back to article Humongous headsets and virtual insanity

I recently visited the David Attenborough First Life virtual reality exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London, and as I wrote at the time, it's very impressive. It's an astonishing way of bringing things to life, and well worth checking it out if you happen to be in London between now and the 24 September. This sort of …

  1. Naselus

    1 word: Porn.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Perhaps; but that may be better in AR rather than VR. Try doing certain things to yourself when you've got a blindfold or hood on, and see how much easier it is when you can see what you're doing.

      1. Lionel Baden

        probably being a bit british about it but ...

        Wouldn't it be better to occlude the real world, allowing the set of the pornagraphic title to become a more immersive experience.

        1. Doctor_Wibble

          Re: probably being a bit british about it but ...

          > Wouldn't it be better to occlude the real world

          This would depend on circumstances, e.g. whether or not there's a risk of your mum walking in with a cup of tea...


          [ edit: NB based on urban legend, not personal experience! ]

      2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Try doing certain things to yourself when you've got a blindfold or hood on

        I'm reluctant to sound like an expert in this area, but I'm sure the things people do to themselves while watching porn can be done in the pitch dark, if necessary.

      3. User McUser


        Try doing certain things to yourself when you've got a blindfold or hood on, and see how much easier it is when you can see what you're doing.

        You know, blind people still manage to toss one off when the mood strikes. If you can't locate Nigel Jr. without being able to see it, then you should probably visit your doctor.

        1. Nigel Whitfield.

          Re: Proprioception

          I'll spare you the details, but sometimes, one may be wanting to work with accessories. You could, I suppose, arrange them all neatly beside you on the bed before you get started, but even so...

          1. h4rm0ny

            Re: Proprioception

            >>"I'll spare you the details, but sometimes, one may be wanting to work with accessories. You could, I suppose, arrange them all neatly beside you on the bed before you get started, but even so..."

            This is not my area of expertise so I should probably stick to programming articles, but presumably you could occasionally lift the VR set from your head for a few seconds if necessary.

            I would think the greater concern for some would be whilst wearing the VR headset, you have no idea if someone else is standing there in the room watching you.

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: Proprioception

              you have no idea if someone else is standing there in the room watching you.

              Or if they, via the hacked cameras in your smartphone, are enjoying their own remote VR experience of you enjoying your VR experience of......

      4. Slacker@work


        So with the AR version you could use scanned images of your favourite celeb, co-worker, etc. and then overlay onto your partner (who presumably is doing something similar) or "real feel doll".

        *starts downloading images of Taylor Swift*

        1. h4rm0ny

          >>So with the AR version you could use scanned images of your favourite celeb, co-worker, etc. and then overlay onto your partner (who presumably is doing something similar) or "real feel doll".

          Until you change position and the software isn't smart enough to realize this, and a male suddenly finds their partner doing some Exorcist style head rotation staring at them up at them whilst bent over.

          I can't see that being freaky at all.

          1. Slacker@work

            "inds their partner doing some Exorcist style head rotation staring at them up at them whilst bent over"

            Ahh you've met my ex then...

          2. Paul Woodhouse

            I genuinely laughed, have an upvote :)

    2. WalterAlter

      Virtual Reality = Training

      Virtual Reality = Training.

    3. Charles Manning

      "1 word: Porn"

      That's actually half a word.

    4. Brangdon

      Porn is still a way off

      There are two ways of creating porn. The first is to record actual performances from live people. If you do that you end up with a fixed camera position, which loses much of the benefit of VR. You can make it 360 so you can look anywhere, but then you need a lot more memory to store all the bits you aren't currently looking at. Add the inconvenience of the headset, and it's not that compelling a proposition.

      The other way is to build a computer model of the actors. Then you can render it from any angle. The downside is the "Uncanny Valley". It doesn't look right. Getting it to look right is difficult. People are more sensitive about this stuff in porn than in a video game.

      Obviously they won't stop developing it until it works, but for the next 3 years its going to be a disappointing experience.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Porn is still a way off

        "memory to store all the bits you aren't currently looking at"

        Hurrh hurrr. Beavis, he said bits!

  2. frank ly

    Neck Fatigue?

    I'm wondering if there are physical problems due to having the weight of it hanging in front of your eyes for a long time. Has anybody worn one for a long time and noticed any problems and how much do they weigh?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Neck Fatigue?


      I assume that this has been given some thought. If you design it correctly, you can add weight to the rear to counteract the weight at the front to some degree.

      Can't see it being heavier than a cheapish motorcycle helmet.

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Neck Fatigue?

      I didn't notice any problems with the 15 minute presentation at the NHM; without having one here to weight, I'd guess you're looking at at least the weight of the phone again. And perhaps some of that is behind the suggestions on the US safety page that you take a break every 30 minutes or so.

      I'll see if I can find out the weight of the unit with the glasses in. Obviously the Cardboard will probably be the lightest; the weight of the Oculus Rift seems to be "TBA but lighter than 380g" which doesn't sound too much but is about a third of a bag of sugar strapped to your heard.

    3. NumptyScrub

      Re: Neck Fatigue?

      I'm wondering if there are physical problems due to having the weight of it hanging in front of your eyes for a long time. Has anybody worn one for a long time and noticed any problems and how much do they weigh?

      I've got the Oculus Rift DK2, comfort is fine and the total headset weight is allegedy "0.97 pounds" which is ~450g (less than a 500ml bottle of drink). It's perfectly usable for prolonged periods, as long as the content being displayed doesn't trip too many nausea triggers* ;)

      By "prolonged periods", I mean a few hours at a time; I mostly use it to dick about in Elite: Dangerous and a 2-3hr session is not uncommon, and friends who also have the DK2 say much the same.

      *E:D is great as you are a spaceship pilot; being seated and seeing stuff move around you feels perfectly natural. Try one of the rollercoaster demos, or try playing Half-Life 2 in VR mode, and it can be much more jarring.

      1. Boothy Silver badge

        Re: Neck Fatigue?

        I concur with Numpty.

        I've also got a DK2, and E:D, and have played for around 2-3 hour sessions, without any noticeable issues.

        Looking forwards to seeing what the retail gear will be like in comparison.

        HL2 on the other hand, and eek.

  3. Lionel Baden

    Alistair !!

    Do I detect hints of Alistair Dabbs in this article ?

    So much so i had to double check the name of the author

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Alistair !!

      Definitely me. Perhaps you're just slightly bewildered by it being a Friday? Happens to the best of us.

  4. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    Best group VR experience?

    The best group VR set-ups I've heard of are the old Fightertown simulators in CA. You and your friends got to 'fly' in a set of networked ex-USAF flight simulators, each with an accurate full-motion or fixed cockpit and flight model mounted in a 360 degree multiprojector dome. You could all see each other in the projections, radar, etc and use simulated radio comms. That setup is apparently dead and forgotten but successors, e.g Flightdeck, are providing the same level of experience.

    I don't see how anybody can do better than this type of dedicated scenario system until whole body climate-controlled haptic force-feedback suits, suspended in 3D motion sensors are available and affordable. If these are to be realistic, they must provide realistic simulation of running, rock-climbing, driving, sky-diving etc, all without leaving the frame the suit is mounted in. And, of course, they must be networked with enough bandwidth so that you and friends can share a realistic group experience complete with contact with each other as well as the surroundings.

    Will such a system be developed? Probably. Will it be affordable outside military, medical or professional athletic training? Probably not this decade or the next.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Best group VR experience?

      Yep; prohibitively expensive for the home, certainly. That's why I think that, other than the sort of applications I mentioned in the article, when it comes to immersive experiences at home it's going to be something else.

      For example, larger screens, or some sort of 3D projection - possibly not 360 degrees, which would be hard to fit into most homes, but say a projector could cover 180 degrees or more, and up on to the ceiling as well, coupled with a modern sound system, you would have something that would allow very immersive storytelling, without isolating the people in the room from each other.

      1. Vector

        Re: Best group VR experience?

        So what you'd really like to have is a Holodeck. And there are some experiments going on with that kind of notion (projection-wise, at least), but the experience is limited to a single person because the system has to map all the projections to a single point of view.

        Disney has taken advantage of one of the limitations of projected 3D in a couple of their theme park attractions. Basically, one of the characters pokes their head way out of the screen and says something to the effect of "I just talking to you!" Because there is only one viewpoint in projected 3D, it appears to every member of the audience that they are being singled out. Kids love it, but it doesn't truly make for a shared VR experience (unless you consider occupying the same body a shared experience).

        In order to have the freedom of a true VR experience, you have to have your own headset. Ignoring expense, this doesn't preclude a shared experience. You can still interact with the others people in the room virtually in VR and visually in AR. You can still all be in the same environment.

        That all being said, it is still very early days for this technology. We've really only cracked one or two of the five senses, so there's still much to do. Will we have VR or AR headsets in every home in ten years? Probably. That's a long time to drive the price of the technology down, possibly to the point where you can stop in at the local drug store and get a throwaway if you left you're really nice headset at home.

  5. sandman

    Been there, done that

    "Even something as simple as allowing people to become familiar with hazardous environments before they enter them in the flesh".

    Back in the 90's I had the "pleasure" of a taking part in a demo IBM ran at Hursley - escaping a fire on an oil rig. With immersive VR and an angry foreman with Scottish accent shouting at you it was pretty damned realistic.

    1. spold

      Re: Been there, done that

      I was actually manager of Immersive Virtual Reality systems at IBM around 1995. The technology was based on Virtuality plc's headset (and also v-flexor a five finger hand device) bolted to an IBM PS/2 with half a dozen RISC processors on a card. There was a anaethatist traning app, a channel tunnel driver app, an airbus plane layout app, and a bunch of games. Nothing I have seen is new - just the resolution got better. Latency was minimal and had directional stero sound.


      Engineers - always want to produce a new version before you have recouped investment on the last one.

      Lawyers - little Jimmie uses VR and now needs glasses (would have needed them anyway) - class action lawsuits!

      Also anything with opticals and electric field sensors is finicky - lots of service calls.

  6. Ian 55


    The assorted headsets don't look too comfortable if you've already got something just in front of your eyes.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Glasses?

      It is possible to use them with glasses - I did at the NHM, though it wasn't brilliant, partly I guess because my current spectacles have fairly large frames.

      They do recommend you use them without, and there's a focus control on the Samsung headset. However, in my case my right eye is a lot weaker than my left, so I'd not have been able to find a suitable setting.

      I suppose, if these things take off, we'll have opticians selling people prescription VR headsets.

      1. Shrimpling

        Re: Glasses?

        I haven't tried any of the modern VR yet to see how well my eyes cope as both eyes are different for me too.

        Hopefully the prescription is close enough to each other for it to be ok... if not I'm seriously considering contact lenses.

        1. Boothy Silver badge

          Re: Glasses?

          @ Shrimpling

          My glasses don't work with the DK2 (I have varifocals), so I wear my contacts instead, which works fine, but means faffing about, and then they can get a little uncomfortable after a while.

          My preference if possible, would be prescription lenses.

      2. Boothy Silver badge

        Re: Glasses?

        Hopefully you'll be able to buy replacement lenses, ordered for specific prescriptions.

        The DK2 lenses just pop out, so it would only takes a few seconds to replace them. Hopefully the retail devices will have a similar mechanism.

  7. h4rm0ny

    AR vs. VR

    I think the use cases of Hololens vs. Occulus are almost inversions of each other. I think the Occulus is likely to be a success for gaming, but have few uses outside of it. Perhaps minor adoption for specialist training purposes. Whilst Hololens will be massively useful for all sorts of purposes outside of gaming, but only suitable for niche games such as those which involve interaction with the real world.

    I would imagine Occulus is the death of Mouse and Keyboard gaming. If you can't see your hands, it's pretty much simple game controller only.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: AR vs. VR

      I think you're probably right. AR is a whole separate thing to look at, which I plan to do another time.

    2. NumptyScrub

      Re: AR vs. VR

      I would imagine Occulus is the death of Mouse and Keyboard gaming. If you can't see your hands, it's pretty much simple game controller only.

      Consoles were the death knell for mouse+keyboard gaming; as an old Doom/Quake nerd I can confidently state I am maybe 80% efficient in current FPS titles using an Xbox controller, versus those same titles using mouse and keyboard. There are some titles (e.g. Payday 2, Warframe) that I play using a pad on the PC in preference to mouse and keyboard; I'd be more accurate using kb/m but I'm more comfortable actually using the pad.

      You can also have complex controllers that don't require vision to operate competently; for internet spaceships (E:D et al) I use an X-55 plus the mouse, and I can manage without needing to remove the Rift at all, there are enough buttons / switches / axes on the hotas that I don't need to use a complementary input method. (If I absolutely have to type when wearing the Rift, I cheat and look down the tiny gap next to my nose).

      Let's face it, top tier players don't actually look at the keyboard while they are playing anyway, regardless of what game they are playing, it's only scrub tier like me that have do that ^^;

  8. DropBear

    About shared use - why couldn't one just add a Kinect (or equivalent) in the room, and have the other person(s) present inserted into each other's VR simulation...? It would also help with one's own body being visible (seeing your own hands etc.)

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      You could certainly do something like that in theory, but to do it convincingly in real time might well need a lot of extra processing, if you want something that doesn't look jarringly out of place, I would imagine.

      I don't think it's an insurmountable problem, by any means. Solving it will, I believe, make VR much more popular.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not realistic enough for gaming?

    I can already see where this is going: a handful of AAA showcase games, second-tier titles with insufficient funding to break through the Uncanny Valley, and a bunch of gimmicky indie games.

    Then it's "not realistic enough, yawn" and at the same time "too realistic, not fun".

    1. Charles Manning

      Re: Not realistic enough for gaming?

      Nobody would buy realistic games.

      Consider an FPS... In a realistic game you'd be sent to some hole, then spend days and days doing nothing. Chance of discharging a firearm... close to zero. Chance of getting a kill even less.

      Where's the fun in that?

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: Not realistic enough for gaming?

        The gaming industry has been confusing "realistic" with "immersive" for far too long. Yes, back in early 2000s games were still fugly blocky messes of pixels, but Syndicate was a great game, and I still remember my finger cramps after Quake marathons.

        Today, we have "realistic" behemoths like COD or its counterpart which, as graphically enhanced as they are, are still sorely missing in the actual realism department, and even more in the fun department. Not to mention that I hate playing with random people - they're more often that not complete jerks. Minecraft, ugly as it is, is way more fun and immersive.

        So let's lay off the realism and get back to having fun, shall we ? The graphical engines are now very much "good enough", so get cracking on immersive, please.

  10. mamsey


    Life converges with art... Red Dwarf had BTL back in 1988 (TV Series not the book). The current range of VR headsets are so simialr to what the dwarfers were wearing at the time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: BTL

      Let's put all the VR headsets together, and the bullet can go down the line...

  11. Haku

    Humongous? No, THIS is HUMONGOUS:

    Toshiba 360 Gaming Helmet -

    It makes almost anyone look like Marvin the paranoid android from the 2005 HHGTTG film.

  12. Suricou Raven

    What about purely non-fun uses?

    A VR headset can be a good way to shove a great deal of information into a person's perception without needing a bulky multi-monitor setup and in a quite small physical footprint. Just need to get high enough resolution in the panels, and that's a solvable problem. You've potentially got a good interface for those who have to coordinate very-high-information systems. Air traffic control, military command, network operations, real-time social network moderation, industrial control.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: What about purely non-fun uses?

      Right now, they are a novelty and probably for the near future. Once the killer app/use hits, they will take off. I don't think the gamers will be much of a market to recoup R&D costs. If a business use is found and companies jump on it, then the prices will drop and individuals will flock to that market.

      Or, it may have to go vice versa.. the killer app/use that everyone wants or thinks they need and then business will adopt it.

      I think the biggest market right now would be training, but it will take a lot of reasons for companies to spend the money for it since there's little profit motive for them. Governments... military, air traffic control would definitely benefit from it.

  13. Jim84

    Pseudo Holographic TV

    I have a feeling that Pseudo Holograms might be the next big thing for TV, while VR might be restricted to solo gaming. The other thing limiting VR in the near term is that you need an enthusiast level PC to run a headset with enough FPS.

    On the other hand Dolby Atmos for sound looks absolutely awesome for regular TV as well as VR. Although not that many people have a full 5.1 speaker set up in their living room. The main problem is plumbing in all the power wiring for the speakers. And these cables get dusty and horrible. Perhaps if wireless power over 2m takes off (Witricity reckon they can do it) then people will just be able to stick speakers to walls and place them on stands behind the couch.

  14. streaky

    By Default

    What is it about VR that makes it so people are going to have it the same way as they have a 3d tv?

    You need to buy a TV, if manufacturer makes it smart and 3D at the same price you have a 3D TV, if it's more expensive people will question if they need it and not buy. That all makes sense.

    People aren't going to get VR kit by organically when buying something else (unless they start shipping them with washing machines/PCs). People who buy into this generation are mostly going to be gamers who are buying it because they're intending to buy it. There's obviously some business use too.

    Maybe the next generation down it becomes ubiquitous when we get this kit in the hands of a critical mass of developers and we figure out what to actually do with it, maybe people stop buying TVs at that point and just get VR headsets instead, I don't have a crystal ball but it all seems reasonable.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: By Default

      I mean that they may have it fairly easily accessible thanks to owning a smartphone and the creation of systems like vrAse and - particularly - Cardboard.

      Manufacturers touted huge numbers of 3D sets, but many of those probably consumed little 3D programming; for some companies, almost all but their cheapest sets were capable of 3D, so lots of people looking for a new set got 3D whether or not they wanted it or used it. It was, to an extent, an 'extra' with your smart TV or plasma display, or big screen.

      VR headsets may not be quite as ubiquitous as that, but I'm suspect some of the same people who talked up the penetration of 3D may do the same with VR, based largely on the widespread availability of phones that can be used to provide the display.

      In particular, using Cardboard, you could sell VR entertainment - physical media, download voucher - in a cardboard box that gives anyone with a phone the ability to enjoy the media. The extra cost to the consumer of the VR experience could be effectively zero (or just a few quid; but make it zero, absorb the cost of the cardboard, because you'll only have to do it once, and hope they'll be back for more downloads).

      But, of course, all that depends on compelling content for casual (ie non gaming, non training) users. And I'm not totally convinced this type of VR will work for that, for the reasons I gave in the article.

  15. Brian Allan 1

    You're living it...

    Life is virtual reality! The brain doesn't see, hear, smell, taste or feel anything... It is simply fed an input and the brain creates the sensation. Life is just a sophisticated virtual reality!

  16. Martin Summers Silver badge

    I saw an Oculus Rift development kit for £300 in my local CeX the other day. I think that says it all for its future doesn't it?

    1. NumptyScrub

      I see iPhones on the shelves at my local CeX, are you suggesting the Rift will be as successful as the iPhone?

      I don't think it will be as successful as the iPhone.

      I also paid £300 for a brand new DK2 direct from Oculus (this was last year), CeX as usual are pricing themselves out of a sale for a piece of kit with only 6 months to live.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        I hadn't seen your comment until just. What I was trying to say is that if a dev has given up on it and has sold it to CeX then what does that say about its future as in I think it has a dismal one. Unless I'm missing something.

        1. NumptyScrub

          I think you underestimate how many non-devs have bought the devkit. Devs won't be ditching theirs to CeX, that's a consumer establishment (real devs will just chuck it in a cupboard "in case it comes in useful later", or fob it off on the new guy) ;)

          The one you saw in CeX will be a consumer (like me) who bought one and then realised there was still a dearth of stuff that actually used it, what with it being a devkit and all.

          The killer app for me was Elite: Dangerous, but EVE: Valkyrie, Star Citizen, Assetto Corsa, Project CARS, and a whole host of others are now turning up, so I don't feel like I wasted money on the thing.

          I just need to decide if I'll get the Vive when it releases, or wait for the Rift CV1... ^^;

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    22 years on from Lawnmower Man and we still dont have VR for the home.

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