V-Rtifacts

Tag Archive: HMD

And I’m Never Going Back To My Old School

Two snippets from the old, old school of VR, circa 1991, pitching a reputable UK firm – Division (acquired by PTC in 1999.) Featured are a couple of helmets from VPL Research using LEEP optics and cloth/velcro enclosures. One HMD appears to have been modeled after a gask mask from the trenches of the Great War. Also featured is the VPL CyberGlove.

The killer app? Kitchen lighting! Benefits: prevent the dropping of crockery in the home. Kewl!


A tip of the hat to Mnemonic for tracking down these gems!

It’s All In Between The Eyes

If you look yourself in the eyes, you’ll start to realize that your eyes and your head are different than anyone else’s. The spacing between your eyes, known as the interpupilary distance is about 65mm, but this varies from 50mm to about 75mm, depending on who’s eyes you’re looking through. Also the position of your eyes, relative to the shape of your head is unique; some people have eyes that are more inset, or perhaps bulging outward.

The designers of VR helmets have to deal with all this variation in the human phenome. Everyone has a sweet spot where the two lenses of a VR helmet are perfectly aligned with their eyes. Similarly, each of us want the lenses to be positioned as close as possible to our eyes (to achieve wide field of view), without discomfort. If you wear eyeglasses, you need to have room to fit your glasses between your eyes and the lenses.

So… let’s look at how one helmet design deals with these issues:

State of the Art…Sadly

Over at Meant to be Seen 3D, in answer to a forum post looking for the perfect HMD, board vet, cybereality took the time to respond in depth…

Money quote:

Well, sadly to say it, you will probably be waiting for a long time. There is nothing I know of on the market that fulfills the Virtual Reality fantasy of the 1990’s, and in many ways the stuff they had back then was even more advanced then most of the stuff on the consumer market today. Even if you look at medical/military $20k HMDs, they still don’t even have full HD resolutions or the kind of FOV you would expect in the year 2010 (almost 2011 now). I mean, there have been some interesting research projects in academia, but nothing that could actually play a retail video game out-the-box. At this point I am think about building a DIY HMD myself, and some other members on the forum have already started projects. It just seems that the market is not ready for a consumer level VR device (meaning a headset and any accompanying peripherals). In recent years it seems that Augmented Reality (AR) is gaining popularity and is probably where the industry is headed. So I think a see-through AR-based HMD may have a place in the market in the near future. But the traditional idea of a encompassing display helmet and data-gloves seems to be fading (as much as I’d like it to be real). Hopefully there will continue to be progress in this field.

Read the full post for more…

Flight Helmet – Redux

IMHO, the Virtual Research Flight Helmet was, and still is, the ultimate head mounted display, except of course, it needed modern high resolution LCD panels. Otherwise, it had incredible field of view, great ergonomics, and unbeatable LEEP optics. I came across a more complete brochure including the retail price list (starts at $6,000.)

Flight Helmet side view

photo: Raz Fairlight

Flight Helmet Optics

photo: Raz Fairlight

One unusual aspect of the Flight Helmet was that the left and right images don’t completely overlap, producing a wider image than the normal 4:3 aspect of NTSC video. If you wanted 100% overlap, you needed to purchase prisms (3M Press-On Fresnels) to shift the images horizontally into alignment. To run the helmet monoscopically, the prisms are a must!

Retrospective photo review of Forte VFX1 Virtual Reality system

Forte VFX1 was the most advanced, complex and expensive consumer VR system that appeared on the market during VR craze in mid-nineties. Introduced in 1995, VFX1 was in the shops all around the world in 1996.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
red_blue
vfx1logo
intro1

Hardware overview

System consisted of:

  • Stereoscopic HMD “VFX1 headgear” with built-in 3DOF head-tracker from Honeywell, 45 degree diagonal FOV optics with plastic lenses, 180k resolution LCD screens from Kopin, integrated high-quality stereo headphones from AKG, and microphone;
  • Rugged gyro-joystick “Cyberpuck” with built-in 2DOF tracker and 3 programmable buttons (there was reported that not all VFX1 systems were sold with Cyberpuck);
  • To make this all stuff work – system’s “VIP” card need to be installed into ISA slot of the host PC. VIP card worked in pair with PC’s video-card connected via VESA bus to provide stereoscopic imagery on both screens of the HMD. VIP card also processed all the tracking data, and redirect sound to headphones. It also introduces Access Bus hub.

VFX1 was one on the first VR systems that were sold in former USSR countries. It was very pricy for common consumers here (with starting price in Moscow – 1495 USD), but nevertheless exported VFX1 systems were sold in big quantities. Many years after I was lucky enough to get my hands on such complete exported package, originally sold in Moscow, it have additional Russian manual not included in traditional US version.

Packaging

Let’s take a close look on VFX1 packaging arrangement. VFX1 was packaged in relatively small box (38x33x34 centimeters), with bunch of colorful pictures and a lot of self-advertisement, but its Virtual Reality isn’t it? Here, take a look.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
package_backward
free_cdrom
package_forward
package_inside
package_right
package_top

My box was damaged a little – plastic handle was broken, so for transportation purposes box were glued with scotch tape.

Buy a VR system and get free CD-ROM! Hell yeah, funny today but in 1995 this message had sense.

Package included:

  • VFX1 helmet
  • Detachable strap to helmet adjustments for smaller head sizes
  • Helmet data-cable
  • Cyberpuck (gyroscopic game controller) with Access Bus connector
  • VIP ISA board
  • VESA cable (for video-card attachment)
  • Audio cables with simple jack’s for headphones and microphone
  • Floppy disc with drivers
  • “Free CD-ROM!” with game demos
  • User manuals English and Russian versions

Helmet

VFX1 helmet was somehow bulky but well designed and well balanced; nowadays many VR enthusiasts put modern HMD internals in VFX1 shell for comfortable fit. Personally I prefer modern glasses-like design, but I admit – VFX1 sit’s pretty comfortable on my head.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
helmet_3
helmet_2
helmet_1
helmet_4
helmet_5
helmet_6

VFX1 helmet had “smart visor” that can be opened to allow user to look at the outside world, while not taking off whole helmet. This visor working pretty similar to VPL EyePhone visor which were used in “Lawnmower man” movie.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
helmet_open_1
helmet_open_2
helmet_inside

Visors optics are adjustable, you can change IPD and focal distance for each eye independently. There are no knobs or something to change IPD, you need to gently move oculars along the internal rails manually. Also rubber eyepieces on the oculars are easily detachable.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
ipd_3
focus_1
ipd_2
rubber_eyepiece

Glass optics upgrade was available for additional price, unfortunately nearly impossible to found improved VFX1 oculars today. Insides of the helmet covered with detachable soft foam glued-over with fabric.

Cyberpuck

Is gyroscopic joystick, hold in mid-air, designed to play VR games while standing on foot, absolutely great with Quake. It have 2DOF tracker (Pitch and Roll), and 3 programmable buttons. Pretty neat accessory, too bad it utilizes Access Bus connector and it’s impossible to use it on modern PC’s without being re-wired.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
cyberpuck1
cyberpuck2
cyberpuck3

Other accessories

Among other accessories that can be found in package – is helmet head-strap, 2.5 meters VFX1 data cable, original Forte floppy disk with drivers, and user manuals. VFX1 data cable is actually standard RS-232 26 pin Male-Female cable, which is very flexible. Nowadays it’s very hard to find such cables as spare part, even in specialized cable shops.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
cable
manuals
software

This particular cable marked with Forte logo, and had two warning flags:

“Do not use the VFX1 for more than for 15 minutes at a time (take frequent breaks) make sure the volume is turned down before putting on the VFX1 refer to manual for additional information”

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
flags
jack
jack_logo

Pretty good ad for a 1500 bucks device isn’t it? I suppose this was one of the show stoppers for VFX1, who will spare so much money on the gaming device that you can’t use more than 15 minutes at a time? But, it was good and pretty functional limitation for gaming arcades, where people play for short periods of time.

VIP board and cable connections

As mentioned earlier VIP board need to be connected to ISA slot, provides Access Bus hub, processes tracking data from head tracker and from cyberpuck. Through VESA connector it provides video signal to helmet. Access Bus was actually a predecessor to more useful standard – USB, it also provided possibility to connect many devices through the hubs (and through each-others), make hot connections on already working system (yep, that was a big step forward in RS232 COM era). However Access Bus didn’t stayed long, and I know only one device that uses it – it’s Cyberpuck.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
vip_1
vip_2
vip_3

In my system VIP card is connected via VESA to S3 Trio, it’s the most powerful video-card that provided proper VESA signal, compatible with VFX1. I found mentions from VFX1 users that proper VESA was also on Voodoo Banshee 3D accelerators, but I didn’t have this card and can’t test this.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
vip_4
vip_5
vip_6

Cyberpuck can be connected to VFX1 helmet or directly to VIP card. I prefer HMD connector because it allows playing on foot.

Turning the system on

We examined particular components of VFX1 system, and now let’s connect them together and take a look on the visor’s imagery.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
assembly_1
assembly_2
system

VFX1 works in Windows only in 640 x 480 x 256 colors mode. Actual LCD’s (789×230 color elements) can provide wider range of colors, but utilizing VESA for transferring image to HMD – limit’s it to 256 color palette. But, this palette isn’t fixed, it’s optimized, this means that it holds any color from true-color palette, as long as palette length itself no longer than 256 colors. My VFX1 unit was used frequently in the past, but LCD’s are still bright and colors are vivid.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
desktop
quake1
quake2

I’ve tried to take a few shot’s of what can be seen through VFX1 optics, it is much sharper and with fewer distortions in reality than on these photos. But anyway take a look on the desktop and on a few game-shots from Quake, Descent, and Heretic. These games are my favorites for VFX1, especially Quake1 which gives great immersive feeling even today. By the way VFX1 do not utilize depixelation filters (in contra verse to many professional HMD’s at the time), so black-spacers between pixels are clearly seen.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
descent1
descent2
descent3
heretic1
heretic2
heretic3

For stereoscopy, VFX1 supported two formats of input video – line sequential, and horizontal stereo-pair. While for running VFX1 in stereo-pair mode you need to use proper software, you can set VFX1 to force line sequential mode in windows configuration software, or use command line “VFX1.COM +t” to turn it on in DOS.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
crysis

Crysis stereoscopic screenshot in line-sequential mode, suitable for viewing through VFX1

Software

VFX1 have drivers compatible with DOS, Windows 95 and Windows 98. I’ve installed VFX1 in Windows 98 SE system, and it works there without issues. After hardware installation, you need to properly configure VFX1 software to make it work. When installing software, you’ve instructed to set IRQ settings according to DIP switches positions on VIP board. You can also check tracking for HMD and Cyberpuck. Personally I’ve liked VFX1 DOS software more for its fancy graphical 3D look, but Windows version of VFX1 configurator work pretty the same.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
software1
software2
software3
software4

One of the features that I liked in VFX1 better than in its “grandson” –VR920, that tracking need to be calibrated only once, software calibrate magnetometers automatically you only need to  choose your geographical region. After calibration – VFX1 tracking worked perfectly for me, and there’s no need in further recalibration.

To make game to support all VFX1 features you need to have proper game patch, in rare cases game have built-in VFX1 support (like Descent, System Shock or ZAR). In all other cases you can use VRMouse – native VFX1 mouse emulator, which emulates mouse and key presses for trackers and buttons of Cyberpuck.

Design benefits

VFX1 had many benefits in its release time. Other consumer VR systems at that time provide fewer features; all of them were without any sort of game-controller that allow you to play standing on foot, sometimes with lack of good head-tracking (like “CyberMaxx”) and stereoscopy support (like “Philips Scuba”). Only “I/O Glasses” had both 2DOF tracker and stereoscopy, but it lacked in game support at the moment of release and had inferior picture quality. Besides VFX1 had biggest FOV among other consumer HMD’s.

Overall VFX1 offered immersive experience and wide support of currently available games at the time. Stylish, comfortable and well balanced HMD design received positive critics and very soon in many countries VFX1 helmet was associated to Virtual Reality itself.

Design flaws

However, VFX1 had list of fatal design flaws caused by its early production – this includes ISA interface VIP board, utilization of VESA which limited it to 256 colors palette, and Access Bus which pretty soon was out of the game in favor to USB.

To overcome some of the flaws, Forte released “Linkbox”, which allow VFX1 connection to regular VGA outputs, but linkboxes were made in very small quantities, and nearly impossible to find nowadays. Also linkbox provided to VFX1 only video signal, without tracking, which make it pretty useless. Rumored full-feature linkbox were never created.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
linkbox

Linkbox photo by Kevin Mellot

As possible schema to run VFX1 on modern systems – is to use old host PC with VIP card installed, provide video signal to it through video capture card (some old TV tuner), and using Forte VFX1 SDK (which is available) to program VRPN drivers to get tracking info via network.

Instead of conclusion – followers VFX-3D, VR920, and…

After releasing VFX1, Forte was renamed to IIS, and in 1998 they released VFX3D – successor to VFX1. Fully copied external helmet design, VFX3D get rid of ISA VIP card, instead it had control box, with regular VGA connection to PC. Instead of using Access Bus to carry tracking data – VFX3D sent tracking data via COM port, which became obsolete nowadays too. VFX3D doubled the resolution of VFX1 (360k subpixels instead of 180k), had better color reproduction, but had much lesser FOV (35 degree instead of 45 in VFX1) and fixed optics. VFX3D also lacked Cyberpuck, which is on my opinion – a step back. Even with overall better characteristics and compatibility, VFX3D were sold in lesser quantities.

NextGen ScrollGallery thumbnailNextGen ScrollGallery thumbnail
vfx3d
vr920

Years later IIS changed name to Icuiti, and focused on manufacturing compact video-glasses. However they designed a new gaming HMD, which working title was X-Viewer, afterwards changed to VR920. Before releasing VR920 in 2007 company changed its name again to Vuzix.

Vuzix VR920 – almost tripled resolution of VFX3D (now it’s 920k subpixels, which is true 640×480 resolution), and completely changed its visual design to look like slim futuristic glasses which you can put in a pocket. VR920 have built-in 3DOF head-tracker, and can be connected to VGA or DVI with included adaptor. It supports input resolutions up to 1024 x 768, and drives power, audio, microphone, tracker, and stereo sync-signal via USB. VR920 have no control box, which make it pretty possible to use as mobile HMD for small PC’s or Netbooks. Latest software update for VR920 enables all its functions on Windows7 64bit OS.

Currently Vuzix focused on multi-purpose Wrap series of portable video-glasses which lacks head-tracking for VR gaming. Wrap 6DOF head-tracking module is announced but yet not produced by company.

Teardown – Virtual Research V6

1995 brought us the V6 head mounted display from Virtual Research, the successor to the excellent design of the VR-4. The V6 doubled the overall resolution while retaining the great optics, field of view, comfort, and ease of use originally found in the VR-4. In addition to improved image quality, the V6 refined many of the mechanical elements pioneered in the VR-4, greatly simplifying these mechanical elements. The VR-4 had quite a number of circuit boards inside the helmet, but the control box could have been built completely from Radio Shack components. The V6 moved almost all the electronics into the control box, leaving the helmet with a minimum of electronics.

The V6 manufacturing process did not require any expensive tooling, such as injection molds. The plastic parts are either thermoformed or milled in a machine shop. The metal parts are either stock or machine shop fabricated. Great for short and medium run products! The VR-4 used extremely thin thermoform plastic for light blocks and circuit board mounts. This plastic tended to crack and break off over time. The V6 totally eliminates this thin plastic and uses sheet metal (anodized aluminum) and milled plastic instead.

The V6 was followed shortly by the V8, again doubling the resolution. The V6 and V8 share the same control box, power supply, and mechanical components. The V8 adds a small fan inside the helmet shell to cool the electronics and LCDs. The displays and driving electronics are from Epson.

Specs in the brochure…

How To Buy LCDs (in 1995)

Jeremy Oliver advises how to purchase LCD displays for your next homebrew VR helmet. (Hint: take all your optics to Montgomery Wards and try every TV and camcorder on the shelf!)

Jeremy’s less than successful experience with Radio Shack suggests a big thumbs down, but what did I know; my first DIY leveraged their Pocketvision-27 (still wondering about models 1-26?)

And now I’ll turn the podium over to Jeremy:

Dear Dreamer and Garage VR Enthusiasts:

DO NOT USE LCDs from the Sega GameGear and/or the Atari Lynx.  They are not NTSC compatible.  The GameGear can be made NTSC compatible with the TV tuner that is an accessory sold separatedly but you will find that you are paying more than for most pocket LCD TVs in the market.  Besides if you went ahead and use a pair of Sega GameGear as viewers for a HMD, I am sure that you will be displease by the coarse resolution.  The Atari Lynx has more res than the GameGear but it is still inadequate for VR immersion.

Using a pair of VictorMaxx Stuntmaster would work but the resolution is even worse.

DO NOT BUY LCDs from Radio Shack.  I am sorry that if some of you would disagree with me on this but I am talking from experience.  One of my first HMD was built from hi-res 3.3″ LCDs I hacked from some pocket TVs I bought from Radio Shack and now it doesn’t work because I can’t find replacement parts that only Radio Shack sold.  I lost about $170 because some small surface mounted diodes and transistors were damaged by my novice soldering skills.

I then lost $30 to long distance phone calls pursuing these parts all over America and even Japan.  I could have easily fixed my damaged TV sets if only Radio Shack was cooperative of giving me the neccessary information I would have needed to make my own power supply to run the LCDs.  This information I seeked was just the values of a handful of crucial surface mounted devices.  Now Radio Shack does not have 85% of the parts I would have needed if the damage was worse.  That is why I say don’t buy from Radio Shack.

STICK WITH THE MAJOR BRANDS like Sony, Casio, JVC, Sharp, etc.  They manufacture their own products and you have a better chance finding parts from them down the road when you may need them (the backlight for example).

HOW TO PICK LCDs:

Go to your local elctronics stores and check out anything with LCDs (e.g.  pocket TVs, camcorders, and even laptops).  Really examine these LCDs if you don’t care what others think take your optics with you.  I would stand in Montgomery Wards really eyeballing the LCD TVs and camcorders with my assortment of fresnel, arcrylic, glass lenses.

Once you make your list, get in contact with as many technicians/TV repairmen you can who are knowledgeable of LCD products.  Ask them what is the complexity of disassembling these LCD products from their housing and modifying them to lightweight and still functional.  Then ask if they have the service manuals to these LCD products in their shops so that you can hopefully see them for yourself.

Service manuals that have many illustrations and schematics will save you alot time, money, and heartaches.  DO NOT BUY any LCDs without looking at its service manual.  This will give you an idea how to strategically disassemble/modify the LCD product for HMD use.  Also try to milk the technician for as much information as possible, I learn more about electronics and video technologies from all the technicians I have met that reading a good book.  They probably can probably give you some better ideas too

Now call the manufacturers for prices of the LCDs, all neccessary parts to give it a composite video signal, and the servie manual.  Try to find out how many years these parts will be available.  I highly advise that you don’t buy soon to be discontinued products because of the uncertainty of available parts.

Once you decide what LCD to use make sure you want to go along and build a HMD because no matter what you still going to spend some money and invest alot of your time putting it together into a decent working HMD.  Really think it over

If you decide to do it…I am with you every step of the way.  If you have any questions just e-mail me.  I even have some circuits that you can put together that will enhance the performance of your HMD.

OH DARN

I forgot to discuss the use of VGA LCDs as viewers for HMD….well you probably have an idea what I was going to say.  If any of you want me to go into that possiblity, feel free to e-mail with that your request.  I pretty sure that I have pissed of some of you with this large byte letter…..I just hope that it was very helpful to some.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Oliver                         foliver@lonestar.utsa.edu

From: “Frank J. Oliver ” <foliver@lonestar.jpl.utsa.edu>
Newsgroups: sci.virtual-worlds
Subject: Re: TECH: Sega Game Gear LCDs
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 20:00:21 -0500
Organization: The University of Texas at San Antonio
Message-Id: <Pine.SGI.3.91.950925185231.28828C-100000@lonestar.jpl.utsa.edu>

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?