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HMDs, The ultimate hardware for PC simulation pilots?

  Written by George E. Warren Jr.
Edited by Jacob E. Warren


What is a HMD?

HMD is an acronym for Head Mounted Display, which is a set of goggles or a helmet with tiny monitors in front of each eye that generates images seen by the wearer as being three dimensional. A true HMD includes a device for tracking the users head movements and orientation. In other words, it tracks what direction the user is looking. Most HMDs will track yaw, roll, and pitch and some will even track the users head translations, a full six degrees of freedom (6 DOF).

Many HMDs also have 3D sound headsets as part of the unit. Unconstrained objects have six different directions or rotations they are able to move within including forward or backwards, up or down, and left or right; these are called translations. Objects can also rotate around the principal axes, which is roll, yaw, and pitch.

How will HMDs add to fighter simulations?

Mankind is an intensely visual being. The greatest part of situational awareness comes from visual images that are interpreted by the most efficient image processing computer, our brain.

Head Mounted Displays are a technology that allows you to be placed through the computer monitor into the simulation's 3-D world. With an HMD you would have the ability to look and move around in the computer 3-D simulated word as if you were actually sitting in the real aircraft, greatly increasing your situational awareness.

Imagine how this would greatly increase your effectiveness in a combat flight simulation. Instead of looking for and hitting the tracking key or joystick button to padlock onto a bandit or incoming missile you will be able to quickly glance at the target and then look forward again instinctively without even thinking about it, allowing more time and increased concentration to come up with a solution.

With full head tracking the user could free up several buttons on the HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) system that are used for the different view controls and use them for other functions, thus giving the combat flight simulation pilot more control over his aircraft and weapons systems with a faster reaction time. Furthermore, the general immersiveness is increased.

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What is needed from an HMD for fighter simulations?

This can be quite subjective and every computer simulation fighter pilot is going to have their own preferences and minimums. Realizing that for any HMD to give the best performance the software is going to have to support it, let's take a look at this subject.

Minimum resolution of the display has to be at least 800 x 600, a display that is clear and sharp so that the user will not have eye fatigue after a couple hours of use. Field of view (FOV) should be at least be 60 degrees horizontally, and of course the wider the better.

With a wider FOV comes greater situational awareness. Ideally we need very fast tracking of the pilot's head in yaw, pitch and roll and of course 6 DOF would be even better.

3D sound would be great, and a built in microphone so programs such as Game Commander can be used. The unit must be light in weight so as not to wear out the user, but durable enough to last under some real head banging :).

Last but certainly not least, it must be affordable enough for the average die hard P/C combat flight simulation pilot, probably not much more than a good 21" monitor. This means the price point must be between 900 and 1,500 US dollars at the most. Of course the lower the prices, the more sales.

Why is there not a HMD for the home entertainment market?

I sent an email to some of the present day HMD manufactures asking for some information on this subject: Some of the questions were: "Why is there not a HMD for the home entertainment or P/C flight simulation markets? Is it Cost? If so, what component(s) and any reasons why?

Is liability an issue? Is it believed there is not enough of a mass market? The responses that I received where very informative and actually more than I expected. Below are some of the replies that were received in response to these questions.

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Last Updated November 5th, 1999

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