The History of Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality: A Brief History

The concept of virtual reality was borne out of science fiction, in a world and a time when color images photographs were just being shown to the population, and there was an urge to go a step further, to take a step into the painting and experience the world as shown before the viewer’s eyes.

A fantastical short story, written by Stanley Weinbaum portrays a man entering into another world after wearing a pair of eyeglasses will sound very familiar to someone who knows the virtual reality. However, at that time, it was just a work of imagination which became a work of research after two decades.

After many years of research, the fictional work of Weinbaum became a reality in 1968 with the development of the first tracking head-mounted VR display called ‘The sword of Damocles.’ This development served as a precursor to the development of the modern VR.

Even with this early development with VR headset, nothing tangible was done as regarding its progress until the 1990s when developers started taking the potential of VR seriously. The development of the PC and gaming console gave way for the availability of more powerful machine which made the introduction of the VR to the public quite feasible.


Virtuality (1939)

The Virtuality’s VR gaming consoles which were launched in 1991 and powered by Commodore Amiga 3000 computes was expected to be a game changer in the world of arcades. It consisted of a head-mounted Visette display along with different sets of controllers. The machines were a great expensive failure which was incapable of making big sales and was later discontinued.


Sega VR (1993)

Out of all the big gaming companies, Sega was the first to attempt a pair of VR glasses even though it never passed the prototype phase. The Sega VR was demonstrated at the 1993 Summer CES. The system was supposed to be launched that year at $200 with five games: Nuclear Rush, Matrix Runner, Iron Hammer, Virtual Racing and Outlaw Racing.

However, the VR console suffered from lack of attention which resulted in sluggish sales as users reported dizziness and headaches.

As a result of this, Sega canceled the home version of the project even though it used the VR technology in its arcade machines.


Virtual Boy (1995)

After the Sega VR came the Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995. Even though it was developed without any head tracking technology, it also had some negative effects on users, such as its red LED graphics which affected the eyes, dizziness, and nausea. Another major problem was its lack of quality games, and it was later canceled in 1196, barely a year from his year of launch.


VFX1 Headgear (1995)

In 1995 as well, the first consumer-level VR system was launched, and it was the called, the VXF1 Headgear. It was a heavyweight VR kit which comprised of a dual LCDs, built-in stereo speakers, solid VR helmet and a handheld controller called Cyberpunk. It was sold at a reasonable price of something around $600. Its shortcomings included a chunky 263x230px per eye color with 256 colors and a 45-degree field of view, amongst others.


Oculus Rift (2016)

After so many failures in the quest for the perfect VR system, public attention for it began to dwindle until 2012 when it finally hit a breakthrough. Palmer Luckey, a designer in the head-mounted display program, developed an idea in 2009 to create an affordable high-performance VR system with a single LCD screen. By 2011, he had already built a prototype which caught the attention of John Carmack from the id software.


Following this huge development, a Kickstarter campaign was held to raise $2 million. The retail version of the Oculus Rift which was available after six revisions comprised of an OLED display with a per-eye resolution of 1080×1200, six degrees of head tracking, built-in headphones with a 3D audio. It is currently available at $599.


What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality or VR simply put, means a total immersion. Total immersion in the sense that the sensory experience seems so real that we forgot it is just a virtual-artificial world and we begin to interact with it like we would in the real world. A virtual reality world may or may not mimic the features of the real world but look like an everyday setting, e.g., the normal road traffic on the streets and or, it may go beyond the settings of a physical reality where physical laws that apply to gravity, time and materials may no longer hold.


What are the Important Elements of Virtual Reality?

The key elements of virtual reality include but not limited to the following

  • Virtual World: A virtual world is an ideal but created environment that is achieved through a process (i.e., rendering, display, etc.) where users can interact with others and create objects as part of that interaction. Visual perspectives respond to movement changes in a virtual environment and communications take place like it would in the real world.
  • Immersion: This is a method of being physically present in a world that is the non-physical world. It transcends the sense of presence which is a point which the brain believes to be in a particular place which is not and this is achieved through a complete mental or physical method, the state of a total immersion occurs when sufficient senses are stimulated to develop a sense of being present in a non-physical world.
  • Sensory Feedback: Virtual reality needs as many senses as possible to be activated. The senses include vision, hearing, touching and many more. Proper stimulation of these senses would require sensory feedback which can be gotten through programmed inputs.
  • Interactivity:  Interactivity is important in a virtual reality experience to offer users enough access and comfort to interact with the virtual environment naturally. Once there is a quick response to a user’s action most easily, and naturally, the excitement during the immersion will be sustained. However, if the virtual environment cannot offer a quick response, the human brain will quickly notice this inadequacy and the sense of immersion, as well as the excitement it brings, will reduce.


The Future of Virtual Reality

After the emergence of the Oculus Rift, the VR system keeps getting better with key upgrades such as better resolution, better camera…etc. Perhaps, the VR industry realizes that getting people into headsets is quite a problem, let alone to get them into buying the headset. This is why all hands are on deck into making the VR system better and more interesting.

The HTC is working effortlessly on its Vive hardware and is pushing deeper into the world of enthusiasts and enterprises. Similarly, think about a free-phone VR, that is self-contained headsets with its inbuilt processors, we are talking about the Oculus GO and Lenovo’s Mirage Solo used with Google’s Daydream headset.

The future is not here yet as more focus has been shifted to the horizon, there are more surprises to expect as regards the VR in many years to come.

In conclusion, the invention of the Virtual Reality has given users an avenue to experience anything, anywhere and at any time. It is the best immersive type of reality technology which can convince the brain to think its somewhere which is not. The fully immersive experience is made possible with hand controllers and head-mounted headsets. The largest technology companies on earth including Facebook, Microsoft, and Google amongst others are already investing millions of dollars into the VR companies and startups and undoubtedly, is expected to be part of our lives in the nearest future.