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Virtual Reality returns for another try
Virtual Reality returns for another try

27 Aug 2012 | Rasmus Larsen |

Do you remember the 90s? In many electronics stores you could try out the latest and greatest "Virtual Reality" headsets with a promise of an immersive gaming experience. Virtual Reality headsets failed miserably back then but the electronics industry has once again found interest in Virtual Reality. Especially the creators of the Doom games are eager to take advantage of the technology. In this article we take a look at the latest development in Virtual Reality technology.

Virtual Reality – one more try

If you were into gadgets in the 90s you have probably tried one of the virtual reality demonstrations at fairs or at major electronics stores. The big bet of the 90s was not successful and actually ended as a minor catastrophe. Pretty much all companies involved in the virtual reality equipment went down bankruptcy road after a few years.

Sony Personal 3D Viewer
Sony released their latest Virtual Reality headset last year but it still has some shortcomings

The industry has licked the wounds, and is hoping to start all over again. New waves of virtual reality companies are rising from the dust. This time, content quality, technology and the media industries are better suited to take advantage of the possibilities. It sure sounds like the many 3D waves that have come and gone over the years but there is reason to believe that virtual reality is different this time. Perhaps today’s 3D technology and virtual reality is actually supplementary and will carry each other forward into the 10 and 20s?

It is the combination of great hardware and great software that creates fantastic technology
You have already heard about the first moves. Sony unveiled their HMZ-T1 headset last year. Carl Zeiss has something similar coming with the Carl Zeiss Cinemizer. Both products utilize the OLED technology as an enabler. Microsoft is also working on virtual reality gaming in the so-called Project Fortaleza and Google is working on "augmented reality" where they hope to “add layers on top of reality”, in their Google Glass project. But what technological progress is actually needed before virtual reality can take the big leap?

OLED technology is one of the hardware technologies needed, partly because screen can become so thin, partly because of the outstanding picture quality, such as deep blacks and extremely fast response time. That can make the experience immersive. Resolution – or to be more accurate pixel density – needs to be higher – and higher than most expect. Because the screens are so close to our eyes pixels need to become extremely small to remain invisible. Accelerometers can help detect movement when turning the head or body.

But is the technology enough? A lesson from Silicon Valley in San Francisco is that it is the combination of great hardware and great software that creates great technology.

 Carl Zeiss wants to create a Virtual Reality world with the Cinemizer OLED product
Carl Zeiss wants to create a Virtual Reality world with the Cinemizer OLED product

Gaming industry is ready

One of the frontrunners in the next virtual reality push is id Software's John Carmack. He is one of the masterminds behind the Doom games – you have probably tried some of them. Games like Doom are some of the promising titles for virtual reality because you play as the main character and see the world through his eyes.

“Early Virtual Reality headsets just sucked really bad. They were not at all what I wanted to see,” John Carmack

Doom 3
Would you want to experience Doom 3 in Virtual Reality?

John Carmack acknowledges, in hindsight, that all the early 90’s virtual reality experiments were erroneous, even though he supported the technology himself back then. John Carmack is much more excited about today’s technology but he still sees some major problems with for example the Sony HMZ-T1 headset. The hardware problem: The screens do not cover the entire field of vision. The software problem: Games and game engines are not designed for virtual reality.

Typical Virtual Reality headsets feel like looking through toilet paper tubes
John Carmack wants to create something himself. Therefore id Software plans to republish Doom 3 with a virtual reality component added on top. The game will be transformed from the bottom up, allowing users to navigate the game world by moving their head from side to side. But this does not solve the hardware problem of typical Virtual Reality headsets where it feels like looking through toilet paper tubes.

John Carmack searched for a solution and found the Oculus Rift project that aims to create a better virtual reality headset that takes gamers into an immersive game world, based on display panels that cover a much larger field of vision. John Carmack has gotten involved in the Oculus Rift project that now covers a 90-degree field of vision – still not perfect but much better than for example Sony’s product.

Oculus Rift
The creator of Doom recently got involved in the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality project which is one of the most convincing Virtual Reality headsets to date

The Oculus Rift project has been showcased at some of the recent gaming shows and the feedback has been overwhelming, Carmack says. More than 1000 copies have already been preordered and are soon shipping out to curious people and developers, looking to improve the concept or develop content before the technology is ready for mainstream. And when more games are created specifically for virtual reality game creators can utilize new tools and create even more dynamic worlds where people can look around and feel the atmosphere. Just imagine looking around corners only by moving your head. Not only game developers are looking into the possibilities, virtual reality can also be used in business to present for example new building or housing projects to clients.

Doom 3 in the virtual reality version will launch with the Oculus Rift in a special edition called “Doom 3 BFG Edition” this autumn. The Oculus Rift headset will cost around 500 USD. The upcoming Doom 4 title will also support virtual reality.

Is virtual reality combined with 3D and special-designed games the future? John Carmack thinks that it will replace Microsoft Kinect, PlayStation Move and Nintendo Wii eventually. What do you think?

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