How Do VR Headsets Work?

Anyone who’s ever put on a VR headset will tell you the experience was otherworldly. You’re mentally transported to a galaxy far, far away, but in reality, you’re sitting in your living room or bedroom looking silly. How does this work?

VR headsets like PS VR or the Oculus Rift are known as head mounted displays (hence the abbreviation they’re sold under – HMD). Even without hand tracking or audio, holding up a VR headset to place your Smartphone’s display in front of you suffices to immerse you in a virtual world.

The purpose here is to create what appears to be a real, 3D virtual environment without the limitations users typically associate with computer or TV screens. The screen mounted to your face follows you whatever way you look. This is different from augmented reality, which puts graphics over your view of the real world.


With VR, an HDMI cable transmits video from the computer or console to the headset in the case of headsets such as Oculus Rift or HTC’s Vive. For Samsung Gear VR and Google’s Daydream headset, it’s already on the Smartphone integrated in the headset.

VR headsets use either two LCD displays (one for each eye) or feeds sent to one display. There are also lenses which are placed between the pixels and your eyes, which is why VR headsets are sometimes called goggles. In some cases, these vary from player to player, which is why it is possible to adjust them to match the distance between your eyes.

The function of lenses

Lenses focus and realign the image for each eye. To achieve this, they put the two 2D images at a specific angle to mirror how your two eyes view the world differently. Thus, a stereoscopic 3D image is created.

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