A Hitchhiker's Guide to Virtual Reality

by Karen McMenemy and Stuart Ferguson

About the book

The book has two parts, and you could read them almost independently. The CD is an integral part of the book: it contains the programs for over 30 projects in VR. These
range in scope from a tool that simulates virtual sculpting, to a suite of software for the control of, a four-projector immersive virtual environment.

Throughout the text we have tried to follow a logical progression: what VR fundamentally aims to achieve, to what it can be applied, what elements need to be brought together, how they work and how the theory is turned into practice. We also consider some key concepts from the allied disciplines of computer graphics and computer vision which overlap with VR.

Part 1 forms the core of the book. We examine the human senses and their significance in delivering a sense of reality within the virtual world. We describe the types of interface technologies that are available and how they work. After reading the first few chapters, it should be evident that being able to see the virtual world is of prime importance. So several chapters in Part 1are focused on all aspects of, how we interfaces with the virtual world through our sense of sight.

Part 2 of the book is in a different format. Titled Practical Programs for VR the text is tightly integrated with the CD. A wide spectrum of example programs for use in practical VR work are described and explained in Part 2. The examples complement and make concrete the concepts covered in Part 1. We have found them exceptionally useful, and many are in use in our own VR laboratory. The program codes are written in the {C or C++} languages and are targeted for the Windows PC platform.

As we stressed before, the key element of VR is the visual one, and here, perhaps more than in any other aspect of the human-computer interface, software plays the dominant
role. We show you how to use the main 3D rendering libraries in interactive real-time applications.
Real-time 3D is not the only source of content for VR applications; movies, DVDs and other multimedia material can also play a vital role. We show you how to use Microsoft's DirectX technology to achieve this with minimal effort.

The level and sophistication of interaction set many VR applications apart from computer games and computer-generated movies. Programming this interaction poses its own complexities. The keyboard and mouse may be very well for many things, but VR needs more: two-handed input with multiple degrees of freedom, for example. We offer some examples of how to use the USB PC interface and the input components of DirectX. Part 2 also discusses the challenges that a programmer faces when working with haptic devices.

You'll find more specific detail about the book's content in Chapter 1, but we hope your curiosity is sufficiently excited to read on. We found our guide very useful and enjoyed writing it, we hope you find it useful too and enjoy reading it.

About us

We are academics in the School of Electronics Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Queen's University of Belfast. U.K.
We research in Virtueal Reality, Computer Graphics, and Multimodal HCI design.