My first experiences with virtual reality were twofold. One was with the original version of View Master, in which a reel filled with several pictures was popped into a viewer, and they could be seen in 3-D.
Imagine the excitement of a young boy — used to watching Lucille Ball’s Here’s Lucy on a 1961 Fleetwood black and white TV — beholding the splendour of seeing stills of one of her episodes not only in colour, but in 3-D!
(These days, I find Here’s Lucy very hard to watch in any format. Stick with I Love Lucy.)
My other experience was with my father’s ‘50s vintage 3-D camera. Some of the shots taken, while on travel or from late 1960s family outings — were just okay. But I have to, ahem, comment that a shot of yours truly circa 1968 on a train in what I believe to be Granby Zoo, is in top quality 3-D, the best of all the slides I popped into the 3-D viewer.
Fast forward to 2017, and virtual reality has become a phenomenon which could change the world of entertainment to a massive degree.
I personally have a View Master VR headset, which for the $30 I paid, is not too bad. It’s the type where you place your Smartphone into the device.
My Smartphone does not have the capacity for me to download many VR apps. But I have watched numerous 3-D videos on YouTube. Some don’t work, some are very unclear, but a compilation of those video demos that were shown in stores like Best Buy on the first 3-D televisions are top-notch.
And for $30, or less if you get the basic Google Cardboard VR headset, at the very least, what you see appears to be the size of an IMAX screen, if not nearly as clear.
But that’s small potatoes compared to the potential displayed by the Rolls Royce of these viewers — the Oculus Rift, which sells for approximately $700 U.S.
That device, which you connect to a computer, is primarily used for games. Last December, while in Florida, I tried one out at Best Buy, and bravely chose the Intense level game.
When you’re fitted out with the device, and handed “joysticks,” once activated, your arms look like they’re in the classic Disney sci-fi flick Tron. I pointed towards my game choice, and found myself, climbing with not too much luck, a mountain. My hands became the hands of the hapless mountaineer, and as I looked around, a lush valley lay before me. It was beautiful and utterly realistic. Apparently, it was the potential fear of heights and falling that led to the game’s classification of “intense.” I had no such fear, and I promptly fell.
But that experience was itself dwarfed by my second try of the Oculus Rift, this time at the Expo ‘67 exhibition at the Stewart Museum.
The viewing that time was a virtual visit to the original Labyrinth pavilion, in which visitors to the exhibition saw several National Film Board films running simultaneously on a screen shaped like a cross. There were also films running high above eye level and deep below as well, maybe 50 feet in either direction.
The VR headset recreated that experience very convincingly. You actually have the feeling, while sitting in what really is a small space, of being in a massive hall, with the same dimensions as the original building.
Not only that, but when I looked around, I could see an animated audience sitting beside me on both sides of the room, and behind me as well.
Now imagine the change this could bring to the movie-going experience. Instead of sitting in front of a large screen, moviegoers would be fitted not only with a top-quality VR headset, but headphones capable of producing an effect equivalent to Dolby Atmos, in which sounds come from above you as well as around, and a 6D set-up in which you actually feel motion effects.
Now imagine being with the crew on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, travelling through space, dodging meteorites, engaging in battle with enemies, travelling at “warp speed,” being ordered around by Captain James T. Kirk and actually feeling the effect of each action? Intense doesn’t begin to describe it.
The result? An exhausted but happy moviegoer.
3-D movies and TV provided an open window into what reality could potentially look like, from a distance. VR could enable the viewer to climb through that window.