Is VR just another fad? We don't think so! Read on to learn about the history of VR and its importance

#1 The history of VR and why it’s important 

This blog series focuses on why I, and my colleagues, see so much potential in VR. I’ll discuss why it’s so cool, and how you can benefit from getting involved. First, I thought it necessary to explain the history of VR to see how and when it developed into the awesome technology it’s become today.

So, here goes. When Robert Baker described his paintings as Panoramic in 1792, he hoped that his work would offer a new level of immersion in his art. This is something in advertising and marketing that we strive towards every day; asking the question, “How do we create the most engaging content that will resonate most with our audience?”

We have slowly moved closer to transporting our audience to a world that emotionally engages with them. From early print media, to TV advertising, digital banners to highly-targeted content, we have moved one step closer with each iteration of these technological advances.

Now we have VR! I know, I know, it’s all you hear about these days. VR and AR are the buzz words of this half of the decade and I am sure you are all as sick of hearing them as you are “social and Millennials”. I know there are lots of you that are not convinced that this isn’t just another fad.

The History of VR

So please let me explain why it isn’t. It appears that these headsets have popped out of nowhere, but this isn’t the case. The path to this technology has been moving in this direction for a long time and the reason you are now hearing about it so often is because it works. So, let’s look at 4 key moments in the process.

#1 Stereoscopic Images (3D)

The first hurdle in VR was to create 3d images. Without Stereo imaging it would be impossible to attain immersion. The first successful version of this technology that I know about is the Wheatstone Mirror stereoscope developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838. This table top 3d image experience relied upon using 2 mirrors placed at 45-degree angles reflecting 2 images into the viewer’s left and right eye independently. The brain would then process these images and fuse them back together into a single 3D object. This demonstrated the importance of binocular vision. As practical photography was not available for another year, this rudimentary experience was developed with the use of drawings instead of photography.

#2 Photography (images)

The earliest known surviving photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in the late 1820s but the first commercial camera was not developed until 1888. The Kodak Brownie was released in 1901 and was a huge achievement. This gave the general public access to capturing memories. Due to its cost, it was only really available to the middle classes. This is an important step towards immersing an audience and to create VR we would need the ability to do this.

The ability to create video was going to be important also and in 1923 Eastman Kodak would introduce 16mm film. This allowed camera film to be produced and sold at a price that would inspire a new market of amateur film makers that would previously have been priced out by the high cost of 35mm film. 

Headset attempt 1

These first 2 steps would be joined to create an early stereoscopic headset released in 1939 and called the view master. This would allow photo real environments to be viewed in 3D and would be the first commercially available “VR” headset.


The History of VR

#3 Immersion

The next step was to create a single user experience that would be immersive. With this, it was hoped that it would transport the user to a new world. In 1962 Morton Heilig would do this with his Sensorama.

The Sensorama offered 3D colour-moving objects to the participant. It also furthered the immersion with the use of Binaural sound, scents and air breezes. This was first the multi-sensory experience offered to the general public. In my opinion, this experience was a great success and achievement.

This decade also saw the first HMD (head-mounted display) that would become the basis for all the modern headsets. This headset was developed by Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull to deliver 3-dimensional wire frame models of rooms. Due to its size and weight, the headset was supported and lowered from the ceiling. Its intimidating appearance would lead to it being referred to as the Sword of Damocles

The weight was not the only reason for its suspension from the ceiling; the suspension system would also offer a mechanical rudimentary tracking system. This allowed the user to move their head and view the 3D object from a different angle. A far superior version of this is seen in the most basic of VR experience today. Mobile technology offers even more freedom with no external peripherals. Due to how advanced it was in terms of design, it was let down by the computer technology of the time and would remain an important concept in the history of VR.


#4 Computers graphics and processing

William Fetter is given the credit for coining the phrases “computer graphics” in 1961 to describe his work at Boeing. It was not until 1976 that would see one of the early examples of computer animation called Futureworld. This included animation of a face and hand. In June of 1978 there would be the first known example of 3D graphics. They were created by Kazumasa Mitazawa and would appear on the APPLE II which would be one of the first successful mass-produced products.

Computer technology would continue to improve. Better graphics cards, faster processors, bigger storage drives and higher ram capacity on mother boards until we reach where we are now in the present day. The specifications for running a desktop VR experience are still pretty cutting-edge and the cost of building a VR-ready PC can be seen as quite expensive. There are, however, plenty of very good VR experiences available through different options. From Google cardboard experiences to Samsung’s Gear VR and the PlayStation VR offering; there are commercially available headsets that offer an opportunity to engage with your audience.
Better graphics cards, faster processors, bigger storage drives and higher ram capacity on mother boards until we reach where we are now in the present day.


So that’s the history of VR systems. In my next post, I’ll explain why it’s important to be looking at immersive experiences in 2018.