Search for content, post, videos

Virtual Reality: This Is Not Sci-Fi – The Future Was Before Now

For all the tech enthusiasts or even sci-fi aficionados out there (and gamers – goes without saying), it’s a great time to be alive. Owning a Virtual Reality (VR) headset has been the dream of many (myself included). The concept of virtual reality and its application though, has been attempted way earlier in time than one might think. In fact, if we strictly refer to the scope of virtual reality, which is that of making you feel as if you are somewhere where you are actually not (in what we call corporeality), the earliest efforts to bring this feeling to life were 360 degrees murals in the early 19th century, which attempted to give the impression of being present somewhere else – usually in a historical event or space.

In 1838 it was discovered that in humans each eye sees an image in 2D, and then the brain processes that same image in 3D (with depth). This discovery paved the way for the creation of “stereoscopic photos”, which, just like Google Cardboard and other budget VRs which use a smartphone, gives you a feeling of viewing 3D images and gives life to a “virtual environment”.

Fast-forward a hundred years later, in 1929, the first VR simulator was created. It was a flight simulator meant to train pilots by simulating real-life scenarios, but without running the risks of an actual exercise flight. Edward Link was the mastermind behind this invention, and the simulator was named the “Link Trainer”. As with most innovative inventions, the Link Trainer was not used to its full potential until WWII, when ten thousand Link Trainers were used to train half a million U.S. pilots in their initial phases of training.

One would be surprised to know that what we call a “6D” or “4D” experience, in specialized cinemas nowadays, could be experienced as early as in 1950. Cinematographer Morton Heilig created a cabinet which not only featured 3D-like movies with a stereoscopic 3D display, but also head stereo speakers, wind and smell generators and motors which would make the seat vibrate dependently from the scene. Heilig shot, produced and edited several short movies himself with his innovative technology, and his cabinets can still be found in museums around the U.S.

The first head-mounted display (HMD) as we know it today, even though the term was not born yet, was developed in 1960, but with a big setback: it did not have motion tracking. In other words, one could have a 3D view but the point of view would not move with the movements of the head of the viewer. It was only a year later that engineers from Philco Corporation developed the first head-mounted display precursor. This invention was pivotal to the technology we can enjoy today. What they called the “Headsight” included a separate video display for each eye, and a closed-circuit camera which was linked to the backbone of their discovery: a magnetic motion tracking system.

However, the HMD was still far from what we use today, but in 1965 an important step forward was made with the help Ivan Sutherland, who wrote a paper describing “The Ultimate Display”, which is futuristic even for today’s technology. He described a room where a computer would control the existence of matter, and where virtual objects would be used just like in reality. 

But it wasn’t until in 1987 that the term “virtual reality” was born. During this time, several types of VR technology made it to the market, but none of them was successful. In retrospective, one could say that there were three reasons why this technology was still not ready to be commercialized. For one, these products were very expensive, ranging from $9000 to $49000 – crazy, right? There would be no reason whatsoever for an individual consumer to buy such a gadget for entertainment purposes unless he/she lives in 5th Ave. or Park Ave. Such prices would make sense only for industry uses, but these types of VRs were designed exclusively for entertainment and gaming purposes.

As with every other new technology, the challenge is to optimize the balance of production and price. Because, truth to be told, no technology is truly useful to humanity – or even nonexistent for the mass – until it is made affordable to the average consumer. Think about the PC, smart TV, smartphone and so many more. A technology comes to life (in reality) and fulfills its function only when it is mass produced.

Now, A Peek at the Best VR Headsets in 2019

Today, there are three main types of VR headsets: the mobile VR, where you have to own a smartphone and put it in the headset, like the Samsung Gear VR (basically your phone is the main piece of tech in this case); the tethered VR headsets, which have to be connected to the PC (or laptop) like the Oculus Rift, and finally the standalone VR headsets – the first of which to be developed was Facebook’s Oculus Go.

However, the whole VR hype started after the release of Oculus Rift in 2016, which was so successful and got a great deal of people super excited. It was so successful in fact that Facebook seized the opportunity immediately and bought Oculus. Since then, the market has expanded considerably and now there is an aggressive competition to have a share in this market which last year amounted to $27 billion, but which in 2022 will reach a staggering $209.2 billion worldwide.

Tethered VR Headsets

Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift was the first VR headset that set the new standard of accessibility of HMDs and that started the race for innovation, market share and price reductions. It has a cool design and its ergonomics make it comfortable to wear. It has the ultimate immersive feel when it comes to 3d sound, motion tracking and responsiveness – it is the benchmark of high-end VR headsets. Its price has dropped significantly, from $599 in 2016 to $350 currently, including its controllers and motion sensors. But you still have to connect it to a PC, because it requires a lot of processing power.


HTC Vive

The Rift’s direct and most serious competitor, the HTC Vive used to have a better virtual immersion experience, because its motion sensors give the possibility to walk around the room and have a feeling you are walking (moving) in your virtual environment (6 degrees of freedom). But then the Rift added the touch controls and dropped the price significantly, so in this sense it is still hard to say which one is better than the other. The Vive has two big motion sensors which model the room where it is being operated quickly and makes the full room-sensing possible – but this costs a good $500, and it requires more space. HTC also introduced the Vive Pro last year, which has around 80% better graphics and a more comfortable design at a price of $799. With this kind of features and price, it is clear that the main target is not the average consumer, but businesses, and different industries have already started to use the Vive Pro for different purposes.

Sony PlayStation VR

This is Sony’s VR which is made mainly for gaming purposes and pairs with PS4. So if you already happen to have one, it would be worth to buy the Sony PS VR for an extra $225. Adding to this is the user-friendliness and accessibility of this VR headset, since it uses a single camera sensor for motion tracking. This means, of course, that the tracking is not as good as the Rift or Vive, but no one can complain considering the simplicity, ease of use and price.

Samsung Odyssey – Windows Mixed Reality

The most important thing to mention when talking about the Windows Mixed Reality headsets is that they have nothing to do with mixed or augmented reality – at least not yet. It is plain VR headset with some features which are misleadingly called holograms, but that never interconnect with corporeality. Windows collaborated with its PC partners like Acer, but also with Samsung to create a VR headset that solved the problem of requiring a lot of space, by developing what is called the inside-out motion tracking. It is basically an integrated camera which tracks motion from inside the headset, which makes things easier because there are no tracking camera sensors around the room, but at the same time it compromises the accuracy of tracking and its responsiveness. And as for the price, again, the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset costs $399, and the Samsung Odyssey costs $421 – so, in other words, they do not outcompete the Rift – they are actually more expensive and cannot rival Rift’s graphics and overall experience.

Mobile VRs

Google Daydream View (2017)

As a budget headset VR – (basically a better version of Google Cardboard, which is a cheap cardboard VR varying from $5 to $30 depending on if you DIY or order it premade), it offers a comfortable experience and supports a wide range of old and new smartphones. It costs $60 and has a considerable amount of compatible apps as well as a controller.

Samsung Gear VR

This VR is exclusive to Samsung and it can pair only with Samsung smartphones. The software and apps are powered by Oculus, so you will not run out of options when it comes to apps. In case you own a Samsung smartphone, this VR headset is totally worth it with the 2017 version now selling at $99, a $30 discount from the original price of $129.99.


Standalone VRs:

Oculus GO

Oculus Go is the first ever standalone VR headset. It is very comfortable because it does not need to be connected to a computer, and it does not need a phone to operate or sensor cameras for motion tracking, because it has the inside-out tracking. The go can operate independently thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, which is basically a 2016 processor. The amazing thing about the Go is that not only does it operate independently, but it is also relatively cheap (for being a VR headset) at $199. This is quite impressive because the experience it offers is as close as it gets to the high-end VR headsets like the Rift or the Vive. Of course, the responsiveness of the tracking is not top-notch, but at its price, it is definitely a great VR headset to have – especially because it has 1000+ apps and games, so you will never run out of things to explore, and a good deal of these apps and games are free. But brace yourselves: on April 15, Facebook will release the updated version of Go, the Oculus Quest, which is a high-end headset when it comes to graphics and processing, but it is a standalone and will cost around $400.

Lenovo Mirage Solo

This VR headset is also a standalone, but it has 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF) as opposed to Oculus Go’s 3DOF. What this means is that with the Go you can only view the virtual environment from a seated position and you cannot walk or move in a 360-degree direction. For humans (and other animals) this can be quite an issue because even when you play a 2d videogame or watch a movie, you still get responses from moving your head up or down, or sense of depth by moving your head forward, because of the “motion compass” inside of us. So all in all the Mirage Solo, which is powered by Google Daydream by the way, offers something very important that the Daydream, Go, or Gear do not, and this comes with a price – more precisely $400, which considering the options, if you don’t mind hooking up your VR headset to your PC, you can get the ultimate VR experience by buying an Oculus Rift for the same price.

“The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked.” – Ivan Sutherland

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *