The Development of Virtual Reality Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) into Today’s Modern Marketplace

What is an HMD?

The HMD which stands for Head Mounted Display, is a display device that is worn on the head. It has a small display optic in the front of each eye. With sensors built into the headpiece it reacts to the users head movements to better simulate what it's like to be in a virtual environment. This is the current unit that allows for users to interact with "cyberspace". Accesories include a power glove or controllers to simulate what it's like for the user's hands to "physically" interact with the system.

Applications

The main uses of VR HMDs is with simulations. It is with this application that this expands into many other fields of study research, training, simulation, education, medicine, sports, and more recently; gaming.

A Brief History

Late 1800's and early 1900's

For the very beginning before society had a grasp of virtual reality. There were simulations of alternate reality. Earliest forms of an alternate reality or "simulation" dates back to the 1800's, where an individual would sit in the center of a revolving display of painting. To further simulate the senses, music, and sounds would be added to supplement the visuals. Later the idea was taken a step further in the 1900's as entertainment companies such as Disney adopted simulator rides; adding panoramic scenes, props, smells, and lighting for guests to enjoy.

Mid 1900's and the Sensorama

It wasn't until the invention of the Sensorama Simulation device patented by Morton Heilig. The device simulated what it was like to ride a motorcycle. As the user would enter the device 3 screens would provide visuals and other senses would also be simulated. The device provided surround sound, simulated engine vibrations with a vibrating seat, smells of gasoline and food, and the sensation of motion with the output of air that would hit the user. Today this technique would technically be classified as augmented reality due to the combination of multiple stimuli with various sensory inputs. However, for its time this idea was a novel first step towards the virtual reality perceived today.

The 90's and VR Technology use in the gaming industry

Up until the 90’s Virtual Reality's main uses were in medical simulation, flight simulation, military training, and automobile industry design. The decade of the 90’s was the first widespread commercial releases of consumer HMDs. Though not commercially successful, companies like Sega announced VR headsets for arcade games and their Mega Drive console. Earliest consumer designs had models very similar to the modern HMDs used today; a LCD screen in the visor, stereo headphones, and internal sensors that allowed the system to track and react to the movement of the user’s head. Nintendo, the biggest gaming company at the time also broke into VR headsets with the virtual boy. It did not, however, have sensors to detect movement and provided a simple 2D pixel display. With the foundations and research laid out from prior years VR technology was starting to break into the gaming entertainment industry.

Present Day

It wasn’t until 2010 did we finally see the first commercial success of an HMD unit. Designed by Palmer Luckey the first prototype was called the Oculus Rift. This product was built on the shell of another virtual reality headset and was the first commercially successful, marketable headset to boast a 90-degree field vision and rotational tracking. This initial design was unprecedented in the consumer market for its time and quickly served as a basis for future designs. More recently in 2013 Valve, an American video game developer and digital distribution company, discovered and freely shared software allowing for a low persistence display. This provided a smoother lag-free/smear-free display of virtual reality content. With a solid product in place, and technology catching up to the demands of what would make virtual reality more attainable. A modern Virtual Reality Head Mounted Display Headset was created and on March 25, 2014, Facebook, one of the the largest companies in the current era purchased the Oculus VR for 2 Billion dollars. Soon other big companies followed pursuit and HMDs have taken their place in gaming consumer markets. Virtual graphics have advanced to the point of near realism, and engine software can catch up with the demands of what is required to simulate a cyber-space. With the HMD successfully commercialized a product was open to the masses for consumption.

A Comparison of Modern HMDs in Today's Market

There are five products that consumers can purchase when it comes to HMDs and the difference lies in whether or not people want mobile or tethered headsets. The cheapest and most accessible of it’s kind is Google Cardboard. Users can get a taste of what virtual reality is like and is the most accessible given its price. As the product suggests, the unit itself is a rectangular cardboard box with two binocular lenses. It allows for a smartphone to slide inside and with the use of Google’s Virtual Reality apps the cell phone screen emulates what it’s like to be in a virtual environment. In comparison to Google Cardboard Samsung has developed a more specialized version called Samsung Gear VR. With a larger price range $130 compared to $15, these VR headsets were specifically designed for Samsung phones and apps. The first popular tethered VR headsets is still the Oculus rift which boasts a $500 price. It is considerably more immersive than mobile headsets and is arguably the best. With product specifications that have the least about of lag time, improved graphical display, and enhanced motion detection. Another VR headsets cemented in the gaming market is the HTC Vive ($800). When it comes to the ultimate VR experience this is the most powerful headset to get-for now-. Lastly one of the biggest gaming companies to take this product and make it a solid gaming accessory is Sony. Sony PlayStation VR allows users to quickly immerse themselves without the need to build a pc to fit its system’s requirements. The downside is that in order for one to move and use the headset the PlayStation camera and the controllers, which have a total cost to around $500 dollars, need to be bought as well. The industry for affordable VR HMDs are now readily available and the gaming industry has it’s full grasp a solid marketable product. It’s exciting to see where this product will go and the ideas that will follow suit.

Future uses

In the field of Artistry and Design users can better design Architecture and bring to light new forms of creativity and art interpretations. With Its prior uses in medicine, flight simulation, and military training there are even more future applications that can expand into education and learning. Surgeons can be better trained with virtual surgeries, classes could go on virtual field trips to different countries and time periods, and learning can be more immersive and fun. Adding to field trips tourism and exploration can be made more affordable and distributable to the masses. Virtual reality is so immersive and stimulating that research has already been conducted in the field of Psychology for its potential use in treating of phobias, anxieties, and other medical purposes. In the field of marketing, virtual reality change real estate and how people shop, people can see what certain furniture look like inside their house and try on clothes without having to be physically present. Lastly given Facebook’s recent purchase of the Oculus Rift, VR has potential improved social and telepresence interactions. People can better communicate with each other from across the globe in a more realistic manner. Future applications are endless with this new medium of technological interaction. However for now gamers will be seeing to it’s full use as an accessory consoles and pcs.

Dangers

Given the age of the internet, data collection has been made ever more prevalent in people’s minds. Invasion of privacy is a growing concern more now than ever. Data is collected from many outputs of communication be it computers, cell phones, or any other relationship with technology. Given VRs nature of complete cyber immersion with the user, this will add another dynamic to what people will be able to monitor from users. Another growing concern is because the device is so immersive, realistic, and so stimulating to one’s senses that this technology is in danger of virtual addiction. It has the potential to emulate reality so well that participants no longer want to be in it. As Ideas have sprung about many researchers theorize that one day this form of technology will give way to the future of an empathy machine, similar to the one in the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” written by Philip K. Dick. It suggests that as human beings develop a closer relationship with technology it makes living in the virtual reality more appealable. Making one want to replace from the real one. As VR technology grows allowing human beings to better communicate with each, develop relationships, and learn. It could completely replace the need to do so in the “real world”.

Conclusion

The growing field of Virtual Reality is exciting given its ample opportunities and benefits. It has finally grown into a stage of commercial development and design, although its full potential use hasn’t been realized yet. Investment opportunities are quickly flooding it’s current share of the market and the gaming industry is seeing to its usage. Given its history of progress and change society today gets to see the product of what virtual reality immersion has become and will look like. The Head Mounted Display is currently main means as to how users can immerse themselves in cyberspace. Despite the potential dangers of how technology is advancing society. It will be interesting to see how far this new technical wonder will push human advancement as an element of scientific study and design.

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