Virtual Reality

One of the technologies we were promised, and which seemed within our grasp, was virtual reality. This was a hot topic in the late 1980s, and by the early 1990s had reached games arcades. I played a virtual reality game myself, twice, at the Trocadero Centre near Piccadilly, London. The game itself was nothing special (yet another shoot your enemy before it shoots you). My main interest was in experiencing the technology, first-hand courtesy of a Virtuality headset. The display was low resolution and a bit jerky, but when you turned your head, your head also turned in the game. You were actually in the game.

Over the next few years, I expected VR to go places. However, instead the next development that grabbed my attention underwhelmed me. VRML. This was a 3d modelling language which was supported by some browsers. It wasn't VR as there was no immersion. It didn't catch on.

In 1997, Virtuality filed for bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, over the past ten years, processing power in personal computers has increased by roughly a factor of 60. This is only really noticeable in computer games, where processing power is put to full use. (It is also needed for other applications because of Gates's Law.) However, the peripherals required for virtual reality aren't widely available and so there is no longer any immersion. You are not Harry Potter. Instead, you see him in front of you, on your TV screen. You control his movements by pressing buttons.

Full immersion virtual reality with stereophonic sound, tactile feedback and smell, seems many years off. 42 years, to be exact. No that's not a prediction: all that was available, on older technology, back in 1961, with Sensorama.


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© Copyright Donald Fisk 2003