Virtual Reality Glossary

When you first start reading about Virtual Reality (VR), it can feel a bit overwhelming. This new technology has a language all its own.

After all, just how familiar are you with terms like haptics, latency and judder? It can seem almost incomprehensible to a beginner.

However, you can use this virtual reality glossary to begin learning that language. You just need to learn a few key terms. Then you will find it much simpler to delve into the more advanced details.

Are you're looking for a great laptop to run VR software? If so, read our guide to the best VR laptops. We'll describe the required specifications and our picks for the best VR laptops based on your budget and specific needs.

What is Virtual Reality?

VR Game

Before we dig into the nuances of the language, let’s define virtual reality itself. After all, that is the most important term in the entire vocabulary of the technology. If you don’t know what that is, you won’t understand anything else that you read about it.

The term is actually a little bit difficult to define. That’s because it is a variation on reality, and reality itself is hard to define. Most of us know, however, whether or not we are living in reality.

1. Defining the Virtual

The first part of the phrase is “virtual”. A common definition of virtual is that it means something is almost like something else, but not quite. However, in a computer context, it basically means the same thing as a simulation

2. Defining Reality

As mentioned, it is a bit tougher to define reality. In fact, philosophers have spent hundreds of years debating what reality is. The basic definition of reality is that it’s the physical world as it really exists.

3. Defining Virtual Reality

Beat Sabers

Looking at the definitions of the two component words, we see that virtual reality is a simulation of some world, either our physical world or an imaginary one.

More specifically, virtual reality (which is abbreviated VR) is the use of computer technology to create a three-dimensional environment that is very similar to the reality we know as humans. With VR, the user isn’t just looking at a screen. Instead, the technology places the user into the environment, so it feels like they are interacting with a 3D world.

Virtual reality takes advantage of all of the senses to make the “virtual” feel as close to the “reality” as possible. The more that technology improves, the fuzzier the line between virtual and “real” reality.

However, the reality simulated by virtual reality isn't necessarily our physical world. With virtual reality, any world we can imagine can be simulated. We can then interact with that imaginary world as if we exist within it.

That world may have different physical laws and constraints. For example, we may be able to fly or be invisible. Anything you can imagine can be simulated in a virtual reality.

Key Terms in the Virtual Reality Glossary

Now that we have defined virtual reality, we can look at some key terms used when talking about this technological environment. Getting a grasp on these will make it much easier to navigate anything you might read about VR.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality Software

People often confuse the terms “virtual reality” and “augmented reality.” The key difference, of course, is in the term “augmented.” While “virtual” means “almost the same as”, “augmented” means “an enhanced version.

Augmented reality (AR) is an adaptation of virtual reality. With AR, computer technology gets superimposed over items in the environment to make it seem as though you are truly seeing them in the real world.

Mixed Reality

This is a term you might hear, which is similar to augmented reality. Like with AR, it means that there is an overlay of virtual content onto the real world. However, in AR, the virtual and real cannot interact with one another. In contrast, in mixed reality, they can.

Field of View

Field of Views

Whenever you purchase virtual reality equipment, it should come with information about the field of view. This is a number that tells you the angle of degrees that you can see when looking through the equipment.

For example, you might purchase VR goggles that have a 200-degree field of view. The bigger the number, the more you will feel like you are really inside that 3D virtual reality.

Haptics

This refers to the feedback you get, that makes you feel like you are touching something in the real world. For example, you might feel vibrations.

Force Feedback

This is a specific type of tactile response, also sometimes called haptic feedback. This is a virtual reality response that makes it feel like you are moving something in the real world. For example, if you are playing a racing game, the way that the virtual reality wheel pulls may feel the same as a wheel in a real car.

Head Mounted Display

GreenScreen HTC Vive

One of the phrases that you will hear commonly in VR is “head-mounted display” or HMD. This may be glasses, goggles or a helmet. It is the technology that goes on the head or face, and through it, you see the virtual reality world.

Peripherals

In addition to a head-mounted display, you might use a data glove. This is a glove-like device that you put on your hand. It helps you control small motions better than a headset.

A data glove is just one example of the peripherals that you can use to enhance the virtual reality experience.

Tracking and Timing Terms

There are a few terms in the virtual reality glossary that relate to how you move and how the technology moves with you.

Tracking

VR Tracking In Real LIfe

You are likely to come across the terms “head tracking” and “eye tracking.” Virtual reality devices use a variety of sensors to match what you see with your position in the real world. These terms refer to sensors that attend to your head movements or eye movements.

Tracking is often how you are able to make movements in virtual reality. For example, let’s say that you are playing a game, and you want to aim a weapon. You would either move your head or move your eyes, depending on which type of tracking your VR technology called for.

In addition to head and eye tracking, you might experience “position tracking.” This is used with virtual reality that lets you walk around the room. It tracks where you are within the space.

Latency

This brings up another word to learn: latency. If you move your head and the technology doesn’t follow quickly, then you’re experiencing latency. When purchasing VR equipment, look for reviews that indicate low or no latency. This is also sometimes called the “lag.”

Refresh Rate

Refresh Rates

This is also similar to latency. It refers to how fast the images on the screen refresh. You want them to be quick so that you never notice the lag.

In other words, you don’t want the real world to pull you out of the virtual world.

Additional Important Terms in Virtual Reality

Once you’ve learned the key terms above, you should find it easier to understand articles and conversations about virtual reality. However, here are some additional glossary terms to help bolster your knowledge.

  • ​1:1 movement means that your avatar moves exactly like your body does.
  • ​Cave is a virtual reality world projected onto walls in the real world.
  • ​Focal length is the distance between your eyes and the VR display.
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    Judder is shaking that messes up the image in virtual reality.
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    Presence is when VR is so good that you feel like virtual reality is real.
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    Simulator sickness refers to motion sickness caused by VR.
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    Social VR is shared virtual reality; it’s similar to the social media of VR.
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    WebVR is an emerging technology for bringing VR to the Internet.

​​​​​​Big Names to Know in Virtual Reality

No virtual reality glossary would be complete without the names of some of the big players in the industry. After all, you will hear about these technologies every time you hear about VR.

HTC Vive

HTC Vive

This is a virtual reality headset used for gaming. It allows you to walk around the room for a more immersive experience. The newest version is the Vive Pro.

This is arguably one of the best VR headsets available. However, it is also one of the most expensive.

Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift Facebook

This is one of the best-known virtual reality systems, due in part to acquisition by Facebook. There is a consumer version as well as a business version. The primary purpose is gaming, although it can be used for other purposes as well.

In addition to headsets, the Oculus Rift has peripherals that conform to your hand. For example, you could give a thumbs-up sign in virtual reality while using it. Also, the refresh rate is good, so you get a strong VR experience with it.

An alternative to the Oculus Rift is the Oculus Go. This is a headset that doesn’t require you to attach to a computer.

PlayStation VR

Sony Playstation VR

This is a virtual reality companion to the Sony PS4 gaming experience. If you love video games, then you will probably love playing them in VR. However, you do need to have a PS4 to be able to use it.

Points to Remember

Don’t get overwhelmed by reading about virtual reality without understanding the language of the technology. The better you understand common VR terms, the easier it will be to start using the tools.

A few of the most important terms to know in virtual reality are field of view, head-mounted display, head tracking, and eye tracking. You should also know the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality.

As you read more about VR, you may come across new terms that you will have to research. However, this virtual reality glossary is a good handbook for beginners who are just learning the language.

As we mentioned earlier, if you are looking for a laptop to run VR software, you should read our guide to the best VR laptops. We'll give you all the information you need to make an informed purchase.

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