When Virtual Reality Was Always Virtual

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Oculus DK2 Lens – Characteristics


The Oculus DK2 is a remarkable VR headset, producing a remarkably wide field of view with very inexpensive single element optics. VRtifacts was curious about the characteristics of the Oculus DK2 lens: what size, what material, and what focal length? The lenses themselves have quite a bit of chromatic aberration, giving the impression that they are very low cost simple lenses. The diameter is 41mm and focal length (of the “B” lens) is approximately 45mm.

Distortion and Chromatic Aberration

This is a fairly high degree of magnification which produces significant distortion and chromatic aberration (color fringing near the lens periphery.) Oculus takes full advantage of modern day graphics cards using OpenGL to pre-distort opposite to the lens distortion, and to individually distort the red, green, and blue channels to (imperfectly) correct for chromatic aberration. The color fringing correction is imperfect because the lens bends different frequency light by different amounts. The process in the lens is a continuous curve across the color spectrum, while the graphics card only corrects at 3 discrete frequencies corresponding to red, green, and blue… essentially a step function. However, since the display emits moderately narrow bands red, green and blue, we perceive good chromatic aberration correction.

AMOLEDs (DK2 uses a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Full HD Super AMOLED) use organic electroluminescent materials which do not emit single frequency red, green, and blue colors. Instead they emit a range of light frequencies consisting of a spectral curve for each color primary. AMOLED spectral curves are narrower than produced by IPS LCDs (used in Apple retina displays), but the width of the frequency range for each primary is not a single frequency. The Oculus chromatic aberration correction technique only works perfectly at the exact center frequencies of each (RGB) emission curve. Since the AMOLED emissions spread around these ideal Oculus corrected center frequencies, chromatic fringing can not be totally eliminated by the Oculus technique.


Spectrum plot for Apple iPhone 4 and 5 vs. Samsung AMOLED (older version than Note 3)


Recent Job Posting: Seeking – Principal Teledildonics Integration Engineer


According to several women writers, a hot hi-tech hiring wave will be seeking: Teledildonics Integration Engineers and Fleshlight API Programmers (FAPs.) While porn has been trying to edge into Virtual Reality Sex, and VR keeps trying to penetrate the porn market, maybe the moment for this market to explode has finally come. As with most provocative blogs, the real meat of interest is in the comments sections of these posts. Let’s just say it’s a sausage fest.

We all know what enabled the VCR to become ubiquitous. One marketing school of thought foresees being virtually jacked-in as the app which will put a Rift in every home.

Fruzsina Eordogh evaluates the state of the art in VR porn (NSFW):

The porn of the future is titillating. As virtual reality matures, we’ll be aroused in three-dimensional immersive alternative realities, interacting with super-lifelike porn stars customized to our taste. People will look back on our passive and lonely 2D smut and pity us.

Retired adult performer Aurora Snow, in “In-Your-Face 3D is the Future of Porn“, adds to the hype.

A webcam girl could offer a “hands on” interactive session without ever having to leave the bedroom or swap bodily fluids. A porn star could give an explicit how-to tutorial to a couple a thousand miles away. The world of porn is about to change… All joking aside, what was once considered an expensive gimmick (VR) is on the verge of going mainstream.

And Gina Lynn (not the porn star) tells us The 10 Real Reasons Why Geeks Make Better Lovers. Numero uno: “Geeks build it so you will come!”

Geek lovers combine a well-developed and oft-exercised erotic imagination with their physical technique. It isn’t a big leap from “I’m a level-13 thief, evil-aligned” to “I’m the prison warden and you’re the new detainee.”

VRtifacts has covered 25 years of predictions that Virtual Sex will be the killer app.


Bookshelf: Sex, Drugs and Tessellation


Hot off the press is Ben Delaney’s authoritative new book, Sex, Drugs, and Tessellation which collects 6 years of wisdom from Ben’s CyberEdge Journal, the go-to virtual reality publication from 1991 through 1996. Ben has always been both a proponent of, and realist about VR, offering insightful market insights and lucid explanations of ofttimes opaque technology. Both students of VR and grizzled veterans will find Ben’s writing to be illuminating. You may remember his appearance on the PBS series Newton’s Apple where he explains the workings of the Virtual Research Flight Helmet.

An abbreviated “book jacket” summary:

Did you ever wonder who built the first head-mounted display? Who first detailed a coherent theory of Cyberspace? Who wrote about cybersex and the challenges it creates? Who worried about addiction to VR? Did anyone ever cure cyber-sickness?

From 1991 to 1996, CyberEdge Journal covered these stories and hundreds more … … Appreciated for its “No VR Hype” attitude, CyberEdge Journal was the publication of record for the VR industry in the 90’s….

Now that VR is enjoying a renaissance, it’s time to understand where it came from, and avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the first golden age of VR, the 1990’s. It’s also a good time to remember the excitement and sense of adventure that characterized those time.

Sex, Drugs, and Tessellation describes not just some of the hot topics of VR, but also the origins, issues, and solutions that were chronicled in the pages of CyberEdge Journal. Complemented by over 100 photos and drawings, there is a surprisingly contemporary feel to these old articles. In addition, more than a dozen VR pioneers have contributed new reminiscences of their work in VR.

Why Sell Out? Oculus -> Facebook

A lot of people are fuming over today’s announcement that Facebook would be buying Palmer Luckey’s Oculus. Palmer and company produced two mainstream marketed development kit head mounted displays which became darlings of the grassroots VR/Gamer community. Starting with Kickstarter, Oculus, channeled through Palmer’s and later John Carmack’s charisma and a hacker friendly attitude, built a loyal and vocal user base, one that championed the ethos of open source and quasi-community development.

Tonight, there’s a lot of disappointment and vitrol that Oculus has abandoned the community, and worse yet (from their perspective), sold out to the Devil incarnate. How could Palmer, who just announced the deal on Reddit, have turned his back on the admiring crowds? Who would have thought the Oculus enthusiasts could be turned into a howling mob in the course of a single afternoon?

Were they betrayed? And by who?

It’s easy to forget that Oculus funding didn’t end with Kickstarter. There’s the Venture Capitalists. Unlike the Kickstarter money-for-prototype funding, the VCs were getting equity, board seats, and a preferential position in the decision making process. VCs don’t take major stakes unless they receive major control of their target.

So when Oculus was offered $400m in cash plus $1.6B in Facebook stock (plus another $300m incentive bonus), was Palmer really making that call alone? After multiple VC funding rounds and stock incentives to key employees, Palmer must have relatively small minority stake in Oculus, although even so the deal involves a considerable sum for him. But a minority share and non-preferred stock means that his vote is in no way decisive… the Venture Capitalists, led by Andreessen Horowitz, make the big time financial decisions. They invest based on their strategic relationships with potential buyers like Facebook (Andreessen sits on the board of Facebook… no small thing.)

It’s only natural that the VCs would push hard for the deal. Inasmuch as Oculus never really had a strategy to rake in 9 figure profits cash on the barrel at huge multiples of their original investment, what’s an investor to do? Let’s hypothetically (and generously) say that there would have been a 50% chance that Oculus could generate $2B in profits (or other liquid value) within the next 4 years. If the investors were to allow Oculus to remain independent they’d be giving up a certain $2B right now, in exchange for a potential payout down the road. How big would that payout need to be? Well…, in this make-believe scenario the investors are essentially deferring their $2B as a high risk loan. They should then receive interest payments on their loan (the time value of money.) But when you risk other-peoples’-money you must pay the vig. Let’s assume 20% per year (that’s low… I promise!) So… discounting for the 50% risk and the vig, the VCs need more than $5B in profit on the future bet. That significantly decreases their (50%) chance of success.

Time to take the money and run!

Does that make Palmer Luckey the bad guy? No, it just makes him the guy who took the VC money without realizing that control had also been surrendered. This is a dance that occurs with every venture capital deal; the term sheets have the control clauses permanently etched.

Is the Facebook deal a bad thing? Good thing? Oculus developed technically well conceived and implemented head mounted displays. The VR displays are/were wildly popular with a community of up to 75,000, doubtless enhanced by the ultra-low $300 price tag. They would need to sell tens of millions of units at this price point in order to realize anything like the $2B Facebook offer. Realistically, the price point needed to be double (or triple) in order to have margins comparable to normal consumer electronic gear. I don’t see them achieving millions of units sold at $600-$900/unit. Pundits have suggested other unspecified, service based, revenue streams. Lacking the clout of a Facebook/Google sized borg, I don’t feel like they could ever reach a critical mass capable of bringing in $5B+ in value (other than equity.)

While the Facebook ethic is the nightmare scenario for the highly independent Oculus community, their alternatives were limited. VCs always rely on the profitability of equity not of product. What will FB do with Oculus? Unknown. But if the Oculus product never makes a single cent, it nonetheless will not die an ugly and horrible cash flow strangulation death; what would certainly have been their fate absent being made part of the borg.


W-Industries Unscripted

W-Industries (Virtuality) always seemed to have a PR person riding herd on any video material that was released about the company or products. Everything the public saw was tightly scripted and edited.  But… here’s a 1992 video from inside the factory that’s more of a home movie cum operations tutorial. We are guided through some of the guts of the Series 1000, the pre-play systems, and the assembly area.

Don’t forget to turn on the YouTube subtitles, the audio track is in Swedish.

Virtual Reality (1991) – “Many Believe It Will Revolutionize The Way We Live”

ABC Primetime covers the VR scene in Sept. 1991. Although this news report conflates computer animation footage with Virtual Reality, it also features interviews with Jon Waldern, Fred Brooks, Howard Rheingold, Mike McGreevey, and C L Dodgson (virtually, of course.) With the advantage of hindsight, it’s interesting to see which predictions from 23 years ago have panned out and which are way out in left field.

… and from the where-are-they-now club, we get a brief glimpse of video footage from Symbolics Inc. (remember LISP?), a hot up-and-comer in computer graphics back in the day.