Tag Archive: 1994

A VR Who’s Who From 1994 – uniVRsum

1994 marks the peak of what many view as the first “Big Bubble” in VR popularity. There were literally hundreds of (mostly) entrepreneurial startups taking a wild fling and what seemed to be a game-changing technology. You could strike sparks anywhere! By 1997 most had either vanished or transformed themselves. If you stood in just the right place, with the right kind of eyes, you could almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back. (Thanks HST!)


Thanks to Zenka – Zenka.org – for the totally cool Sega VR sculpture.

In the first half of 1994 a group of students, with the limited support of a few industry players, known as VRASP (Virtual Reality Alliance of Students and Professionals) embarked on the uniVRsum project to integrate the diverse and incompatible VR technologies flooding the market. This was to culminate in a presentation at Siggraph ’94, the premiere computer graphics conference and trade show.

One of uniVRsum’s first steps was to compile a database of the VR company/product universe. As one of the few industry supporters, I had access, thanks to Karin August at VRASP, to a copy of this fascinating compendium. Twenty-two years later, it resurfaced in an old file box.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive survey of 120 companies active in the VR marketplace in early 1994. A few remain, but most are lost, “like tears… in the rain.”


Click for entire listing PDF




Vintage VR-4 Head Mounted Display Teardown

Here’s a much more detailed tear down of the Virtual Research VR-4 Head Mounted Display, done by one of the engineers at VR sometime in 1994. He shows us how to remove the back light inverter and the main PCB.

‘Scuse the vintage VHS EP mode recording. I was trying to save on video tape costs; a 6 hour tape cost $1.50!

A Day In The Life

Scenes from a typical day in the virtual world of tomorrow:

You wake up and attend to your daily bathroom rituals, which unfortunately will never be replaced by any virtual reality process… Thus, after your real world morning ceremonies are completed, it’s time to get immersed in your virtual world…. By the time you put on all your gear and make all the proper calibrations, nearly an hour has passed and you’re still not even logged in… It’s like getting ready for a joust, only you don’t have servants and footmen to help you get dressed.

Harvey Newquist in the Premier Issue of the Virtual Reality Special Report, 1994

With apologies to Matt at PaleoFuture (’cause I spotted this article first, but it’s really apropo of his blog), Newquist takes a hard poke at the realities of (im)practical Virtual Realities. In addition to the clumsiness factor, he somehow drags in Hillary Clinton and the Center for Disease Control:

Getting dressed up, sharing greasy headsets – it all sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? … As everyone from Hillary Clinton to the Center for Disease Control begins to worry about what kind of communicable diseases you can get… people are going to get a little bit more finicky about what they strap onto their bodies…

Newquist concludes:

We want VR to grow up to be warm and friendly like Ward Cleaver. What we might get if we don’t give more thought to the VR interface is Ted Bundy.

And all this time I’ve been striving for Al Bundy!

Read the whole article: A Day In The Life for yourself!



The Writing Was On the Wall…

When did we first get a clue that VR might not fully live up to its promise? The National Academy of Science’s “Committee on Virtual Reality Research and Development” roster is a non-virtual who’s-who of the VR world circa 1994. They certainly “got it!”



WASHINGTON — Despite the enthusiasm surrounding virtual reality (VR) — three-dimensional computer-generated worlds with which people can interact — a substantial gap exists between the technology available today and the technology needed to bring virtual environments closer to reality, concludes a National Research Council committee in a new report.* If the federal government vigorously pursues a broad-based program of research on virtual environments, telerobotics, and augmented reality, it could lead to many cost-effective applications that will go well beyond those now available in the entertainment industry.


The City and the Stars – VR a Billion Years From Now!

Back when VR really had some cred, the Diaspar Virtual Reality Network hopped on the bandwagon. Imagine, if you will, a dial-up service with a feature list, every item containing the phrase “will be”, as in this feature will be available… but when? Yes, its somewhat ironic that the network is named “Diaspar”, as this is Arthur C. Clarke’s vision of a city some one billion years in the future, as in: “Diaspar will be a great city for hype-meisters…”

Arthur C. Clarke’s Tale of One Billion Years Into the Future

OK, to be fair, Diaspar did promise some sort of shared virtual worlds (based on Rend386 and your dial-up connection), but that trebled the per hour cost of the service. And yes, they had an online store where you could buy a VictorMaxx StuntMaster HMD (we’re getting closer to the hype now!), but its not clear how the helmet ties into their future interactive offerings. Pricing is shown below, or click on it to see the entire product slick.

Welcome to the “Where Are They Now?” Club

The somewhat short lived “Virtual Reality Systems” magazine ran an irregular column “Bitz and Bytz” subtitled “These news items are excerpts of what happened in the world of Virtual Reality during the past 12 months.”  Have a gander at the Spring 1994 Quarterly update.

Joining the WATN club:

Narrow Field of View is Good… – CyberEye 100

1994 brought one of the first “lightweight” head mounted displays, the CyberEye from then San Jose based General Reality. Offered in both stereoscopic and monoscopic versions, the CyberEye featured a flip-up visor which allowed users to see keyboards and monitors in the “real” world. CyberEye’s introductory letter touts the benefits of narrow field of view optics:

Dear Visualization Pioneer:

…. Many toy manufacturers stretch today’s limited pixel-count LCD panels to provide a 70 deg. or even 110 deg. FOV, resulting in low-resolution blocky images, strange optical artifacts, and huge amounts of optical distortion at the image corners. Instead, CyberEye provides crisp, undistored images equivalent to a huge 7 ft. TV (at a distance of 12 ft.)

Yes, in 1994, wide FOV head mounted displays revealed the transistor structure of the underlying LCD displays. I’m just not sure that narrow field of view makes for much of an immersive experience?


A Sweet Ride – IAAPA ’94

By 1994 the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) exhibition floor was packed with VR systems. As a potential marketplace, blood was in the water and you couldn’t tell the fish from the sharks. With a very few exceptions most of these companies had been chewed up, eaten and excreted as waste by the ’95 or ’96 show.

Motion platforms were very much the rage; safety less so by the looks of this system:

Notice he’s wearing dark shorts…

And a couple more motion platforms: