History of VR: First Headsets

The technology used to immerse in virtual reality was considered science fiction. What were the first devices for interacting with the environment generated by a computer — it will be interesting for everyone to know.

History of VR: First Headsets
History of VR: First Headsets

History of VR: First Headsets

World’s First 3D Display

Designed by Professor Morton Heilig. Introduced to scientists in 1956 under the name Sensorama. It was a machine, resembling an apparatus for examining the fundus.

Most often used for entertainment purposes — it was installed in parks. It allowed feeling like a motorcycle driver riding through the streets of a night city, or an actor in a movie. Video projection was not the only function of the device.

First time in VR history, the machine had stereo sound, a built-in electric generator, and an odor simulator, and was equipped with an armchair with a vibration system. Enabling and disabling footprint functions depended on what was happening on the screen.

After 4 years, the creator of Sensorama has developed a VR headset. The device did not arouse confidence and due interest on the part of investors — it never entered the market. The headset was equipped with lenses. The viewing angle of the device is 140º.

The transmission of environmental sounds was carried out through stereo headphones. An additional function of the VR headset is to simulate wind and aromas.

Headsight: the First Helmet for Virtual Reality

Created by Philco in 1961, the world’s first mass device in the field of virtual reality. Looked like a stereoscopic headset. It immediately interested companies in the field of advertising and entertainment.

The headset was equipped with a camera and a magnetic tracking system that allowed the user to observe the processes taking place around him. All information about the movements of a person was transmitted to the camera. The device changed the viewing angle depending on the change in the position of the head.

History of VR: First Headsets

Sword of Damocles

Another progenitor of a headset for virtual reality. Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968. Its capabilities were the following:

  • image broadcasting;
  • tracking user’s movements;
  • imposition of computer graphics on real objects.

Sword of Damocles was the first augmented reality headset, a technology that combines objects from the virtual and real worlds.

A special computer program was used to project the 3D image. It stored two-dimensional pictures of a 3D object from different angles. They were shown in a sequence depending on the turns and tilts of the head.

This version of the VR gadget was oversized and limited movement around the room. After a while, the second, light, and compact model of the device was released, equipped with aluminum sensors (instead of magnetic ones) to track user movements in virtual and real spaces.

Eye Tap

An advanced model of a headset for immersion in a computer-generated world. Created in 1980 by Canadian engineer Steve Mann. Even at school age, the scientist assembled the first hardware for working with portable equipment.

The display of the device had an extension of 40 lines and was created from the camera’s cathode ray viewfinder. The computer was based on the MOS Technology 6502 processor.

This development has become an incentive for Steve to improve his skills in the field of VR. The famous scientist became precisely thanks to the creation of augmented reality glasses. The development was similar to the Sword of Damocles. Mann found a better way to use the beam splitter.

The image was displayed both to the user through the viewfinder and to the video surveillance system installed on the headset. Thanks to this, it was possible to superimpose virtual objects on real-time objects.

All calculations were carried out on a portable computer that could easily be carried in a backpack. With this, Steve Mann proved that virtual reality technologies can be convenient to use and compact.

First Controller — RB2

Developed in 1984 and presented in the form of a camera and gloves. The device allowed not only to observe the processes taking place in the artificial environment but also to interact with its objects — move them, rotate them.

Despite the possibilities, the device did not become popular. The reason was the high cost. The price of the kit (gloves, camera) was $100,000.


The first system for virtual games. Designed by Jonathan Waldern. Presented at the Computer Graphics Exhibition (1990) in two variations. The first looked like a headset with displays. The second system was an automatic machine equipped with a steering wheel. It allowed the user to interact with a virtual racing car.

Jonathan’s designs impressed many players but failed to achieve high sales — only 50 thousand sets were sold.

Now the market for VR glasses and headsets has evolved. Every year there are more and more opportunities to create new amazing virtual worlds.

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