Coming soon - Experience Virtual Reality at the Glencoe Public Library! Check out one of our Google Cardboard headset and begin exploring.


  • What is Virtual Reality? Open or Close

    Virtual Reality (VR) technology uses visual/optical, audio, and motion sensing hardware to immerse a user in a computer-generated simulated environment. Typically involving a head-mounted display and controllers that allow the simulation to be manipulated, VR can be used for entertainment, exploration, and even creative outlets.

    Head mounted display and wired gloves Ames Research Center

    What we would recognize as VR today began to emerge from research begun in the 1960s into head-mounted video displays and methods of recreating sensory experiences, particularly audiovisual ones. In the 1980s and 90s, it began finding its way into practical applications, such as flight simulators and arcade game cabinets. Despite this, VR systems remained prohibitively expensive and complex, making them largely impractical and beyond the reach of the average user. Within the last several years, however, developments in miniaturized computers and display technology (such as smartphones) have resulted in new hardware that makes VR more accessible than ever before.


    At present, consumer VR technology can be divided into three types.

     Google Cardboard Headset

    Simple Phone-Based Systems

    Simple and inexpensive, phone-based VR (Google Cardboard is the best known) are the easiest way to try out VR. Running off a mobile phone (Android and iOS are both supported), all you need is a basic headset with Fresnel-type lenses (the cheapest headsets run about $15-20) and a few apps. Many of the visual apps maintained by Google (Youtube, Google Earth) have a Cardboard mode built in. Although there are some interactive apps, most of the apps available for Cardboard so far are primarily view-only experiences, such as 360° video and immersive galleries/environments. Controls (if they are available) are usually based on head position.

    Samsung Gear VR Headset

    Photo: Maurizio Pesce, Flickr

    Hybrid Phone-Based Systems

    Similar to the above, these typically require a specific model of phone to use (such as a Samsung Galaxy S6 and above, in the case of the Samsung Gear). In addition to basic functionality described above, hybrid systems often include a remote-type Bluetooth controller, which allows a wearer to control movement and actions. Hybrid systems are a good option if you want a more functional VR experience without the expense of a full computer-tethered system. The Samsung Gear VR headset the library owns falls into this category.

    Oculus Rift Headset

    Computer/Console-Tethered Systems

    The current state-of-the-art in consumer VR, these systems involve a head-mounted display connected by cable to an external desktop or laptop computer (or, in the case of Playstation VR, a Playstation 4 game console). These systems are able to generate more realistic real-time visuals because of the attached computer/console's more powerful hardware. They also often come paired with motion controllers, which act as virtual extentions of the wearer's hands and allow for interaction in a fluid, intuitive way. At present, the relative expense of the hardware required for these systems (mostly for the PC/Console powering it) and the limited range of motion due to the connecting cables are drawbacks, but future iterations of the hardware are attempting to address these technical challenges.

     Augmented Reality

    Photo: OyundariZorigtbaatar, WikiMedia Commons

    Augmented Reality

    An offshoot of VR technology, Augmented Reality (AR) takes it in a slightly different direction. Instead of immersing the user in a completely simulated environment, AR uses a camera setup to capture the immediate physical environment around a user, and then superimposes computer generated content. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the popular mobile game Pokemon Go, wherein players use their phones to "find" computer-rendered creatures hiding in real-world places. Besides games, the technology is currently also being used for purposes including interior design, navigation, and travel/tourism.


  • Our Equipment Open or Close

    The library has several Google Cardboard viewers available for checkout. Constructed of sturdy cardboard, they can be used with most Android and iOS phones available. Download apps from the App Store or the Google Play store to use with them.


    The Samsung Gear VR, which can be tried out at in-library VR events, consists of a smart phone and a headset into which the phone is inserted. The phone displays visual content on its screen, outputs audio content through its speaker/headphone jack, and tracks movement (in this case, of the wearers head) through its onboard accelerometers. The headset, meanwhile, holds the phone in a stable position in front of the wearer’s eyes and uses custom lenses to render the phone’s display into a three-dimensional binocular view. A remote control allows the wearer to interact with the simulation in a tactile way, functioning as an extension of the hand in a manner similar to a computer mouse or a laser pointer.




  • Virtual Reality Apps Open or Close

    Check out these apps, available as free downloads from the App Store/Google Play store.

    - YouTube 360 - Youtube hosts many 360° videos, taking full advantage of VR's head tracking to place you in the center of the action.

    - Discovery VR - The Discovery Channel's VR app includes a variety of 360-degree video experiences from some of their most popular shows.

    - NYT VR - From the New York Times, this app lets you watch Virtual Reality films on news and educational topics.

    - Google Expeditions - A "Virtual Field Trip" app that lets you (and others sharing the same wifi network) visit over 600 locations together.

    - StreetView - If you've used Streetview on your computer to check out somewhere you found on Google Maps, this app places you right in the center of that view.

    - Google Cardboard Camera - Use your phone to take 360° photographs you can view later.

  • Recommended Reading & Links Open or Close

     Recommended Reading

    Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How it Works, and What it Can Do by Jeremy Bailenson

    Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier

    Recommended Links

    Road To VR - News site dedicated to VR and AR coverage.

    Wareable - News site dealing with wearable and portable technology - features a robust VR news section.