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.

Flashback To The ’40s

We all know that the 1950’s were the golden age of 3D movies, Hollywood’s attempt to fend off the rapidly growing television audience. Their 3D thrust was short lived, and with a few exceptions, we enjoyed almost 50 years of 2D bliss. This time around 3D is harder to avoid… TV has it too! For those of you who want to preserve your 2D way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Amazon now offers 2D Glasses, a simple way to revert passive 3D systems for 2D viewing. And who says the world isn’t flat?

2D Glasses

2D Glasses

Back In The Day – Japan 1990

Based on a mix of US and Japanese technology, this brief news segment shows a vibrant VR c0mmunity in 1990 Japan. There’s gloves and HMDs from VPL, although the LCD displays inside the helmet are from Sony Japan. There’s also a nice augmented reality helmet (built on an actual construction helmet), and a force/tactile feedback system to boot. More than 20 years ago, all the pieces of the VR puzzle were all in place.

Attack of the Avatar (Show)

VR Technology at FordTrust the folks at G4 to bring us the real scoop on state-of-the-art VR from the inventors of the assembly line, Ford Motor Company. G4’s reportage AND Ford’s VR applications are both impressive; both the MSM and GM/Chrysler have something to learn here. G4 traditionally (is that an oxymoron??) sticks with the latest video games and gadgets on Attack of the Show, but at Ford they seem to have out done GTA. Watch!

The return of Virtual Reality?

Well we all saw how the VR hype slowly faded out in the late 90s – so how can i put up such a title?

Some people might have noticed the recent boom of 3D related stuff. It somehow started last year, suddenly the buried technology was quickly excavated and sold as the most brilliant innovation of 2009. We are not really sure who started it. Maybe it was “Avatar”, the new most seen movie in the world, maybe it was Fuji with the first digital 3D consumer camera – or was it Panasonic with their new Professional 3D camcorder? And the new wave continued – this year we were excited to learn that Nintendo’s next DS handheld will have a 3D screen and that the soccer worldcup will be aired in 3D.

And as with the VR hype we get countless options to buy Snake Oil again. Yeah suddenly all new TV’s are quickly converted to “HD 3D TV Sets” by just throwing a pair of cheap shutterglasses into the box.

I think it is safe to claim that the average IQ went down a bit if these sell really well as they are still the same kind of Shutterglasses that they tried to sell you in the early 90s as the “ultimate 3D experience”. Okay this year they are wireless, but if you have a remote idea about what shutterglasses are you will have to admit that it makes very limited sense to run around while wearing them unless you own a TV set that is willing to run in front of you.

Anyways, i think it is clear we will see enough people that kiss their brand new 3000 Dollar “3D TV”, proudly wearing their shutter glasses, knowing they have reached the pinnacle of technology.

Anone who is having doubts about these predictions definitely missed the whole history of 3D which – since Sir Charles Wheatstone invented the tech in 1838.

What Mr. Wheatstone probably did not know was that his technology would spread as a wave that permanently goes up and down – between hype and forgotten. Will this curse be banned and everything will be 3D from now on? Very unlikely. As in 1838 most people will drool about the “new” tech for a while, but soon after the first shutter glasses will get lost under the couch again – just as usual. Some ideas presented last year were quite interesting, but most probably no breakthrough. That the Fuji “W1” camera comes with a revolutionary new display that allows viewing 3D without glasses is true, but the parallax barrier is neither new nor perfect. If you ever held a Fuji W1 in your hands you will get what i mean – unless you hold the display perfectly straight and aligned with your eyes it simply won’t work. The angle of view is probably like 3 Degree, the slightest tilt of your head and the 3D is gone. First Digital camera display that only one person a a time can view.

I think the only final answer to 3D would be a display without glasses that has an extremely far angle of view and a price tag that is extremely close to casual displays.

But Okay that’d 3D and what about the VR stuff you promised? OK got me – there isn’t really anything new at the classic VR market, no stunning new VR helmets or headtrackers. But the fate of VR has always been tied to the fate of 3D. If the current 3D hype will keep going as the industry wants us to believe then VR will get a second chance. The first wonder already happened – and remains undetected by most pros – the game to our world’s most popular movie – avatar. To my highest astonishment the game features a Field sequential stereoscopic mode – and suddenly i was playing a 2010 game on my old 1995 iglasses and VFX-3D VR headsets without any obscure combination of old stereoscopic Nvidia drivers and hardware. But as expected – the video game magazines didn’t really take notice of this small sensation. Can’t blame them as most writers there probably wore diapers when Cybermaxx, VFX-1 and co hit the market in mid 90s.

Does this save VR immediately? Not really, but it’s some light in this room that was dark for years. Insider joke: Q: How could you immediately make VR an industry standard and have everyone buy a VR headset? A: Have Apple rebrand a batch of old VFX-1 as “iVR”.