Virtual reality (abbreviated VR) describes an environment that is simulated by a computer. Most virtual reality environments are primarily visual experiences, displayed either on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic goggles, but some simulations include additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or touch through cybergloves. (A special suit capable of providing input to all five senses, called a cybersuit, can create an almost complete impression of the simulated environment.)
Users can often interactively manipulate a VR environment, either through standard input devices like a keyboard, or through specially designed devices like a cyberglove. The simulated environment can be similar to the real world--for example, in simulations for pilot or combat training--or it can differ significantly from reality, as in the simulation of molecules, or in VR games.
In practice, it is very difficult to create a convincing virtual reality experience, due largely to limitations on processing power.
Virtual reality originally denoted a fully immersive system, although it has since been used to describe systems lacking cybergloves etc., such as VRML on the World Wide Web and occasionally even text-based interactive systems such as MOOs or MUDs.
The term virtual reality was possibly coined by Jaron Lanier in 1989. Lanier is one of the pioneers of the field, founding the company VPL Research (from Virtual Programming Languages) which built some of the first systems in the 1980s. The related term artificial reality has been in use since the 1970s and cyberspace dates to 1984.
Virtual reality in fiction
Many science fiction books and movies have imagined characters being "trapped in virtual reality". The first movie to do this was TRON; a famous recent example was The Matrix. National Lampoon's Last Resort was significant in that it presented virtual reality and reality as often overlapping, and sometimes indistinguishable. Also, the British comedy Red Dwarf utilized in an episode the idea that life (or at least the life seen on the show) is a virtual reality game.
However, in reality, it is always easy to tell VR from reality: the images are less than realistic, they lag one's movements, other senses, including the senses of touch and smell, give away the unreality of the scene before you.
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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