NEWS - Friday, June 24, 2005

Virtual Reality On Xbox

Taunton (MA) - Virtual Reality is one of those promising technologies that keeps running out of steam just when they could get interesting for the mass market. Here’s a new try: 3001 AD believes 2005 is the year for mainstream VR and preps a $500 high-tech headset for game consoles. Remember the monstrous and futuristic Virtual Reality stages from the mid 90s? Many of us, especially journalists believed this to be the future of gaming. Unfortunately, these platforms, typically priced above $10,000, never made it beyond theme parks and cyber cafés. Still, VR always has been a simmering technology that has been waiting for its mainstream opportunity. This opportunity could come along in the fourth quarter of this year, when 3001AD, a company that builds high-end VR machines for large-scale entertainment centers, will introduce a headset that can be used in combination with the Xbox and the Playstation game consoles and several blockbuster game titles. The system, called "Trimersion" and recently demonstrated at the E3 trade show, promises 360-degree head tracking for home gaming. The device uses a binocular video subsystem manufactured by Kopin and delivers a QVGA resolution (320 x 240). According to Kopin, this can be compared to a virtual image equivalent of a 35-inch display viewed from a seven-foot distance. The VR platform promises gamers the ability to control key elements of their virtual environments, such as point of view and player position, with an intuitive turn of the head instead of a thumb or finger command. A non-tracking version of the Trimersion is available for players who prefer a mouse or hand control. Trimersion also lets gamers wield a pistol-style input device, rather than push buttons, to shoot within the game. Mark Rifkin, senior vice president of 3001 AD said that virtual reality has made significant progress in recent years and that the technology is becoming more available. "Ten years ago, VR was very expensive and very bulky. Today, we do not have these issues anymore. We plan to make these systems available on a much larger scale." Still, VR is not going to be cheap. Rifkin expects the Trimersion to sell for $395 in large quantities with suggested retail pricing to come in just under $500. Availability is expected for the fourth quarter of this year. According to 3001 AD, there are currently between 30 and 40 game titles that support its VR technology, for example Halo. Many potential buyers may scratch their head and wonder, if such a system is worth about twice the money of a regular console. But in times when gamers shell out up to $1000 for a graphics card, $500 for a VR subsystem almost appears to be a bargain.


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