September 2017 Update: With Oculus Connect 4 just around the corner (I can’t wait!), I wanted to re-publish my history of VR and the Oculus Rift that I wrote on reddit back in April 2016as a reminder on how far we’ve come. I can’t believe it’s been over 4 years since the DK1 shipped! Will we see a CV2 announced?
The first coming of VR…
Early 90’s: W Industries – Virtuality System
The first real taste I had was a touring Virtuality System in a popup shop in Melbourne, Australia. It blew my mind (and my young wallet at $1 minute if I recall correctly). It was amazing playing multi-player Legend Quest where I was a tiny elf and my friend was a giant.
The HMD was bulky and heavy. The FOV was a massive 65+ degrees which was significant as it was touted as the beginning threshold for immersive experience.
I, like many people then realized VR was going to be huge, and was almost there, and would probably be a couple of years but then we’d all be in virtual reality… we just needed a consumer version..
That original Virtuality system was released in November 1990:
“ The key element of the user interface is the visor (or “visette”). This contains a sensor for 3-dimensional head tracking, along with the colour TFT LCD screens which create the stereo image. The inputs to the screens are simply RGB signals created by the graphics boards. The screens provide a resolution of 276 horizontal by 376 vertical pixels, with the graininess of the image created being removed using a “spacial convolver”.
The computer — actually an Amiga 3000 motherboard — handles tracking of sensors, sound and music (from samples). Rendering of graphical images is performed by two custom graphics boards (one per eye), using TMS 34020/082 at 40Mflops. Mr Rowley told us that the unit could render a maximum of 30,000 polygons/s at 20 screen updates per second. “
- Type: Arcade Machine
- Display: Stereoscopic, 276 x 376, 70 degrees FOV. IIRC that’s total pixel elements including R+G+B, so divide by 3 !
- Tracking: Polhemus magnetic tracking. 60-70ms latency.
- Cost: $65,000
I still have a working Virtuality 2000 headset in the garage.
Mid 90’s: Liquid Image MRG 2.2
The next big breakthrough (at least as I saw it) was the emergence of the MRG HMDs. This Canadian company basically found a way to have a large FOV at an amazing $3000 price point. They sacrificed the stereoscopic display and tracking. They basically took a large 5.6” LCD panel and stuck a cheap fresnel lens in front and whacked it on your head. The helmet was massive, but the immersiveness was unbeatable for years and years to come. And much later it really paved the way for Palmer to make the Rift.
- Type: Helmet (component of an arcade or research system)
- Display: Monoscopic, 240×240, 70+ degrees FOV
- Tracking: None
- Cost: $3,000
I also have one of these in the garage, when in the mid-2000’s it was popular to swicth out the display for a modern 640×480 or higher LCD panel.
In the early 90’s the place to hang out was the sci.virtual-worlds usenet group:
Mid-Late 90’s:: Consumer VR
So here we are, VR is taking a bit longer than I expected to be a massive consumer hit, but it must be close now. Thanks to Id’s Doom 3d we’re now getting used to powerful 3d FPS games.
Suddenly I remember all of a sudden being spoilt for choice – Forte VFX1, Cybermaxx, Virtual I/O i-glasses, Philips Scuba, etc etc. Running directly from my PC. Wow. Or, well, not so wow. The displays and tracking was terrible. And importantly there was no content.
Typically resolution was 263 x 230 with FOV under 45 degrees.
Forte VFX1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VFX1_Headgear
Victormaxx CyberMaxx: https://vrwiki.wikispaces.com/Victormaxx+CyberMaxx
Philips Scuba Visor: https://vrwiki.wikispaces.com/Philips+Scuba
Virtual I/O’s iglasses!: http://graphics.stanford.edu/infrastructure/gamma-corrected/iglasses.html
The 2000’s: VR slinks back into research laboratories
You probably wouldn’t realize it, but there were plenty of HMD options in the 2000’s.
Check out this list:
But many of them were specialist, and/or required you to create custom software. I had several of those, and thanks to the Z3D drivers in the mid 2000’s i was able to run many games on them – I remember playing Half Life 2 in VR in 2008. However, the best FOV I could find at that time was around 50 degrees. And tracking using a gyro mouse or TrackIR.
There was a lot of VR home-brew going on around the mid-late 2000’s and the place to be was:
(if you look in there closely you’ll find Palmer)
2005: The eMagin Z800 3DVisor
If any HMD in the 2000’s looked like achieveing a come back for VR it was the Z8000. With stereoscopic dual OLED panels 640×480 and a FOV of > 40 degrees. Most importantly it included a digital gyroscope for tracking.
Unfortunately they failed to take off. The VGA resolution and low FOV just didn’t get consumer acceptance.
The Second Coming of VR…
Aug 22, 2009; Palmer starts posting on MTBS3D.COM:
And interestingly cybereality is the first reply. Wow.
March 19, 2010: DIY VR
If you go back to Stereo3d.com forums in 2010, you will find Palmer has gotten a Liquid Image MRG 2.2 and was upgrading the panel and optics. A good tear down YouTube was:
April 12, 2011: Palmer’s PR1 “Prototype 1”
A year later and the place to hang out is MTBS3D.COM and Palmer has finished his upgrade to the MRG 2.2 by replacing the 240×240 panel with a whopping 1280×800 panel and 83 degrees FOV. This was his PR1 HMD.
Now remember this is monoscopic and no tracking.
March 2, 2012: FOV2GO Unity Plugin
Worthy of a mention that Palmer also worked on software. He wrote a Unity3d plugin to enable people to use split screen viewers (such as the HASBRO MY3D VR iphone viewer that came out in late 2011).
I used the combination of FOV2GO with My3D in several projects at the time. It was amazing. Very smart use of the on-board gyro coupled with the splt stereoscopic rendering.
Apr 15, 2012: Original Rift Kickstarter Thread:
Palmer made I think 5 prototypes in all until we created the concept for the Rift. It had no tracking capability and used specialized LEEP optics to achieve a high FOV.
According to the web, it was that post that John Carmack responded to, asking for a prototype. And to which Palmer immeadiately sent him the working unit he had with no NDAs,
May 17, 2012: Carmack’s post: A day with an Oculus Rift
According to John Carmack:
“This [headset] was actually made by another guy named Palmer Luckey. I contacted him about this and he sent me one of his two prototypes. The idea here is that this is going to be a kit that people can put together. He did the optics and the display screen. It’s got a 6-inch LCD panel back here, and then there’s a pair of lenses per eye stretching it out to this high field of view. I added my sensors with the custom firmware and straps to hold it on your head.
But the magic on this – the reason why people didn’t just do something simple like this 20 years ago for VR – is that if you do simple optic lenses like this, it fish-eyes the view a lot, so it’s very distorted coming out. But what we can do now is, we have so much software power that I can invert that distortion on the computer. I render my normal view and then I reverse the eye warping in the pixel shader, and then when it gets piped out to this, it reverses it and it comes out all straight and square. So this is a huge field of view on this.”
May 30, 2012: Carmack demos the Rift prototype:
Carmack had not only added a gyroscopic tracking system but now had pre-warped distrortion to counter-act the distortion of the lenses.
(Although I would love to know if Cyber’s own code was previously used with the rift prototype?)
Jun 6, 2012: E3 2012: John Carmack Interview
August 1, 2012: Oculus Rift Kickstarter Launches
So here after all the Carmack videos and almost 4 years ago the Rift Kickstarter launched.
February 23, 2013: John Carmack: Latency Mitigation Strategies
With the imminent release of he DK1 Carmack really went to town on the technology to bring VR to the Rift hardware:
March 29, 2013: DK1 Ships
- Display: 1280×800 60 Hz LCD (640×800 per eye), FOV 90+
- Tracking: Hillcrest custom firmware, 1000Hz
- Price: $300
July, 2014: Development Kit 2 Ships
2 big factors in motion sickness were the DK1 display and the lack of position tracking. The DK2 improved the display with a Low Persistence OLED at 960×1080 per eye.
- Display: 1920×1080 (960×1080 per eye), FOV 90+
- Tracking: Positional and gyroscopic
- Price: $350
March, 2016: CV1
- Display: 2160×1200 at 90Hz split over dual displays, 90+ FOV
- Tracking: Wider area positional tracking and gyroscopic
- Audio: Integrated mic + headphones
- Price: $599
Well, and here we are…
And Thank you Oculus.