VR headsets timeline since 1950

Virtual reality appears for the first time in a fictional way in Pygmalion’s Spectacles, Stanley G. Weibaum’s book, and a few decades later we are there “Instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you and you are in it.” And today virtual reality is becoming more democratic, here are the main evolutions.

The 50s – 60s: tests in immersive reality

In the 1950s, the first prototype of virtual reality was for the cinema. It is Sensorama, an immersive cinema created by director Morton Heiling. The Sensorama was not a helmet but more like an arcade console. An imposing device that includes a movable seat and fragrant air diffused according to the image. The experiment proposed by Morton Hieling consisted of a motorcycle ride through New York reproducing the wind, the smell of the city in addition to the visual and the sounds of the street. A revolutionary machine for the time that responded to several senses: hearing, smell, sight, and offered sensations. It was not until the 1970s that Morton Heiling opened the first immersive cinema, using the same mechanisms.

In 1961, the Headsight helmet was created by military personnel, the objective of preparing military personnel by simulating dangerous situations. This experiment involved visual, hearing and smell. This is the first version of the “real” virtual reality headsets with a separate screen for each eye… This device contained a magnetic tracking system linked to a camera, which allowed the head movements to be taken into account when moving the camera remotely.

The first virtual reality headset appeared in 1968. It was created by Ivan E. Sutherland, the Ultimate Display also known as the Sword of Damocles, because of its weight the helmet needed to be held by a mechanical arm that blocked the user in his movements… Ivan E. Sutherland takes over the technologies used in HDM headsets and adds a computer program. The objective is to design a virtual world and be able to interact with the real world in order to no longer differentiate between the real and the virtual.

The 90s: VR helmets tests and big failures

In 1991, Sega produced a prototype of a virtual reality headset composed of LCD screen in the visor and stereo headphones, sensors inserted in the headset made it possible to follow and react to the users’ movements. Nevertheless, this headset was not distributed to the general public, Sega was concerned that the experience seemed too real and test users experienced headaches and travel sickness when using the Sega headset. This headset was developed for video games. Among the helmets that have remained in the prototype state is also the Atari Jaguar in 1993, this product should have been sold to the general public. There are only two prototypes of this product left, one low resolution and one high resolution, the others having been destroyed after the merger between Atari and JTS.

One of the only virtual reality headsets distributed in the 1990s is Nintendo’s called Nintendo Virtual Boy. This system has been a major commercial failure, despite attractive video games. There are several reasons for this:

  • The previous prototypes have put the public in a great enthusiasm that has never been satisfied,
  • The product required a stable installation,
  • The visual was only in black and red,
  • The ergonomics of the helmet did not allow users to have a qualitative experience

So many reasons why VR helmets were a failure in the 1990s.

The 2000’s : the renewal of augmented reality:

The first prototype of the Oculus Rift was launched in 2010 and launched in 2016. The same year HTC launches its headset in collaboration with Valve called HTC Vive, just like Sony launches PlayStation VR, both are dedicated to video games. While Samsung had launched the Samsung Gear VR in 2015. In the category of low-cost VR helmets, the Google Cardboard is launched in 2014, it is a helmet made from cardboard in which the user inserts his phone as a screen. A simplified version of a virtual reality headset that provides an overview of the technology.

In 2019, the real novelty of virtual reality headsets is the Oculus Quest, the first wireless headset. The innovation comes from the functioning of the helmet, it uses automatic learning to create sensors inside the helmet to map the user’s environment. Thus, it can operate alone, without a computer and sensor. This product is therefore easily transportable, and shows a new combination between virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Despite the failures of the 1990s, augmented reality helmets have been able to rebound since the early 2000s. This immersive technology is developing very quickly and is becoming more and more popular.

You appreciated this article, you may be curious about future developments in VR or the use of VR in education.

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