Virtual reality has never been more popular thanks to the Oculus Rift, but VR has actually been around for decades.
The 1991 ABC Primetime Live report “Virtual Reality” is a fascinating and often humorous look at what virtual reality was like almost 25 years ago, and it highlights just how fast technology has evolved since then.
While the virtual reality headsets from the late 1980s and early 1990s looked similar to the basic design of the Oculus Rift (a head-mounted display strapped to your face), they cost between $US50,000 and $US200,000. As a reference point, the Oculus Rift is targeting a price between $US200 and $US400.
From exploring virtual Martian landscapes to helping doctors plan for radiation therapy, here are some examples of what VR looked like in 1991.
This is what virtual reality headsets looked like.
Some headsets were smaller than others. This VR headset isn’t that much bigger than the Oculus Rift.
How far have we come with game graphics since 1991? This is how this virtual city was described. “Detailed models of city landscapes are giving urban planners a chance to redesign Main Street without ever lifting a stone.”
NASA was using virtual reality to recreate the landscape of Mars using 2D photos captured by Viking orbiters.
Doctors were exploring the possibilities of using virtual reality and CAT Scan images to create 3D models of a patient’s body. This particular demo was used to practice aligning radiation therapy beams to get rid of a tumour.
This is what first-person shooter video game looked like back then.
Even with the bulky headsets and primitive graphics, virtual reality enthusiasts in 1991 were already asking deeper questions about the technology and how it would affect our lives.
“What kind of reality are our grandchildren going to accept?” asked virtual reality author Howard Rheingold in the broadcast. “Is the natural world with real trees and real rivers going to be there, or are we going to live in 800-story high rises all plugged into our virtual realities in which we walk through artificial forests? This might be a turning point for the human race. We might be going inwards towards an artificial experience.”
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