Virtual Reality Systems Through History

Virtual reality isn’t exactly a new idea, although the recent hype surrounding it might have you believe that. Very early notions of virtual realities created well before the term even existed, dating back as far as the 1930s.

Virtual reality systems have advanced quite a bit since then, with a few standout inventions among them. After the first head mounted display was created in 1960, VR systems have undergone some amazing changes. Their current form which we know today will continue to adapt as well, until virtual reality systems are available in every home across the globe.

Telesphere Mask

Credited as the first ever head mounted display, the Telesphere Mask was created by Morton Heilig in 1960. While wearing the headset, users were treated to stereoscopic 3D and stereo sound, although it did not feature any motion tracking.

Telesphere Mask Sketch


Getting a step closer to the VR system we know today, Philco Corporation engineers created the Headsight. This technology relied on a separate screen for each eye as well as a motion tracking system in place to create a 3D image.

Although not used to simulate virtual environments, this military creation is known for being a precursor to the HMD that we use today without the modern computer generation.

Sword of Damocles

According to the Virtual Reality Society, the first ever HMD to be connected to a computer was the Sword of Damocles, created by Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull. This device was so large that it had to suspend from the ceiling, so it could never be worn comfortably. Using very primitive computer generated graphics, this system was able to display 3D images.

After the Sword of Damocles, many adjustments were made to HMDs to bring them into the more modern form we know today.

Sega and Nintendo VR

After gaming arcades begin to feature virtual reality systems for multiplayer use in the early 90s, popular developers looked for ways to bring this technology to the home gamer.

Sega announced plans for a VR headset in 1993, but after continual issues with technical development, the idea was scrapped. There had already been three games developed for the VR system, and the cancellation of these plans came as an upset to Sega fans.

Nintendo was the next large company to try their hand at a commercial virtual reality system in 1995 with the Virtual Boy. Although this device made it to shelves in Japan and North America, it enjoyed limited success due to its lack of graphics and software support. The product was discontinued the following year.

Google Cardboard

Never ones to be left behind with technology, Google also wanted a piece of the virtual reality pie. Google Cardboard was announced in 2014 as a more basic solution to the large virtual reality systems that were promised to launch in a year or two.

Google Cardboard VR Goggles

Google Cardboard is a simple VR device that can fit in with your smartphone, allowing users to play 3D games and movies. The best part was, this system retailed for under $20 so it was easily accessible to everyone.

Oculus Rift

Jump forward to 2016 now, with the much hyped Oculus Rift system finally being launched. After a few years of development, Facebook acquired the Oculus VR Company for $2 billion and made plans to launch the product in March.

This system relies on a virtual reality PC setup which connects the Rift to your desktop, and the user wears a headset to either game or watch movies. With a great selection of titles already available, this system is already one of the most popular VR devices ever created for home use.

Early criticisms of the Rift involve the lack of touch controllers that truly complete the VR experience. Current models have users operating the system with a Xbox controller, leaving some players feeling a bit let down. However, new devices which feature the Touch controllers are set to be released later in 2016.

HTC Vive

The main competition of the Oculus Rift comes from HTC with the Vive. Already being promoted as more suited to gamers that the Rift, the Vive has controllers that let you reach out and touch the virtual world. However, it’s a lot more costly that the Rift and some might say not worth the extra money.

The HTC Vive was released in April 2016 and has enjoyed a lot of success among gamers. Although the current game library is a bit limited, the titles already released offers hours of entertainment.

This system was built using the same technology as the Rift, but with a few small differences. HTC Vive features a front facing camera which means the user is still able to interact with the real world as they need, solving huge problems in terms of safety.

The motion tracking in the Vive allows gamers to move around their lounge room as they game, which fully adds to the immersive qualities of this system.

Full Htc Vive VR System

Virtual Reality Systems in the Future

Virtual reality technology has already advanced so far from the first head mounted display in 1960 to the form we know today which allows users to fight their enemies with a sword in a virtual world, all while standing in their living room.

As the current models of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift continue to battle it out to be the VR system of 2016, other developers may be able to work with early criticisms to craft a superior system.

If the current trend continues, VR systems could become more commonplace among gamers and digital media fans provided they continue to adapt as dictated. As developers work with new technologies and continue to listen to their customers’ suggestions, virtual reality for the home could become even more realistic, affordable, and easy to use.