Virtual Reality – Terminology

Virtual Reality
“Immerse yourself in brand new worlds like never before thanks to an emerging generation of Virtual Reality headsets and experiences.”

Virtual Reality Terminology

Virtual reality requires a bunch of technology and features to function flawlessly together to create a convincing and immersive experience. Executed correctly, the technology of VR melts away, leaving you with the feeling of being immersed and transported into a virtual world. Knowing which products can create a great VR experience requires knowing a bit about the technology and features that enable it. Here’s a short list of terms to know to help you navigate the technical end of virtual reality.

VR Headset (AKA Head Mounted Display – HMD)

The VR headset is the foundation of modern virtual reality, generally consisting of a goggle-like device which includes a display and lenses to let you peer into the virtual reality world. Since the VR headset is the foundation of feeling like you are inside a virtual reality world, choosing a good headset is important if you’re looking for the best and most immersive experience.

Field of View

Field of View describes the extent of your natural vision that is filled by the VR headset’s display. The higher the Field of View, the further the virtual world will extend to the edges of your vision. Methodology for measuring the field of view of a VR headset is not yet standardized, so different company’s claims may vary. A rule-of-thumb is that a 90 degree Field of View is the baseline for a great VR experience.


IPD stands for interpupillary distance, a measurement which describes the distance between your eyes. Ideally, you’d like to match the distance between the lenses of a VR headset to your own IPD. There is some wiggle room, but if your IPD happens to fall on the outskirts of the average IPD (~63mm), you should consider a VR headset with an adjustable IPD. You can measure your IPD easily enough by asking a friend to hold up a ruler and measure the distance between the center of each pupil. You can also try an online tool or ask your eye-doctor for a precise measurement.


Much like a computer monitor, the resolution of a VR headset tells you how many pixels are present on the display. Because VR headsets wrap the image around you with such a wide Field of View, the pixels appear much larger than you’re used to on a conventional TV or computer monitor. The display is also divided in half to show one image accurately to each eye. That means that while you may find your 1080p TV plenty sharp, the same resolution may leave you wanting in a VR headset. The first generation of tethered PC-based VR headsets are shipping with resolution of 2160×1200 (1080×1200 per eye) and this is still considered a ripe area for improvement.


Tracking is important because the computer rendering the view of the virtual world needs to know where you are looking and what you are doing in order to simulate the virtual world accurately and convincingly. Different companies employ different tracking methods, but the goal remains the same: show the computer where you are looking and what you are doing so that it can draw the virtual world correctly and keep you comfortably immersed.

  • Rotational
    Rotational tracking is a feature that allows an object’s movement to be tracked in all three possible rotational directions: pitch, yaw, and roll.
  • Positional
    Positional tracking describes the ability to track an object’s movement in all three possible translational directions (forward/back, up/down, left/right). Positional tracking allows you to lean around corners or duck behind cover. Accurate positional tracking is generally a more difficult problem than rotational tracking, and is very important for a great VR experience as it increases immersion and reduces the chance of discomfort/nausea while using a VR headset. Headsets which lack positional tracking can still work well if the apps used with them are designed with this limitation in mind, but the combination of rotational and positional tracking important for the most immersive VR experiences.


Input refers to the method of control that you are using for virtual reality. VR input ranges from familiar (but abstract) methods like the mouse & keyboard or a gamepad, to more immersive natural input controllers which use Tracking to precisely translate your movements into the virtual world, allowing you to reach out to interact with virtual objects. Oculus has released a video which shows a side by side view of the real world and the virtual world and what it’s like to interact in virtual reality using natural VR input.

Spatial Audio (AKA 3D Audio)

Think of Spatial Audio like surround-sound for VR. Spatial Audio helps create convincing virtual reality by allowing virtual sounds to sound like they originate from specific points in the virtual world and to provide the same cues to our ears so that we can identify their source. With Spatial Audio, the crackling virtual fireplace to your right really sounds like it’s on your right. And with proper Tracking, that virtual fireplace will sound like it’s in front of you when you turn your head to face it.

FPS – Frames Per Second

Many gamers are already familiar with the term FPS, which describes how many images of a virtual view are rendered per second. While most PC gamers would consider 60 FPS an acceptable figure for gaming, virtual reality demands much higher framerates for maximum immersion. Major Tethered VR systems are setting the bar at 90 FPS which requires powerful computer hardware to achieve. If you’re in the market for one of these systems, make sure you have computer hardware matching the necessary level of performance.

Oculus Recommended Specs

Because choppy framerates can cause nausea in virtual reality, Oculus has defined a set of ‘Recommended Specs’ which the company is encouraging developers to support and consumers to use as a baseline for PC hardware capable of a good VR experience. As one of the leaders in the PC-based VR space, Oculus’ recommendation carries quite a bit of weight and many developers will likely target their VR games and apps to be able to run on systems of that specification or better.

Oculus‘ Recommended Specs for 2016:

  • Video Card NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
  • Memory 8GB+ RAM
  • Video Output Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
  • USB Ports 3x USB 3.0 ports plus 1x USB 2.0 port
  • OS Windows 7 SP1 64 bit or newer

-From the experts at Road to VR



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