To read Part 1 of Virtual Reality – A History of the Future, click here.
In 1992 a movie called The Lawnmower Man was released, bringing the subject of virtual reality to a broader audience. In the movie, Dr. Lawrence uses experimental pills and computer-simulated training sequences (VR) in the hopes of augmenting mentally disabled Jobe Smith´s intelligence. Director Brett Leonard used actual virtual reality equipment in the movie from VPL Research Labs, from which he admitted to have drawn inspiration for the film.
This phenomenon brought the attention of the masses, and popular tech companies like Sega and Nintendo started releasing more advanced VR devices with new technologies. W Industries, later known as Virtuality, began producing VR arcade headsets for entertainment, letting users interact with immersive stereoscopic 3D graphics and even allowing for a multi-player experience with several headsets networked together.
In 1993, at the Consumer Electronics Show, Sega announced the Sega VR Headset for its Genesis console. The prototype, which was shaped like a visor and wrapped around the head, had head tracking, stereo sound and two LCD screens. It looked like a promising new piece of virtual reality for Sega that would push the company forward, however, it never left the prototype phase, probably because of its low-quality 3D graphics and extremely basic software. Sega ended up trashing the whole project before it went into production.
In 1995 Nintendo entered the VR world with its Virtual Boy, a 3D gaming console which was advertised as the first ever portable VR headset. Despite the hype about the new device, its portability and low price ($180), it was a commercial failure, reportedly due to the lack of color in the graphics and its over-all difficulty to use. Nintendo discontinued production of the device merely one year after its hyped release.
Throughout the 1990´s many other companies continued to develop new virtual reality devices, improving little by little the technology behind it. Virtuality worked with Atari to produce the Jaguar VR, a headset for its Jaguar console. A company called VictorMaxx created the CyberMaxx in 1994. Next year, in 1995, Tiger Electronics created the Tiger R-Zone. In 1998, Virtuality also produced a headset for Phillips named “The Scuba” which used the same tech that powered the Jaguar VR.
As exciting and interesting as virtual reality is however, the hype was slowly coming to an end by the 2000’s. Although companies still occasionally showcased VR headsets, and advancements in technology made better graphics possible, the term “virtual reality” became increasingly rare. The failure of the aforementioned devices had brought the once-high expectations of the public to the ground, and the futuristic technology was soon replaced by the magic of the internet.
Then, in 2011, Palmer Luckey, an 18-year-old kid, put the pieces together after experimenting with old virtual reality equipment in his parent’s garage and crafted the headset that would once again make the term “virtual reality” appear in headlines all around the world. Thanks to an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, Luckey was able to gather more than enough resources to produce the new headset. Although still very basic in terms of graphics, the Oculus Rift was the first headset that provided a truly immersive 3D experience that captivated the attention of the world once again.
In 2014, when Facebook bought Oculus for the astounding amount of $2.3 billion dollars, virtual reality blew up, and since then, more and more companies have developed extremely advanced technology and devices that are bringing to life the science fiction told in so many books and movies all those years ago. Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, HTC, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Amazon and Intel are all now involved in virtual reality and keep investing large amounts of resources to develop the next big innovation in virtual reality that will drop the jaws of millions around the world.