The human race is close to the dream of creating a virtual world that both looks and feels convincing, but it’s been a long, difficult road to get here. The internet has recently rediscovered this delightfully quaint 1990 report on virtual reality technology. It’s a segment from a long-forgotten informational show called Today’s Japan, produced by the international arm of Japanese public broadcaster NHK. While the term “virtual reality” existed in 1990, this report calls it “sensing artificial reality.” The term didn’t stick. Nor did the field reporter’s chosen epithet: “illusory computer graphic world.”
The Today’s Japan reporter visits an Osaka company that developed a sort of rudimentary VR system, building on a concept that originated with America’s space program. Then as now, the technology largely relies on people wearing clumsy, oversize headsets, referred to here as “special glasses” with a “liquid crystal television screen.” In those days, users were also required to don something called “data gloves,” which aren’t too dissimilar from some of the touch controls used by Oculus and Valve in their consumer VR hardware today.
The segment tries to make a case for the potential usefulness of this technology by showing how doctors could examine their patients’ insides while seemingly looking at their outsides. This is not too far off from what some say the current influx of VR technology should be used for, a fact that does not stop the technology from looking even more nausea-inducing than what’s available today.