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Reflections on Virtual Reality Through 25 Years of SIGGRAPH

by Carl Machover

In my opinion, early Virtual Reality was oversold. It's a lot like computer graphics was twenty-five years ago: it was too expensive, too inefficient. But an enormous groundswell of interest brought computer graphics into the forefront of scientific interest. Through the support of people like the early SIGGRAPH members, great leaps of progress were made. Hardware improved, algorithms improved, prices came down.

VR faces those same problems today: expensive hardware, fledgling technologies. Virtual Reality strives to match life. Anything less is unacceptable, and in the early days it could actually make the user sick.

Another obstacle faced by early VR systems was tethering, the cables and wires kept the user tied up like a dog. VR is overcoming these problems through the use of autostereoscopic devices and the CAVE.

One thing I've noticed lately is that people make less of a distinction between Virtual Reality and 3D graphics; if it's a cube that can rotate on a screen, it's considered VR. Virtual means -- or should mean -- an immersive environment, where users feel they are in that world rather than just watching it.