Virtual reality games, apps and programs are becoming more popular every year. With companies like HTC, Sony and Facebook all dominating the industry, nearly everyone will be able to experience virtual reality at some point in the near future.
Understandably, some people are worried that these headsets and screen may damage your eyes or vision. Here’s how virtual works and the effects it can have.
Virtual reality today
Virtual reality (VR) is a way to experience a completely different world through a pair of screens. When a user wears a VR headset, they look into two screens that sit a few inches away from their face. These screens project a virtual area for the users to look into without being able to see any part of the real world behind the screens.
VR is used for everything from games and socializing to manufacturing and science.
Concern 1: Focusing on the screen
One concern about using virtual reality headsets is the proximity of the screens to your eyes. We all know the old warning: “Don’t sit too close to the TV.” It was thought that sitting too close to a lit screen could cause your eyes to have trouble focusing once you look away.
But don’t think about VR as focusing on the screen, like we do with TVs and smartphones. With both screens in a VR headset showing a slightly angled image, users focus instead on the environment, which can be “miles” away from your eyes (like in real life).
Unlike with smartphones (where users focus on one small area), a wide viewing environment in VR allows users to move their focus around, which doesn’t damage eyesight.
Concern 2: Virtual eyestrain
Another issue brought up is eyestrain. When staring at one area without blinking, your eyes can feel more fatigued. This is because when you don’t blink, your eyelids can’t rehydrate the front of your eyeballs, which can make your eyes feel sore
This can occur while using virtual reality, though it can happen equally as often as when reading a book, using your phone or watching a movie. Remember to blink!
Concern 3: Close, bright lights
Users of virtual reality often ask about the effect that bright lights have on the parts of the eyes. While smartphones and tablets have equally bright screens, they are held farther away from the user’s face than with virtual reality. In theory, smartphones shoudl be easier on the eyes than a VR headset.
But Changyin Zhou, a computer vision scientist and former Google employee, calculated that the brightest setting on a VR headset right now is only as bright as “walking into a well-lit supermarket” and is no more bright than staring at a smartphone screen.
Though the virtual reality companies do not recommend VR usage for children (around 13 or younger), eye doctors currently say there’s no reason to think VR games will damage or impede eyesight. The recommendation from VR companies is likely to cover their own legal ground rather than offer medicinal input.
Side note: Augmented reality
Augmented reality is different than virtual reality. Think of augmented reality (AR) as a mix between real-life and VR. If someone is using an AR game or program on their phone or through a headset, they are seeing the real area and objects behind the screen while a graphical image is layered over that.
You may even see or use augmented reality all of the time even if you aren’t aware. Snapchat and Facebook filters that give you a dog nose or tiara and makeup are augmented reality. Games like Pokémon Go are AR. Even IKEA and Apple have AR capabilities for their customers.
AR and VR are similar in the fact that vision issues will likely not occur since the user is looking through the screen instead of focusing on the screen.
So can virtual reality damage your eyesight? Very likely not. Since the technology is still relatively new, we can have better judgment in several years. But so far, all the evidence points to healthy eyesight after using virtual reality.