History of Virtual Reality, Part 2
Following the conclusion of World War II, life went back to normal in the United States. Returning military members found an abundance of jobs and companies focused on manufacturing products not related to a war effort. This meant new technology developed over the past decade could finally be put to other uses. The 1950s saw the expansion of television services with more movies hitting theaters throughout the country. It also saw a major development in the world of virtual reality in the form of Morton Heilig’s Sensorama. The development of this device helped move forward the idea of a virtual word, or at the very least experiencing a faraway location. Much of modern VR is based on technology designed for the Sensorama.
The Drive for New Sensory Experiences
In the 1950s, both radio and television proved major forms of entertainment. With sight and sound covered, developers looked to harness other senses, including smell. You may have heard of “smell-o-vision” before, perhaps in passing or in a joke. However, the push to include smells did play a major part in new technology, including the Sensorama.
Morton Heilig for many is seen as a major pioneer in the world of VR. He wanted to create a new form of cinema entertainment, so he combined cinematography along with audio recordings and a variety of other techniques to produce a truly unique experience. Over the course of seven years, Morton went on to create the device known as the Sensorama
The Sensorama: Picture
When looking at the Sensorama, it resembles a fully immersive arcade game. A user sits on an installed seat and places his/her head into a tunnel-like enclosure. Video plays in 180 degrees around the enclosure. Because of the close proximity of the playing screen and the viewer’s eyes, the only material visible is the video content.
Morton captured this video footage by creating a special handheld harness with multiple cameras attached facing in several directions. In appearance, it is nearly identical to modern VR video recorders with the multiple cameras attached. The major difference with the Sensorama is the cameras were film based. To keep bulk down, Morton shot in either 8mm or 16mm film. Super 16 and higher just proved too large and bulky for multiple cameras running at once. Additionally, due to using film, visual experiences were kept at a few minutes at a time before a stoppage occurred. Everything was captured in stereoscopic, so when later projected, it would appear not only fully wrapped around the viewer, but in 3D.
Morton Heilig didn’t want to just capture common stereoscopic scenes. He wanted exciting locations. One scene includes riding a bicycle through Brooklyn. While he did not provide pornographic content, one video he used did include a scantily clothed woman dancing around in seductive underwear. So, even Morton early on understood the notion of sex selling a product (other videos included a helicopter ride and a dune buggy ride through the desert).
The Sensorama: Added Senses
The Sensorama did not stop with a stereoscopic 3D visual of scenes. It also includes sound, smell and touch. 3D sound played around the user while wind blew into the face of the user, as if they really were riding a bicycle. Additionally, a smell feature allowed users to smell restaurants, bakeries and other storefronts the rider passed by. Outside of taste, the Sensorama provided coverage for all four other senses.
A Product Failure
Possibly the strangest aspect to the Sensorama revolves around Morton’s failure to mass sell the technology. In a time where companies, especially movie product studios, were looking to push the boundaries of a viewer’s experience (including most movies of the 50s and 60s coming out in full 70mm, which has a higher resolution and greater color presentation than 4K Ultra HD), nobody seemed to know what to do with the Sensorama. Essentially, Morton proved to be several decades ahead of his time.
Created the VR Revolution
While a product failure (there are still fully working Sensoramas around, so the devices were built to last), Morton’s developments created the world of immersive virtual reality. He moved away from static 3D images to full video, audio and even touch and smell. The process of capturing stereoscopic 3D visuals derives directly from Morton’s recording method. Recording situations for 3D VR porn is connected to this equipment, and even accessories such as attachable masturbators originate with the concepts customized by Heilig. Will porn smell-o-vision ever come to fruition? Guess we’ll all have to wait and see.
Up next in the history and development of VR, the creation of the very first VR headsets and the continual evolution of these devices from the 60s into the 1990s.