Since the late 1990s, there have been different iterations of consumer-level virtual reality (VR).
Initially, panoramic virtual reality photography, in which a 360-degree environment could be explored on a computer, was in the forefront of the VR movement. It has now advanced to encompass stereographic, also known as 3D, presentations by means of a head-mounted display (HMD), such as the Google Cardboard and the Oculus Rift.
Time-based media, like video and audio, have enlisted virtual reality in the service of advancing a narrative or exploring and engaging with the virtual world of a videogame. This type of VR can be present either on a computer, a smartphone display or with an HMD.
Academic and medical researchers have explored the use of VR to enhance empathy and assist in physical and emotional health outcomes. The adoption of VR in these and other arenas may depend upon the solution of some technical issues: a significant percentage of users continue to report discomfort or nausea with head-mounted VR devices.
The best VR technologies still require the user to be tethered to a powerful computer. With advanced image-processing hardware, however, both of these VR limitations may be soon overcome. VR contact lenses, anyone?
Howard Goldbaum is an associate professor and graduate program director at the Reynolds School of Journalism. He researches the ancient monuments of Ireland and their folklore and uses VR to document the landscapes. He is also the creator of the All Around Nevada website and the co-author of a book of historic railroad 3D photographs.