Little girl wearing a VR headset and touching the world

Virtual reality is here with us, and its future is indeed bright. It is gaining use and application in many spheres of life and as the applications widen, so does its integration in the everyday lives of consumers, making it more and more relevant. This relevance in turn leads to more investment in research and development to come up with better products. Presently, virtual reality is being used in the classroom, it is being used in industries, it is being used in the medical space and one of the largest consumers of virtual reality is the gaming and entertainment industry. As we continue to enjoy all of these wonderful inventions, it is important to also take a look back at where it all began.

Where it all began

The history of virtual reality dates back to the year 1962 when Morton Heilig came up with the Sensorama. This machine combined multiple senses to enable people to get an immersive experience of riding a motorcycle across a metropolis using a 3D image. It combined stereoscopic 3D with audio, aroma and vibration. Thereafter, virtual reality got another boost when in 1968, Ivan Sutherland came up with a head mounted display. However, this time, rather than being connected to a camera, it was connected to a computer.

It was not until the 1980s that the world of virtual reality grew in leaps and bounds. Jaron Lanier, founder of VPL research, introduced DataGlove. This device allowed users to interact with virtual objects as it was equipped with sensors. NASA also got in the game as well in 1990 when it came up with its virtual interface environment workstation also called the VIEW. This device allowed for exploration of a virtual version of space.  In 1991, Virtuality came up with arcade machines which could play 3D games, and this is one of the first instances that many people got a glimpse of virtual reality and 3D.  This was all possible due to VR headsets and stereoscopic 3D images which gave an immersive experience. Some of these machines could be networked for multiple players to play against each other.

This huge growth continued with the development of the VRML, which is a virtual reality modeling language. This was done in 1994 and was the precursor to the integration of VR with the internet.

The Nintendo virtual boy was released in 1995 but it did not do well and was discontinued a year later. However, it was the first portable console capable of playing 3D graphics.

Virtual reality commercialization

The biggest leap forward for the virtual reality world came in the 2000s. This was when the giant technology companies got into the game and billions of dollars were invested in research and development. Huge global companies such as Google, Facebook, Sony and HTC got in the game, and they came up with products that gave the market a taste of what a future with VR would look like. Google introduced streetview in 2007 and bettered it in 2010. Other Google VR products include Cardboard and Google Glass. The Oculus Rift prototype was also developed in 2010 by an 18-year-old Palmer Luckey, whose selling point was that it had a 90-degree field of vision, something which had not been done before. In addition, it used the computer’s processor to deliver the images. In 2012, he raised some money to produce it and in 2014, Oculus was bought by Meta, then known as Facebook, for a staggering $3 billion. Other companies in the virtual reality space include Samsung with its Samsung gear VR, Sony VR through its PlayStation console, Microsoft’s Hololens and HTC VIVE. The HTC VIVE was the first set to have sensor tracking that allowed players to move around freely while playing. To date, Oculus by Meta is the most popular VR headset.

China is not left behind and it is also producing various types of virtual reality gear aimed at the mass market. China has stayed true to its roots by producing very cheap headsets most of which can be used with a smartphone. To illustrate, Microsoft’s cheapest Hololens is $3,500 while Meta’s Quest 2 goes for $299 and the Meta Quest 3 which will come out this fall will sell for $499. Most of the Chinese headsets go for as little as $10. In 2021, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance acquired Pico Neo 3, which is a competitor to Oculus Quest 3.

While some of the products released from 2012 – 2019 by many of these giant corporations have been discontinued, they gained the attention of the world. More products which are better and more powerful are being developed to replace them. However, Meta, through Oculus, has managed to take a significant share of the market and introduce affordable virtual reality headsets and games. Other than Meta, the other giant companies have largely pivoted to the enterprise market as opposed to the consumer market. But competitors are developing products to compete with Oculus.

It is rumored that Apple is in the process of coming up with a virtual reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro. It will be interesting to see what impact on the market it will have.

On the application side, Beat Saber became the first application to sell a million copies. This was achieved in 2019. Beat Saber is a VR music and rhythm game.


The developers of virtual reality technologies are aiming at creating products for the mass market and the aim is to make it more and more affordable. This is because virtual reality has a lot of applications in the day to day lives of many people in the world. This is bound to continue as the world gets more connected and interconnected. Technology, which virtual reality is part of, has changed the way people live their lives and virtual reality will continue to enhance this given the way in which it makes it possible for people to have immersive and real-like experiences when using the technology.

The history of virtual reality is rich and great. The future is even more exciting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *