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
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.
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
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
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
"The HMDs of the past used very
expensive displays primarily sourced from Japan. The next generation of
IPDs (note; IIS term for HMD) to be successful, will need to be based on a much
less expensive display. These new displays are on the horizon from many US
based companies. Of course, the displays are only a part of the cost
problem. Electronics integration and packaging also will determine
cost. The winners in this market will need to address all of these issues.
"On the product liability issue, IIS has shipped over
14,000 IPDs with not a single product liability problem. To be safe, there
are some rules that need to be followed and good design is required to make the
display system comfortable and non-straining for the user. If it is a
strain for the user, they simply will not be able to use the product for any
length of time, much like a
poor fitting pair of swim goggles.
"To some degree, we
believe that this issue has been blow out of proportion (probably because
it is a (potential) problem area that receives attention by the media.
Finally, there are three very large Japanese companies
presently shipping HMDs. In order for them to be doing this they must also feel
comfortable about the product liability issue.
market size, the IPD is going to be part of everyday life. Applications will
reach a point to where they will be unable to be used without one (much
like the mouse is today.) At that point in time it is conceivable that
every PC and home entertainment system will have at least one."
Kiera Reilly Marketing Operations Manager of n-vision®
In a phone conversation
Kiera stated that some of the reasons for the high cost of HMDs are the optics,
especially for the wide field of view units, and the electronics. She does not
believe that motion sickness is much of an issue, as n-vision has not
encountered any real problems with this. N-vision dose not have the resources to
mass produce HMD for a consumer market, and Kiera stated that the consumer is
not going to be happy with an HMD purchase unless the visual quality is equal to
what he or she will see on their computer monitor.
She also feels that the consumer is going to
expect a fairly wide field of view. While HMDs with such performance are
available from n-vision, they are simply too expensive to produce at a price the
consumer market can even begin to accept.
"There are many reasons why a HMD is
not available for the home entertainment market. Several companies including
Nintendo, Sega, and Sony have considered the HMD and probably could have
produced them at a low enough price point to make them marketable. I believe
the main opposition to HMDs in the home involved safety issues (leading to
insurance issues), hygienic issues, and concerns about wearing a HMD for a long
"I believe that a simple, easy to wear, HMD
or eyeglass will someday be purchased for home use. It may need to be
see-through to avoid some of the safety issues, and it definitely needs to be
hygienically clean and comfortable to wear. iReality Company, the new name for
VRooMCOM Inc. and General Reality Company, fully intends to be a player in this
market because of our long history in providing low cost VR solutions to the
simulation and game markets, and because of our future vision and direction to
provide interactive 3D solutions to the Internet."
"In my opinion, there isn't an HMD for the home sim
market because of a few reasons. First, market risk. Companies
such as Sega, Virtual I/O, VictorMaxx, Forte, Phillips and others have tried and
not got very far in that market because they did not have a handle on the
market. Smaller companies cannot venture into this market as they do not have
the resources to produce 100,000's of headset based upon a speculative market.
"The retail culture is not too forgiving for a smaller
supplier either. As an example of this lets take a large chain like Fry's
Electronics. A customer buys a VR headset and brings it home to play
with. It's cool but he starts to get some buyers remorse because it does
not look as good as his 15" monitor.
" A week later, after playing with it
-non-stop- he brings it back for a full credit. Well, it's no skin off of
Fry's nose as they will only pay you for the stuff they sell. Well, if
you're on 90 day terms with them, that pounds one stake in the lid of your
coffin - delaying this payment further because of returns will pound a few more
"VR has been overhyped and under delivered for a long
time. The technology that lives up to the hype that was created in the
press is just NOW being released in limited quantities. Panel technology
just wasn't there until now.
While 180,000 pixel HMDs are cool, they did
not offer the gamer an advantage over using a comparably priced monitor with a
mouse or joystick. Consumer level HMDs started at $750 and moved to $450
over time. I can get a pretty good 19" CRT monitor for that price. It's
simple economics - price vs. performance.
"Second, lack of title
support. While it's neat to play one game with a headset, there has to be
universal support for it - just like a mouse. It's too expensive for a
specialized peripheral. While some of the HMD manufacturers did make some
headway in increasing title support - it was never enough.
"Consumer markets are a killer. The average computer user
is sophisticated. They want high performance at an low cost.
Consumer HMDs have come close to meeting their requirements. Industrial
customers are willing to pay more and put up with deficiencies because they are
making money with the HMD.
"The guy at home is spending his hard earned
money on it. He is fickle. He demands the best and wants to pay nothing
for it. Computer manufacturers have cultivated and ingrained this expectation
into everyone. It's tough to create a business model, that works, for this
type of market.
"Third, liability is an issue since there is no
control over how long a person can use the HMD. Humans adapt to things very
quickly. The suspected root of CyberSickness - a vestibular imbalance,
increasingly manifests itself in a user the longer they are immersed."
imbalance occurs when a user, immersed in a virtual world, is sending mixed
signals to their brain. Their eyes are saying they are moving while
their inner ear is saying they are not moving. The brain develops a new
neural pathway to reprocess the information. This can cause nausea. The
effect can be replicated in an IMAX theater or with a monitor in a dark room."
"There have been "low cost" (<$1K) HMDs on the market for a couple of years
now, but their performance has been disappointing to say the least. Also, "low
cost" is relative. Military HMDs can run well over $100K. Even at $699, HMDs for
the consumer market are "expensive" - especially considering the falling prices
and quality of monitors these days.
"Then there is the cost of the head tracker
and lack of software support. Here at KEO we concentrate on the industrial and
military markets. No doubt, however, others are looking at consumer markets
considering the multi-billion dollar gaming markets. These include Sony and
others. And yes, liability is a significant concern."
There are several manufactures of HMDs today. Many
are high resolution full immersion HMDs with incredible performance, but at
this date all such HMDs are well out of the average PC combat gamers
promising HMD in development is the is Interactive Imaging Systems VFX3D. The
VFX3D has been in the just to be released phase for well over a year and
this writer is wondering if the VFX3D will ever be available. Hopefully it will,
for it is the only product that even comes close to what would be useful and
affordable for the P/C military flight simulation pilot.
Field of View: 35° Diagonal Dual 360K pixel
High Contrast, Full Color
Multi-sync capabilities to
Support the following
resolutions: 640X480 60,
62.5, 60, 75 hz (refresh rate)
N-vision has the most
impressive products available as of this time. N-Visions has developed high
resolution 3D immersive display systems for use in the commercial, scientific
and defense markets. These are definitely the HMDs that PC combat pilots would
trade their 21" monitors in for. But it's going to take more than your 21 inch
monitor... like the car, the house, the wife or husband ....
One of n-visions products is
the Datavisor LCD. This HMD could become a potential for the PC sim pilot if the resolution were to increase slightly.
KEO concentrates on the industrial and military markets and has a wide selection of
HMDs. Several of KEOs past development product are interesting (awesome might be
another word). "As part of ARPA's High Definition Systems Initiative, KEO
further developed its patented VIM® technology to two dimensional tiling.
"This provides 6 tiles per eye and achieves 150° horizontal by 50° vertical FOV
with 40° of stereo overlap and four-arcminute resolution monochrome or
eight-arcminute resolution color. The display sub-system weighs less than two
pounds. As part of the program, KEO has designed a true, full-immersion HMD
with 15 tiles per eye that provides 180° H x 90° V with 60° stereo overlap and
offers less than four-arcminute resolution in the central visual field."
Cost? Don't even think about it!!
Below are some other HMD providers and links to their sites.
Can we expect in the near future an HMD that is affordable for the home or
Paul Travers of Interactive Imaging
Systems; "The HMD market has seen difficult times in
the past because the price and technology performance (both in the PC and the
HMD) were not up to the customers requirements and expectations.
"We believe that the winds of change are blowing and that the consumer will see
significant new product offerings in this area over the next few years.
The PC technology in the areas of software and hardware have accelerated at an
incredible pace and the technology required for low cost HMDs is right around
"The HMD is not really the required device for
this market. To have an effective simulation of any kind a great viewing
device is only a piece of the puzzle. The viewing device must also be
interactive. This allows the user to not only view the cockpit or see into
a room, but actually step inside it. Thus creating an Immersive experience
very close to being there.
IIS's products offer all these features. We call this new product
an Interactive Personal Display or IPD. The bottom line, not just
a TV on your face but a completely interactive, stereoscopic HMD with
three degree of freedom. Yaw, Pitch and Roll. The next two years
are going to bring wonderful advances in this field both in the areas
of performance and cost."
"I believe that there is a large enough market out there
for a professional HMD and a consumer HMD right now. Only, the technology is
just now becoming available to make it happen. Lots of investors got
burned in other HMD ventures (Virtual I/O, N-Vision, VictorMaxx, etc...) and
their memories are good. It will take a good business plan in order to
raise the interest in developing a consumer HMD."
In summary, if the prices are low enough and the performance high enough an
incredible mass market for HMD's could be created. And of course this will mean
higher performing HMD's and even lower cost, much like 3D video cards have
developed. So, when and who will be the first or leading manufacturer in this new
potential market? Sony, Interactive Imaging Systems, n-vision, Kaiser
Electro-Optics? Or will it be some unheard of start-up company that will
catch the present players sleeping? Only time will tell.