V-Rtifacts

Tag Archive: 1993

The Great Bubble

2013 has brought much excitement to the VR world, especially the perception of great breakthroughs in Head Mounted Display products. Can we take a deep breath, then hold up a distant mirror to the cautionary history of VR from 1993-1998. Back then there also was a fever pitch of excitement as companies pitched great breakthroughs, attracted outsize investments from private and public markets, and yet, the best of them crashed and burned, taking their investors, customers, and vendors down with them.

I invite you to review this chronological collection of VR news reports beginning with the fire sale of VPL’s much vaunted patent portfolio. The reports follow the rise and fall of three VR industry giants: Virtuality, IO Systems, and Superscape. I present these as examples, but they’re not alone. Very few VR firms escaped the 90’s. Sadly the VR bubble burst long before the late 90’s tech bubble burst. It wasn’t the economy – stupid!

Does history repeat itself?

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Sega VR – Mighty Barfin’ Power Rangers (we are the 40 percent)

Sega (all hail Sonic!): 1991 brought the announcement of Sega VR, a $200 headset for the Genesis console, a prototype finally shown at summer CES 1993, and consigned to the trash heap of VR in 1994, before any units shipped. Sega claimed that the helmet experience was just too realistic for young children to handle, but the real scoop from researchers showed that 40% of users suffered from cybersickness and headaches. It’s fair to say that Sega undoubtedly anticipated a sea of lawsuits; as one pundit in the industry put it: “It will be like the Pinto’s exploding gas tank.”

Perfectly capturing the annoying VR hype of the era is Alan Hunter’s (MTV) summer 1993 CES intro of Sega VR:

Money quote from a teen featured in the promo: “I thought I was going to have to wait till I was old… like 30, to get VR at home!” It’s now 2012, he’s closing in on 40, and still waiting.

Much more info can be found in Ken Horowitz’s 1994 review. Four games were produced especially for Sega VR, never to be released.

Here’s some sense of the much feared “realism” which provoked Sega to pull the plug on production:

Much to Sega’s credit, their VR fail was at least an original marketing effort, whereas later in the 1990’s, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and Atari’s (Virtuality designed) Jaguar VR crashed and burned in much the same mode (although at far greater expense.)

Low Cost VR For The Virtual Hacker

From 1993: “Now you can go to Radio Shack, buy what you need, and build it yourself.” Robert Suding and the Virtual Reality Special Report provide specific instructions for building a stereoscopic HMD for $435. Interestingly the optics and prisms are quite similar to the V-Rtifacts “Leep On The Cheap” design.


Read the plans in full…

Yea, though he has walked through the Valley of Silicon, he fears no evil. Jaron Lanier’s rebound…

“Inside Jaron Lanier is a precocious eight-year-old who got together with some friends and built a spaceship,” wrote Howard Rheingold in his 1991 book, Virtual Reality, the definitive history of VR to date. “Now he wants us all to take a ride in it.”


More from Burr Snider’s 1993 perspective in Wired….

Setup A Fastrak – Fast!

For many years, and perhaps still today, the Polhemus Fastrak was/is the reference standard for low lag, high accuracy six degrees of freedom (6DOF) tracking. Used extensively to track head mounted displays and data gloves, this magnetic tracker was used in most VPL systems and all the 1rst generation Virtuality systems.

For fun, here’s a video showing how to setup and test a 4 sensor Fastrak.

Is VR the New Wasteland? (from 1993….)

VR today is like early TV: it suffers from the split personality of most start-up high-tech industries. At the one end is the top of the line research, carried out by institutions with no mandate to sell anything. At the other end, we have new hardware and software products whose developers are only too happy to demo them at a plethora of VR conferences, but where the differences in product are less important than the similarities. It’s like having a VCR and no movies to rent: who needs it? Virtual Reality will continue as the domain of media hype until its supporters and developers start to pay closer attention to the content of what they put out.

Ira Meistrich in Pix-Elation Issue Vol II No II

17 years later, is the situation drastically transformed? Perhaps not. In many ways 1993 was the golden age of VR, not only because the systems were truly immersive (e.g. wide field of view HMDs), but there were some complete VR experiences, especially from W Industries. OK, maybe it was the bronze age, not the golden, but it seems like we’re now back in the stone age. What happened? And… does anyone remember what a VCR is?

The Games That Would Be King

From 1991 to 1996 W Industries Virtuality systems defined the image of VR in the location based entertainment arena. Here in the US, Horizon Entertainment was their sole distributor. W Industries was remarkably innovative with their use of technology, but their “innovations” in finances were not so successful. Arcade operators had a difficult time breaking even; motivated by their IPO, W extended credit to these operators to bolster their sales figures; and by 1996 W was in receivership leaving stockholders and vendors less than whole.

However… Virtuality, first using an Amiga platform and later a 486 PC, achieved a remarkable quality of game play for those early years. This collection of videos will give you a flavor. Thanks go out to Fronzel who generously compiled many of these. Watch! (more…)