Just a few years ago, the promise of “virtual reality” was nothing more than a buzzword used to describe a science fiction concept. A few companies tried to step up to the plate and deliver hardware that would “transport players to a whole new world.” However, more often than not, the only results were a headache from gazing at low resolution visuals and a stiff neck from wearing a bulky headset. Before the current crop of contenders threw their hats into the virtual reality market ring, there were a few that tried the same and failed, often miserably. Let’s take a look at some of the products that promised to make virtual reality a reality.
Nintendo Virtual Boy
It’s no surprise that Nintendo made a stab at the virtual reality market as the company has a history of innovating when it comes to hardware. The home of Mario might stick to the same franchises when it comes to the games line-up, but with their consoles they have been a bit more daring, especially compared to their competitors. Some were hits that inspired competitors to imitate, while others were quickly abandoned, never to be mentioned again.Â Anyone who grew up during the 90s will remember when the Nintendo Virtual Boy was announced to great fanfare.
This black and red monstrosity was the brainchild of Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of the original Game Boy, but fell short of its promises. The first nail in the coffin was the high asking price, as well as the bulky hardware. Nintendo was known for creating hardware that was smaller and better looking than the competition, but the Virtual Boy was neither of these. The headset was so cumbersome that it could only be used while mounted to a stand, which meant playing while sitting hunched over awkwardly at a table.
The Virtual Boy had no head tracking and the monochromatic red images were 3D, but the kind that gave you burning eyes and nausea if you would dare stare at it too long. It only ever saw the light of day in Japan and North America and, after only a handful of titles, Nintendo quietly abandoned the Virtual Boy. It also prompted the creator to leave Nintendo and create a handheld system for a rival company.
Head Mounted Displays
Undaunted by the failure of Nintendo many other companies tried their hand at delivering on the promise of virtual reality. By and large these attempts were all commercial failures that did very little to dissuade the image that virtual reality is just a pointless gimmick. From products like the i-Glasses by I-O Display Systems to the VFX line from Forte Technologies, there were certainly no shortage of products, but they all had one thing in common, they sucked. Overpriced, uncomfortable and underpowered, these products just didn’t have the technology to deliver on their promises.
The Future of Virtual Reality
In recent years, the whole virtual reality craze died down with consumers only raising an occasional eyebrow at attempts to sell them on the idea. This all changed when the Oculus Rift caught the attention of the public and managed a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign.Â It would seem that technology has finally caught up to the point where the Rift would actually be able to deliver on what so many have waited for so long, truly immersive virtual reality. From the early development kits to the latest iteration of the gear, the Oculus Rift has continued to improve and now boasts features that only a few years back would have been unheard of. Full HD resolutions, 75Hz refresh rate, 100-degree field of vision and super accurate head tracking all combine to make one incredible product. The best part is that the developers also aim to deliver it at a wallet friendly price.
However, when the Rift was acquired by Facebook it understandably disappointed many people who are not fans of cut-throat mega corporations. The acquisition did however prompt other companies to go from merely observing what is happening to trying to offer some healthy competition. One of the first contenders to look like they will be able to offer a viable alternative to the Rift is Sony with their Project Morpheus. With specifications that are roughly on par with the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus aims to provide people with a product that will exceed their expectations.
Beyond the obvious advantages to interactive mediums such as gaming, a virtual reality headset has the potential to change the way that we watch movies, or even experience activities that would otherwise not have been possible due to location, money or physical disabilities. It’s hard not to become a little excited about what the future might hold, but with so many previous attempts falling well short of what was promised only time will tell if the Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and slew of other headsets that are sure to follow in their wake can finally make virtual reality a reality.
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