Virtuality (product)

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A page from a Virtuality gaming system marketing piece showing the visette and controller
Launch of the Ford Galaxy in VR, created by Imagination in 1995

Virtuality is a line of virtual reality gaming machines produced by Virtuality Group, and found in video arcades in the early 1990s.[1] The machines deliver real time (less than 50ms latency) gaming via a stereoscopic visor, joysticks, and networked units for multi-player gaming.

Following Dr. Jonathan D Waldern's VR PhD research (1985–1990) and[2] supported by IBM Research Labs, Virtuality Group was formed in 1985 as a startup called W Industries.[3] Waldern's earlier work at Leicester Polytechnic's Human Computer Interface Research Unit had produced a computer system featuring "no less than five 16- and 32-bit microcomputers" that could produce a stereoscopic view of a three-dimensional scene, viewed on a screen using special headgear featuring an active shutter system, with head and hand tracking using "sonic sensors" to determine the viewer's position.[4] Waldern's company developed many of the principal components including VR headsets, graphics subsystems, 3D trackers, exoskeleton data gloves and other enclosure designs.

The Virtuality 1000SU VR system was launched in 1990 at the Computer Graphics ’90 exhibition held at Alexandra Palace in London.[5] The first two networked VR systems were sold to British Telecom Research Laboratories to experiment with networked telepresence applications. Many other systems were sold to corporations including Ford, IBM, Mitsubishi and Olin. Professional virtual reality systems included: a virtual reality attraction created by Creative Agency Imagination for the launch of the 1995 Ford Galaxy and a virtual trading floor for the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (LIFFE).[6]

There are two types of units (referred to by the company as "pods"): One where the player stands up (SU), and the other where they sit down (SD). Both unit types utilize virtual reality headsets (the "Visette") which each contain two LCD screens at resolutions of 276x372 each. Four speakers and a microphone were also built into the unit.[7] An arcade version of the 1000SU called the 1000CS was released in 1991, the CS postfix referring to "Cyber Space".

The SU units have a Polhemus 'Fast Track' magnetic source built into the waist high ring with a receiver in a free-moving joystick (the "Space Joystick"), while the SD design has the player sitting down with joysticks, a steering wheel, or aircraft yoke for control, depending on the game.

Using the magnetic tracking system the stereoscopic display was able to react to head movements to change the display based on what the player would be "looking at" within the gaming environment. The position of the joystick (also magnetically tracked) controls movement of the player's "virtual hand", and a button on the joystick moves the player forwards in the game arena.

1000 Series[edit]

The 1000CS and 1000SD units were powered by a Commodore Amiga 3000 with 4MB of fast RAM and a CD-ROM. The Amiga included a pair of graphics accelerators (one for each eye) based around the Texas Instruments TMS34020 GSP (Graphics System Processor) chips with a TMS34082 floating point co-processor. Each of these cards could deliver about 40 Mflops with a capability to render 30,000 polygons/s at 20FPS. The CS version featured 6dof hand tracking delivered by a Polhemus Fastrack unit.[8]

1000CS games[edit]

  • Dactyl Nightmare – Multiplayer map with several levels and platforms; grenade launcher weapons and pterodactyl enemy. (The game, along with other virtual games, was famously featured in the 1996 comedy First Kid.)
  • Grid Busters – Robot shoot-em-up.
  • Hero – Locked door puzzle.
  • Legend Quest – Fantasy adventure.

1000SD games[edit]

  • Battlesphere – Space battle.[9]
  • Exorex – Robot warriors.
  • Total Destruction – Stock car racing.
  • VTOL – A Harrier jump jet simulator.
  • Flying Aces – A biplane dogfight simulator.

Virtuality's release surprised the existing VR industry. Despite crude graphics, it offered what Computer Gaming World in 1992 described as "all the necessary hallmarks of a fully immersive system at what, to many, is a cheap price. The main complaint ... has so far been its lack of resolution and software support".[10]

2000 Series[edit]

The 2000SU and SD models were introduced in 1994,[11] powered by an Intel 486-PC and using Motorola 88110 processors for graphics rendering.[12] They have several more games including Buggy Ball, Dactyl Nightmare 2 - Race For The Eggs!, Zone Hunter[13][14] and Pac-Man VR.

There was also a 3000 series, which was basically a 2000 Series machine upgraded with faster processor (Intel Pentium) and a rifle-type controller. They were offered in 2 versions, a "normal" SU-3000 with a generic rifle-type controller and a "Total Recoil" version with an official Winchester Replica Rifle-type controller that featured a CO2-powered blowback mechanism.[15] The "Total recoil" Version came with the game package "Quickshot Carnival" which featured Clay shooting and other target practice.[16] The "normal" generic-rifle version came with the game "Zero Hour", which was a first-person shooter "on rails" that was tailor-made for the gun controller.

Project Elysium[edit]

Cover page from an informational brochure for Virtuality's Project Elysium

Virtuality also worked to use their VR technology for more practical purposes. Project Elysium was a virtual reality system developed in 1995 by Virtuality for IBM for use in architectural and construction applications to give builders and clients an idea of how things would look once they were built, among other uses.[17][18] It was a "complete integrated VR workstation with development software" and it included a visette and hand-held control device called the "V-Flexor. It has created a high way gaming."[19][20]


Developer W. Industries (named after its founder Dr. Jonathan David Waldern),[21]: 390, a company founded by Jonathan Waldern, who had invented the prototype glasses in 1986[22] that were the basis of Virtuality products, was founded in 1987.[23][note 1]

Virtuality Group Plc was incorporated on 1993-06-02.[24] The company was backed by Lord Wolfson of Wembly Group Plc, who with Apax Venture Capital company were majority shareholders.

In 1996, Virtuality Group Plc launched a consumer VR display in partnership with Takara, which was to be sold in September.[23]


There were five group subsidiaries.

  • Virtuality Entertainment Ltd.: In 1997, rights to the entertainment machines (but not the Virtuality brand) were sold to CyberMind UK[25] in a breakup of the group owing to a dramatic slump in demand for the expensive (then $65,000) theme park and Arcade machines, causing the manufacturing division's (called Virtuality Entertainment) insolvency.
  • CyberMind UK: Sold to Arcadian Virtual Reality LLC in 2004. In Australia, Fun City Entertainment Complex in Sunshine, Melbourne Victoria is the only venue in Australia running the SU 2000 models and is an agent for the sale and support of the Virtuality entertainment systems. During the company sale, Dr Waldern purchased all IP consumer technology rights, in addition to all Virtuality brand rights other than entertainment machines.

Retinal Displays[edit]

Following the Virtuality bankruptcy, Waldern founded Retinal Displays.

In 1997, the company produced HMD(Head Mount Display) Dynovisor TAK-8510,[26][27] which was based on the product announced in 1996 that resembled Jaguar VR. An improved version of the unit was released in August 1998 by Philips as 'Scuba'.[28] Combined, over 55,000 headsets were sold, mostly in Japan. The company is currently[when?] working on next generation optoelectronics technology and applications including applications for Virtual Reality.

Digital Lens Inc.[edit]

Johnathan Waldern founded DigiLens Inc. in 2003-04-18[29] as SBG(Switchable Bragg Grating) Labs Inc.[30], a developer of holographic waveguide display technology. Digital Lens was founded in 1997, acquired by SBG Labs.[31][32]

In 2020-12-17, Metamaterial Inc. announced Jonathan Waldern joining the company as chief technology officer.[33][34][35] That marked the company founder's 16 years serving the company, and his role in Digital Lens Inc. was reduced to part-time consultant.[36]


  1. ^ Next Generation article incorrecly stated Virtuality was founded in 1987.


  1. ^ Horsman, Matthew (March 17, 1995). "Virtuality Ties up Atari Deal". The Independent. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  2. ^ DigiLens Inc. "Waldern Virtuality" – via YouTube.[dead YouTube link]
  3. ^ Davies, Hunter (November 22, 1993). "The Hunter Davies Interview: Dr Waldern's Dream Machines". The Independent. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  4. ^ Lamb, John (September 1985). "Solid modelling enters a new dimension". Design. p. 11. Retrieved 30 March 2022.
  5. ^ vradmin (2018-04-17). "Virtuality – A New Reality of Promise, Two Decades Too Soon". Virtual Reality Society. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  6. ^ "The Board". Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
  7. ^ "Human Interface Technology Lab".
  8. ^ "Retro VR - History". Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Engler, Craig E. (November 1992). "Affordable VR by 1994". Computer Gaming World. p. 80. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  11. ^ Webb, Marcus (March 1995). "Arcadia". Next Generation. Imagine Media (3): 31.
  12. ^ SU2000 Technical Manual
  13. ^ "Zone Hunter arcade video game by Virtuality (1994)".
  14. ^ "Zone Hunter". Next Generation. Imagine Media (10): 130. October 1995.
  15. ^ Webb, Marcus (February 1996). "Arcadia". Next Generation. No. 14. Imagine Media. p. 29. Three target shooting games are available for its new 'Total Recoil' system, which features a realistic Model 101 shotgun from the Winchester rifle company. The pneumatic gun gives a real, physical kickback when you fire it.
  16. ^ Hidden Below. "Virtuality Quickshot Carnival RM footage" – via YouTube.[dead YouTube link]
  17. ^ Camara, Antonio, and Raper, Jonathan. "Spatial Multimedia and Virtual Reality". CRC Press, 1999. p. 133.
  18. ^ DYE, LEE (22 February 1995). "Technology is finding important places in medicine, engineering and many other realms" – via LA Times.
  19. ^ Craig, Sherman, and Will. "Developing Virtual Reality Applications: Foundations of Effective Design". Morgan Kaufmann (publisher), 2009, p. 326.
  20. ^ commons:File:Project Elysium pg 3.jpg[better source needed][dead link]
  21. ^ Grossman, Wendy M. (May 1994). "Artificial eye". Personal Computer World. pp. 390–392, 394.
  22. ^ "Virtuality – A New Reality of Promise, Two Decades Too Soon". 17 April 2018. Archived from the original on 2022-07-04.
  23. ^ a b "Takara and Virtuality Head Homeward" (PDF). Next Generation. No. 19. Imagine Media. July 1996. p. 24. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2023-07-03.
  25. ^ Webb, Marcus (February 1998). "Q-Zar and Champions File Bankruptcy; CIE Gets Virtuality Assets" (PDF). Next Generation. No. 38. Imagine Media. p. 35. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2023-04-04.
  26. ^ Thrill Of The Chase: Virtual Reality Holy Grail
  27. ^ Feature: A Brief History of Virtual Reality
  28. ^ Philips Scuba Visor
  29. ^ Digilens, Inc
  30. ^ SBG Labs, Inc
  31. ^ DigiLens (acquired by SBG Labs)
  32. ^ SBG Labs Acquires DigiLens
  33. ^ Dr. Jonathan Waldern Joins Metamaterial as Chief Technology Officer
  34. ^ DigiLens founder departs…
  35. ^ Jonathan David Waldern
  36. ^ Jonathan Waldern’s Post

External links[edit]