Virtual reality headsets have come a long way over the years. They have moved from the sci-fi movies to a set of sophisticated devices that are accessible today. Let’s look at how they became popular and progressed through the years.
In the early 90s, Sega unveiled the Sega VR headset for their Genesis console. The headset was a clunky red and white box that came with two 3D stereoscopic lenses. While some prototypes made it out of the factory, Sega never officially released the headset to market, citing concerns about user comfort and headaches.
The first widely available consumer virtual reality headset was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995, which was a commercial failure due to its low-resolution monochromatic display after only being on sale for six months at $179 USD.
Five years later in 2010, Palmer Luckey designed the first prototype of the Oculus Rift (the “Rift”). This sparked interest in virtual reality development that had been waning since the 1990s flop of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy as well as Sony’s failure to launch their PlayStation VR device when planned in 2008-09.
In 1993, Sega announced the Sega VR headset for their Genesis console. The headset was one of the first to use head tracking, and it also featured 3D polygon graphics in stereoscopic 3D and had stereo sound. However, it was never released as a commercial product because of concerns about consumer safety issues such as seizures. In fact, Sega discontinued the project before its release. It is still an interesting piece of history in the development of modern virtual reality headsets today!
In 1995, Nintendo released the Virtual Boy, a 32-bit handheld console that uses a red LED display and can be played in 3D. The console only has one gamepad and supports the use of polygonal graphics. While Nintendo had planned to release 3D graphics games with the console, its short lifespan meant that it did not have any games exclusive to itself.
Over its short lifespan (July 21st, 1995 to March 2nd, 1996), the Virtual Boy sold less than 800,000 units and was discontinued after only a year on shelves. It is considered by many to be one of the worst video game consoles ever made.
It was 2012 when the Oculus Rift DK1, or Development Kit 1, first made its way into the homes of lucky backers. Featuring a huge, box-like design and somewhat low resolution, it wasn’t very similar to modern VR headsets. But at just under $300 for early Kickstarter backers, it was one of the cheapest ways to get your hands on virtual reality technology at the time.
The Oculus Rift DK1 was essentially just a head-mounted display with lenses and one high definition 7-inch screen in front of each eye (with a combined 1280×800 resolution). What really made this device interesting is that it also included a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope. This allowed it to know when your head moved so that developers could build games that could respond accordingly—you could look around by moving your head.
But there were still problems with the headset; namely that you couldn’t move around within virtual reality with this headset. The screen didn’t wrap around your eyes properly and so if you looked too far down or up you would see blackness instead of part of the game world.
Sony’s first foray into the virtual reality marketplace was released in 2016. The headset is powered by the PlayStation 4 console, making it much less expensive than competing PC-based VR products. The PlayStation VR’s tracking system keeps tabs on the player’s head position, which allows for a more immersive experience while playing games or watching video content. Two OLED displays with a resolution of 1920×1080 power each eye individually.
The Oculus Quest 2 is the newest and greatest VR headset on the market. It has a sleek frameless design, powerful hardware, and an improved display. The Quest 2’s standalone design means that you don’t need a PC or console to use it, but it also supports Oculus Link, so you can connect it to your rig if you have one! The headset was released in October 2020 at $299 (64GB) and $399 (256GB).
In October 2020, HP released the Reverb G2, a tethered headset that features next-level visuals and comfort. It boasts a resolution of 2160 x 2160 per eye with an impressive 114 degree field of view. With a design that feels sleek and lightweight, the HP Reverb G2 is easy to wear for long periods of time and has the added bonus of being easy to clean—and sanitize—in between uses. The inside out tracking means you don’t have to set up any sensors in your space, making it ideal for VR enthusiasts who want a fuss-free experience. The HP Reverb G2 is compatible with Steam VR as well as the Oculus Store, so users can access all their favorite games and apps in one spot!