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What is Virtual Reality? Learn About the Basics of VR

Feature Blog Posts | MATE | 27 March 2024

What was once seen as pure science fiction has now become a household commodity. In the last ten years alone, virtual reality (VR) has made incredible leaps forward in terms of technology, usability and accessibility. VR allows us to engage with computer-generated environments in ways we can’t with traditional screens alone.

VR has the power to reshape the way we interact with digital formats—from how we communicate with other people, to how we work and perform our jobs. But what is VR, and how will this amazing technology continue to evolve, change, and impact our lives? 

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality is an immersive form of technology that enables users to experience and interact with a computer-generated environment. This artificial reality can be designed to mimic real-world settings or a totally fantastical landscape; it all depends on the use and purpose of the simulation. 

This immersive experience is achieved through a blend of virtual reality devices and systems that track the user’s movements and adjust the virtual environment in real time. The result is that you feel completely present within this digital realm. 

The evolution of virtual reality technology

How much do you know about the origins and evolution of VR? The journey from speculative fiction to household technology was slow to start with but has swept forward at an astonishingly fast rate in the last few years. This is all thanks to the latest developments and advancements in technology. 

The first ever VR headset can be traced back to the 1960s, with Morton Heilig’s invention known as the Telesphere Mask. The design of this headset resembles the modern VR headsets we’re used to seeing today—like the HTC Vive and the Meta Quest (formerly known as the Occulus). The user would position the headset over their eyes (just like you would a more modern headset), allowing them to see a wide-vision image in 3D and hear stereo sound. While there was no motion tracking involved, the Telesphere Mask is considered by many today to be the original precursor to modern VR headsets.

Making VR a household commodity

The earliest attempts at VR headsets were cumbersome, heavy and expensive. This limited their accessibility to the general public. However, the 1990s saw significant advancements in VR technology that paved the way for the VR headsets we know and love today. While not all the VR developments of this time were commercially successful, we can still see how they influenced and inspired today’s models. 

There have been a few different iterations of VR headsets in the last decade. Each new version promises to be more lightweight and comfortable, more responsive, and more immersive than the last. And with each new step forward, companies are finding ways to make this technology more accessible and inclusive. 

Games like Beat Saber and No Man’s Sky have enjoyed hyper-popularity for years now, entertaining kids and adults alike. VR game development is only getting stronger and stronger; an abundance of quirky puzzle games, intensive fitness routines and pure adrenaline-pumping first-person shooters ensure that there is a VR game for every member of the household. 

As VR headsets become more affordable, and the range of games continues to expand to meet everyone’s tastes, VR has gone from a futuristic form of entertainment for a select few, to a growing household commodity. As we begin to see significant shifts in the way that we interact with technology, and VR tech in particular, the introduction of affordable, multi-purpose headsets as an everyday commodity may not be that far away. 

The mechanics behind virtual reality: How does it work?

There are a lot of different components of VR that work together to create a realistic simulated experience. From tactile feedback to the intricate, pixel-perfect details of your virtual environment, these elements come together to make you feel as if you’re part of the simulated world. 

Hardware: Virtual reality systems and headsets

The primary tools of VR technology are headsets and VR systems. VR headsets are designed to fully immerse the user in a computer-generated environment, and they do this by combining high-resolution displays, a wide field of view, spatial audio, and motion tracking. Working in tandem, these components provide you with the sense that you’re actually inside a different environment—whether you’re touring a museum on the other side of the world, adventuring through ancient ruins, or fighting zombies in a post-apocalyptic city. 

Here is how each of these different elements works as part of a VR system:

  • Motion tracking technology: 

This tracks your movements in real time, ensuring that every tilt of your head or step you take is reflected in the VR world, making interactions feel completely natural.

  • Wide field of view: 

By closely mimicking human sight with a wide field of view, you don’t feel as if you’re in a confined space. Instead, you feel like you’re fully immersed in the digital world. 

  • High-res images: 

Sharp, detailed images are essential for creating a believable virtual world. High-resolution visuals make textures and environments seem real, drawing you deeper into the experience.

  • Spatial audio: 

The right audio can add depth to the VR world by simulating how sound is heard in real life. It helps in locating objects or actions around you, making the virtual environment more convincing.

Software: Creating a virtual environment

While VR headsets and hardware provide the window into virtual worlds, it’s the software that constructs these worlds brick by (digital) brick. The creation of a computer-generated environment involves a complex layering of graphics, audio, and physics to simulate a real world. To produce these lifelike environments, VR software employs powerful rendering engines that enable the simulated environments to react to user interactions in real time.

To add to the sense of reality, software developers utilise advanced programming techniques to create dynamic virtual environments where objects can be manipulated and actions have consequences, mirroring the physical laws of our world. 

On top of all this, the software needs to ensure that the user’s VR experience is as fluid as possible. Mismatches between a user’s actions and the system’s response can cause disorientation and discomfort, which is not ideal for a VR experience. 

But with a seamless interaction between hardware and software, virtual reality can offer users a doorway to new and exciting experiences. 

Exploring different forms of virtual reality

VR has the ability to transport users to computer-generated environments. However, there are varying levels of immersion you can experience: from non-immersive VR to full immersion VR, where you feel as if you’re part of an entirely simulated world.  

Beyond these varying levels of VR, there’s also augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). These technologies both have different ways of allowing us to interact with computer-generated experiences through various approaches. 

Non-immersive virtual reality

This form of VR gets overlooked, as it’s become so commonplace in modern households. When we talk about non-immersive virtual reality, we’re talking about video games that depict a virtual world on a screen. You’re still aware of the world around you, but you’re engaging with a totally virtual world through your screen and other peripheral devices—such as a mouse and keyboard, or a controller. 

A classic example of non-immersive virtual reality is World of Warcraft or Baldur’s Gate III. These are mass multiplayer online games that transport you into a simulated world where you control your characters and how they interact with their virtual world, while you’re still conscious of your physical surroundings. 

Fully immersive virtual reality

This is the pinnacle of VR technology, designed to engage all of a user’s senses to create a totally convincing virtual environment. 

Some of the most popular headsets include the Meta Quest (formerly known as the Oculus) and HTC Vive. The key here with these devices, compared to non-immersive VR, are the headsets. While wearing the virtual reality headset, you can visually shut out the physical world around you so that you become fully immersed in the virtual world. Advanced motion tracking and spatial audio take things one step further, making you feel as if you are truly inside this virtual world. 

This can be a disorientating experience at first for some users, and most people will need a little time to find their balance. But once you get used to the sensation, VR can be a truly awesome experience. 

Augmented reality 

Think of augmented reality (AR) as a cousin to VR. Augmented reality gives you a hybrid experience that blends together the physical and virtual worlds. Unlike VR, which creates a completely computer-generated environment for you to experience, AR overlays digital information onto the real world. Most commonly, you need a device like a smartphone or tablet to view AR. 

One of the most easily recognisable examples of AR in action is photo filters, such as those you’d find on Instagram or Snapchat. Filters get added to your image and change it, whether that involves glitter falling from the sky or actually changing the background to make someone look as if they’re surrounded by kittens. This is augmented reality, because this technology is adding virtual elements over the real world with the help of a smart device. 

Mixed reality

Here is where things begin to get very sci-fi. Mixed reality (MR) takes things one step further than AR by allowing virtual objects to interact with the physical environment in more complex ways. MR can recognise surfaces and spatial relationships, enabling virtual objects to sit on real tables or be obscured by real-world barriers. This interactivity creates a more immersive experience that leverages both the tangible and the virtual, offering new possibilities for gaming, education, and professional applications.

Think of it like this: You’re in your living room. You put on your MR headset, and you see a computer-generated puppy dog appear before you. This puppy, even though it is a simulated image, is aware of the environment around itself and your interactions with it. You crouch down and call the puppy, so it runs towards you—carefully avoiding any furniture or other objects in the room. You can’t physically touch the puppy, of course. But if you make certain gestures, such as throwing a ball, the puppy will react. 

While this might be just a cute example of how MR could be used for entertainment, there are other exciting instances of MR being used in a work environment. For example, engineers could use MR overlay digital models of structures or systems directly onto the physical environment, allowing for real-time visualisation and interaction. Or you could project your avatar—a computer-generated version of yourself—into a real-world environment so that you could interact with your colleagues as if you were in the room with them. 

Extended reality (XR)

Extended reality is not in itself a type of altered reality. It’s actually an umbrella term for all the different kinds of altered reality technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. 

What Is Virtual Reality Learn About The Basics Of Vr

Virtual reality beyond gaming

While virtual reality has become synonymous with cutting-edge gaming experiences, its influence stretches far beyond entertainment. 

VR encompasses a wide range of applications, from education and training to healthcare and entertainment, thanks to its continuous evolution. Virtual reality systems have become more sophisticated, capable of creating highly detailed and interactive virtual environments that can be used for simulating surgical procedures, virtual tours, or even social interaction in virtual worlds.

VR opens up a world of possibilities for immersive learning, professional training, and fostering social connections in virtual environments that go beyond geographical boundaries. This versatility has seen VR being adopted across various sectors, leveraging virtual reality technology to transform traditional practices and offer innovative solutions to age-old challenges. 

VR in education and training

  • Healthcare: 

In medical training, VR allows students to practice complex surgical procedures in a risk-free computer-generated virtual environment, gaining valuable hands-on experience without the pressures associated with real-life surgeries. This simulated environment not only boosts their confidence but also sharpens their skills, better preparing them for real-world emergency situations. 

  • Aviation: 

Simulations can mimic flying conditions to help pilots train and prepare for real-life events, including emergency scenarios. 

  • Education: 

Students can go on virtual field trips across the world, or travel back in time to ancient civilisations for a first-hand glimpse at their subject matter. 

VR in entertainment and social connection

  • Cinema: 

VR can offer a new dimension to storytelling, where viewers are not just passive observers but are immersed in the narrative, experiencing the story unfolding around them. 

  • Concerts: 

If your favourite band is playing a one-off concert on the other side of the world, you don’t have to miss out on seeing them play. VR can help you experience the concert as if you were in the crowd.

  • Exhibitions: 

Sometimes, art exhibitions only travel to select cities. VR can transport you into the exhibition, no matter where it’s being held, so you can walk through the halls of the gallery or museum as if you were really there. 

  • Social connection: 

While you may not be able to physically travel and meet up with people, your avatar can meet up with others in a virtual environment. Your digital avatar is a reflection of your physical self, so you’re still able to express yourself properly while not being physically in the same room as other people.

What’s next for virtual reality?

When we look back at just how far we’ve come in the last ten years alone, it’s clear that we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of VR and what it can do. VR has already revolutionised gaming, education and training—so what’s next? The ongoing advancements in virtual reality technology promise to make VR more accessible and immersive, potentially changing the way we work, learn, and connect with each other. 

What Is Virtual Reality Learn About The Basics Of Vr

Emerging trends in VR technology

The landscape of virtual reality is continually evolving, with new advancements shaping the future of how we interact with virtual environments. One of the most significant trends is the development of more affordable and user-friendly virtual reality headsets. Making VR technology more affordable for the average consumer means bringing down the financial and technical barriers that may have limited its adoption. This will allow VR to become even more mainstream. 

On top of this, VR companies are constantly trying to create more lightweight and comfortable headsets. This will eventually enhance the convenience and immersion of virtual experiences. 

Real-life applications of VR in the future

The exploration of new applications for VR is another exciting trend. From telepresence and remote work to mental health and rehabilitation, VR could offer innovative solutions to a range of real-world problems. 

Virtual reality technology is also making strides in the fields of architecture and urban planning, allowing for the visualisation of projects in a fully immersive virtual environment before any physical work begins. 

A new generation of VR tech

The Apple Vision Pro recently entered the market. Apple has positioned this product a little differently to the HTC Vive and Meta Quest, however. Instead of blocking out the physical world entirely, the Apple Vision Pro allows you to overlay your surroundings with digital information. 

While the jury is still out on whether or not this new Apple device will be a commercial success, it makes us wonder where the future of VR tech is heading. Will technology eventually move away from completely immersive VR technology, and shift towards mixed reality? Or will the two simply become separate forms of household XR technology, each serving different purposes and aimed at a different audience of users?

The potential impact of VR on society

The continued integration of virtual reality into our daily lives holds immense promise. But it also presents new challenges that society will need to navigate. The widespread adoption of VR will raise important questions related to virtual reality ethics, privacy, and accessibility. 

As we spend more time in virtual environments, issues surrounding the potential misuse of VR technology are sure to become hot topics of conversation, debate and policy. Here are four examples of the potential obstacles societies, governments, businesses and VR developers may have to overcome in the future:


The creation and use of virtual realities raise ethical concerns, such as the potential for creating deceptive or harmful content. There will be a need for guidelines on responsible content creation and consumption to prevent misuse.


As VR systems collect detailed user data to enhance immersion, questions about data collection, storage, and use will be raised. Ensuring user privacy and securing sensitive information will be critical challenges that must be addressed.


The cost and technical requirements of VR technology could limit access for some individuals and communities. Making VR more affordable and developing user-friendly interfaces are essential steps toward inclusivity.

Mental and physical wellbeing: 

Prolonged use of VR could impact mental and physical health, potentially causing issues like motion sickness, eye strain, or social isolation. Understanding and mitigating these risks will be crucial for safe and healthy VR experiences for everyone. 

MATE: Your network partner for the future of VR

In the modern age of VR and all forms of extended reality, you need a fast and reliable home internet connection. 

Check out MATE’s home internet plans to keep you connected. And don’t forget—you can automatically save $10 per month when you bundle a MATE mobile plan with any of our nbn home internet plans. 

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