly conceptual at this point, there are several non-gaming applications for virtual reality today:

— VR Videos: VR apps stores are loaded with 360-degree videos that make you feel like you’re right there, whether it’s a virtual trip to an African safari, watching a Cirque du Soleil performance, riding a new rollercoaster (that you may never step onto in real life), underwater adventures, or footage from space, to name awe-inspiring examples.

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These images are recorded with special “stereoscopic” cameras, for you to view with a left and right eye inside the headset. Simply do a search at your favorite VR app store (like Oculus) and you will find hundreds of free videos.

— VR Therapy: There are several companies offering virtual reality-based therapy sessions, sometimes with a licensed professional you can talk to from home in real-time, while other VR programs offer prerecorded or AI (artificial intelligence)-guided sessions.

Using videos and computer-generated images, Samsung launched a series of free #BeFearless applications to help face your fears, be it heights (acrophobia), public speaking (glossophobia), or spiders (arachnophobia). By virtually and gradually introducing the subject over time, it is meant to desensitize the user, so that it may help overcome the fear in real life. Similarly, a free Winnipeg-based app called Beyond VR helps overcome public speaking, too.

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— VR Sports: Imagine sitting courtside, where Drake chills at a Toronto Raptors game, and watching the professional players up-close-and-personal from that vantage point — even though you’re in the comfort of your own home.

With headtracking, you’re watching the ball go up and down the court by turning your head left and right, inside the headset. Before being acquired by Apple in 2020, NextVR specialized in streaming live sporting events, but the company has gone silent since the purchase, and so VR (and sports) enthusiasts are hoping NextVR comes back even stronger with Apple as a parent company.

— More VR applications: VR is also being used for education (such as traveling through the human body in a science class), for shopping (virtually walking around malls, perhaps if you’re not able to do so in real life), communication (chat rooms, boardroom meetings, and online dating), fitness and dance (including apps like Supernatural, FitXR, Oh Shape and Beat Saber), artistic expression (virtual painting, music collaboration), and more.

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