The History of VR and its Significance in Live Streaming Video Bandwidth

by VideoCoin | August 28, 2018

Aficionados of the 1992 movie The Lawnmower Man will remember seeing this statement at the beginning of the movie, just after the New Line Cinema logo:

By the turn of the millennium a technology known as VIRTUAL REALITY will be in widespread use. It will allow you to enter computer generated artificial worlds as unlimited as the imagination itself. Its creators foresee millions of positive uses—while others fear it as a new form of mind control…”

It may have taken a little longer than the movie editors predicted, but the immersive and interactive environment seen in Dr. Lawrence Angelo’s virtual reality technology is finally here. Fortunately, the history of VR hasn’t proven as dangerous as some had foreseen; and it certainly hasn’t given us the power to invade minds or control lawn mowers with brain power alone.

The history of virtual reality actually goes back farther than one might imagine, and includes forward-thinking innovators who were decades ahead of the technology they desired to spawn. We owe them thanks for pointing us down the road to modern VR technology.

The History of Virtual Reality

The earliest attempts at creating a virtual world for others to experience harken back to the days of sock hops and rock-and-roll. In 1957, filmmaker Morton Heilig designed and created the Sensorama. It was a large booth into which a user would place his or her head in order to experience a fully 3D immersive world. Heilig envisioned users encountering vibrations, odors, stereo sound, and even the wind in their hair.

In 1960, Heilig patented his version of the first head-mounted display that was to include wide vision, stereo sound, and stereoscopic 3D images. Both his ideas never materialized, but they were true forward-thinking technologies.

Next in the history of VR came the first actual head-mounted display (HMD), although it couldn’t actually be held up by a human head and neck because of its weight. In 1968, computer scientist Ivan Sutherland invented what he called, “The Ultimate Display.” It became known as “The Sword of Damocles” because of the immense weight suspended over and around the user’s head.

Nevertheless, Sutherland’s invention connected a stereoscopic display to a computer program that projected images of wireframe shapes which changed perspective as the user moved their head through any axes. Because of its immense weight, requiring it to be suspended from the ceiling, it never moved beyond the lab.

Jump ahead past a few other inventions to 1991, and the introduction of the Sega VR headset, intended to be an accessory for the Sega Genesis gaming platform. The visor-like plastic headset boasted stereo headphones, LCD displays, and inertial sensors for tracking the user’s head movements.

A press release from the era stated, “Sega VR will create the impression that you are exploring an alternate reality. As your eyes shift focus from one object to the next, the binocular parallax constantly changes to give you the impression of a three-dimensional world.” Sega never released the headset out of fear that people would hurt themselves while playing the game.

Fast forward to today, and hundreds of companies are developing versions of the VR headset, including models that allow users to attach a smartphone. Some of the leading ones include:

Today’s VR headsets feature seamless roomscale experiences and multiple motion controllers with bundled features that allow interaction with the virtual world, making any one of them a good choice for a top notch experience.

Technical Restraints and the History of Virtual Reality

The early pioneers in the history of VR were truly ahead of their time with their innovations. Their ideas were ready for a new era in which we live now, where strides in computing power and bandwidth will allow extremely powerful VR experiences. In fact, VR technology has only began to enter the mainstream now because of technical restraints in supporting technology.

The demands of VR technology are vast, as users expect experiences to catch up with real-world living. In order for this to happen, massive amounts of storage, computing power, and bandwidth will be necessary. Why? Because no level of technology has yet been able to equal the processing powers of the human brain.

Here are some of the existing problems:

Computing Power

Virtual Reality at its highest form seeks to create a digital experience equal to the human experience, and at equal speeds, including smell, touch, and temperature. How much processing capacity would that require? Quite a lot: “Humans can process an equivalent of nearly 5.2 gigabits per second of sound and light – 200x what the US Federal Communications Commission predicts to be the future requirement for broadband networks (25 Mbps).”

Slow / Low Bandwidth Speeds

According to the above statement, the bandwidth required to facilitate a real-world experience is 200 times greater than a future requirement for network internet speeds. With the average internet speed across the US at about 12.6 Mbps, we are far away from the speeds necessary for real-world VR experiences through streaming video.  

Video Compression

Facebook has emerged as a real leader in making VR more usable ever since purchasing Occulus. They are using a video encoding algorithm called pyramid geometry to reduce VR and 360 video file sizes by up to 80 percent. This makes for a more fluid 360 degree video. The compression allows it to occupy much less storage space in the cloud. This is, however, not the norm everywhere.

Live Streaming Hi-Def Video to Both Eyes

In order for virtual reality to really produce a real-world experience, each stream must be duplicated in order to stream to both a user’s eyes. But, dual streams require loads of bandwidth. If we figure that a 720p VR video stream takes at least a 50 Mbps connection, then most internet users in the US don’t have access to that much speed.

From the History of Virtual Reality to the Future

If perhaps you think the above paragraphs depict insurmountable obstacles, and have nothing to do with present-day VR technology, you’re partly right. Aside from uncomfortable headsets hindering the gaming experience, VR technology is poised to enter the future in many ways.

Technical financial adviser Digi-Capital estimates that the VR industry will be valued at $25 billion by 2021. Video, gaming, and live streaming makes VR an exciting opportunity for all kinds of content providers, and that includes solutions for education and business.

Imagine virtual field trips to interact with different environments or cultures without leaving the confines of a local classroom. Picture consumers “test driving” not only a car, but any number of different products without ever entering the doors of a store. Spend time behind a virtual desk or on a virtual factory floor and evaluate the experience of working for a prospective employer.

In fact, some of these experiences are already available, and only promise even better experiences.

These and other VR experiences are available now, with existing live streaming and video bandwidth technology.

As solutions for increased computing, data storage, and transmission speed become available, virtual reality will appear as live streaming video on mobile devices from anywhere there is an internet connection. In fact, solutions for recording, storing, and streaming video, including VR, are already being developed through VideoCoin and Live Planet.

Why not explore what these companies have to offer in the realm of VR and live streaming video?



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