John Carmack talks about his virtual reality headset

John Carmack has been demonstrating his virtual reality headset behind closed doors at E3 2012. Here is a 20 minute interview about this technology.

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Looks cool, but odds are that this tech will be extremely expensive for the consumer once and if it hits the consumer market.

500 dollars? If it will cost that in the US then it will cost even more where I live. No way I am going to invest as much into this thing as I would a whole PC just for better immersion in games.

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scalliano said:

It'll flop. VR headsets always do.

Given what it is, I don't think it can flop in the traditional sense. This is essentially a tech demo in hardware form. If I had cash to burn I'd definitely pick up a kit. I'm sure plenty of people will, the question is whether anyone will end up making it into an actual product.

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$500 is pretty inexpensive if the visuals and head tracking are good, I'm glad Carmack is investigating this, LCD panels should be good enough now to make it happen.

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It looks pretty cool. It also looks like a headache machine.

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What is it lately with reviving old fads from the 70s and 80s? first 3D movies, now virtual reality?

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It'll be Power Gloves next. I'm waiting for bell-bottom trousers to come back into fashion.

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scalliano said:

It'll flop. VR headsets always do.

People said the same thing about tablet computers until a couple of years ago.

The reason that things like tablets and smartphones remained niche products for so long was because their implementation was sucky, not because the idea was fundamentally flawed. So too, with VR. A headset with a high-res, high-refresh, high-FOV display, a reasonable weight and an affordable price would allow for amazingly immersive experiences, especially when you throw in accelerometers and the better software Carmack is talking about to make it a more natural experience.

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Jonathan said:

People said the same thing about tablet computers until a couple of years ago.

Coincidentally, tablets changed into something completely different a couple of years ago. Before, they were full-powered notebooks you could draw on; now they're daily planners with touch interfaces. The entire concept has pretty much been turned on its ear, so your argument of implementation doesn't really hold water.

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This sounds extremely exciting. I'd be more excited to use this with something like an Elder Scrolls game than anything else. I remember using a VR headset to play Doom at a computer convention once and it was pretty cool, but Carmack is right about how disappointing it is that the technology never got better. I'm glad that someone is out there pushing to make the tech work and to give us a truly immersive experience to lose ourselves in. Viddies are the new books.

hardcore_gamer said:

Looks cool, but odds are that this tech will be extremely expensive for the consumer once and if it hits the consumer market.

500 dollars? If it will cost that in the US then it will cost even more where I live. No way I am going to invest as much into this thing as I would a whole PC just for better immersion in games.


$500 is just for this kit that he's working with/working on. A consumer model will probably actually be less once all is said and done. It'll probably be about what you'd pay for a high-end monitor. What will make or break the thing, just as any peripheral, is if it has enough third party software support. If a lot of dev studios get on board to make games that support it, and if it ends up as good as Carmack is pimping it out to be, I think it'll be worth it.

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Bucket said:

Coincidentally, tablets changed into something completely different a couple of years ago. Before, they were full-powered notebooks you could draw on; now they're daily planners with touch interfaces. The entire concept has pretty much been turned on its ear, so your argument of implementation doesn't really hold water.


The iPad is not a 'daily planner', that is nonsense.

Furthermore, the concept was the form factor. Everything else is implementation. Arguing otherwise is just quibbling, and in any case bears no relevance to my actual point, that until the iPad came along tablet computing as a whole was dismissed as a guaranteed route to failure.

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Nomad said:

This sounds extremely exciting. I'd be more excited to use this with something like an Elder Scrolls game than anything else. I remember using a VR headset to play Doom at a computer convention once and it was pretty cool, but Carmack is right about how disappointing it is that the technology never got better. I'm glad that someone is out there pushing to make the tech work and to give us a truly immersive experience to lose ourselves in. Viddies are the new books.



$500 is just for this kit that he's working with/working on. A consumer model will probably actually be less once all is said and done. It'll probably be about what you'd pay for a high-end monitor. What will make or break the thing, just as any peripheral, is if it has enough third party software support. If a lot of dev studios get on board to make games that support it, and if it ends up as good as Carmack is pimping it out to be, I think it'll be worth it.


Elder Scrolls will be EPIC with one of these.In fact, since Bethesda owns Id, I'm pretty sure they will integrate it and by the time Doom 4 is released, it will be even MORE awesome.

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Yeah, if this is successful, Carmack's pull with Bethesda would probably see to it we have an Elder Scrolls game supporting this.

Also, the iPad is certainly not a daily planner. An oversized ipod touch/iphone would be more accurate. It has a lot of functionality, but its usefulness is more or less limited to the same things as its smaller counterparts. That's not to say it's useless, however. As much as I dislike Apple, their portable devices are nice (albeit expensive).

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The iPad's usefulness is limited primarily by its software. It's possible to do all kinds of useful thing with an iPad (including every boring idea Star Trek ever had for one), but lots of uses are less common because Apple makes people jump through hoops.

Anyway, I like this. Carmack doesn't promote stuff he can't build. He's very good at figuring out why current things don't work well and then making them better. This looks like another of those, but it's something that could also take a lot of tuning and experimentation like he was talking about.

I can't wait to see this in a TES game too. Of course, I can't wait to see just about any feature in a TES game, including better quest writing. *goes back to swearing at Bethesda for doing such a terrible job with Skyrim...*

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Given how Carmack loves efficiency, I can't wait to play with this. Finally a headset with very low latency and a 90 degree FOV, woohoo!

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Xtife said:

What is it lately with reviving old fads from the 70s and 80s? first 3D movies, now virtual reality?

It's being brought back because the technology to do them is improving, so people are more likely to be interested in them now that they don't suck as much. That being said, I'm definitely saving up for Carmack's VR headset once it gets produced for consumers. I've always wanted a VR headset that ACTUALLY covers your entire view.

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Jonathan said:

The iPad is not a 'daily planner', that is nonsense.

Furthermore, the concept was the form factor. Everything else is implementation. Arguing otherwise is just quibbling, and in any case bears no relevance to my actual point, that until the iPad came along tablet computing as a whole was dismissed as a guaranteed route to failure.

And you don't think the fact that tablets no longer run a desktop OS has any significance? I guess all the wailing people have been doing about Windows 8 and its tablet integration is about nothing in particular.

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Jonathan said:

People said the same thing about tablet computers until a couple of years ago.

The reason that things like tablets and smartphones remained niche products for so long was because their implementation was sucky, not because the idea was fundamentally flawed.

Hit the nail on the head here. People have been trying to "do" tablets for years - going back to the Apple Newton back in the '90s and Microsoft's enthusiastic but failed attempt. People had tried to "do" touch screen phones as well for a number of years before the iPhone came out. Look at this thing that Nokia brought out in 2004, for example, now long forgotten.

The standard and obvious objection at this point will be "oh, it's just Apple's marketing", but I don't think you can fully dismiss points like this entirely on those grounds. There are legitimate technological reasons why the iPad and iPhone were superior to similar devices that came before them. It should be pretty obvious by now that capacitive touch screens make a real difference in terms of user experience.

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Bucket said:

And you don't think the fact that tablets no longer run a desktop OS has any significance? I guess all the wailing people have been doing about Windows 8 and its tablet integration is about nothing in particular.

I think there were various problems with early tablets, their size, their battery life, the quality of their displays, the operating systems they ran, and the quality of their touch and stylus input, all of which conspired to make them failures. They failed enough that the accepted wisdom in the IT industry became that tablets as a concept just didn't work, and there wasn't a market for them. Then the iPad came along.

Yes, tablets had to change and technology had to advance considerably before they became a mainstream success, and it's likely VR will have to change and improve just as much before it'll gain acceptance, but it's foolish to think that any attempt at VR is guaranteed to flop, simply because it has in the past. Early attempts were bulky and awkward, with poor resolution and FOV, and terrible software. Carmack outlines all of these problems, and the plans he has to resolve them, in the linked videos. If he succeeds, I think VR stands a serious chance of succeeding, and potentially becoming a very lucrative business for whoever gets through the door first.

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Jonathan said:

I think there were various problems with early tablets, their size, their battery life, the quality of their displays, the operating systems they ran, and the quality of their touch and stylus input, all of which conspired to make them failures.

So they had to change all of those things, making them completely different in the process. Thank you for explaining my point.

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Bucket said:

So they had to change all of those things, making them completely different in the process. Thank you for explaining my point.

They changed, but they are not "completely different" because the essential idea and form factor remained the same. Likewise VR will have change and improve, perhaps considerably, but the basic idea will remain the same. Therefore, the situations are entirely comparable, and your claim that they are not is invalid.

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Re-reading my posts, I'm not sure I've explained myself clearly enough, so I will attempt to do so now.

When I talk about things being a matter of 'implementation', I am by no means trying to belittle them or their importance to a product like the iPad. To paraphrase Edison, products are 1% inspiration, 99% implementation. People too often focus on and judge ideas, without realising they are far easier, and far less important, than implementation. The idea provides the hook that gets people interested, but the quality of the implementation is what determines its success or failure, and it's much harder to get right.

What is the essential idea behind a tablet computer? I would define it as a being a handheld device, where the display and all other components are contained within a single tablet/slate shaped unit, and where input is provided through the display, rather than through a physical keyboard or some other peripheral.

Nothing in that definition makes mention of the software the device runs, the quality of resolution of the display, the quality of the input. It is possible for all these things to change, without affecting the essential 'tabletness' of a device. That does not mean they are unimportant, in fact they are the most important aspects of the device.

For example, consider search engines. The basic idea of a web search engine is simple. You have a site that lets you enter some keywords, then returns a list of resources relevant to those keywords. In the nineties, search engines generally sucked. They were slow, returned shitty results, and made no money.

Then Google came along. They didn't change the basic idea of search at all. You inputed keywords, you got results back. But their implementation was better, massively better, in every way than all their predecessors. They used page-rank to return genuinely relevant results, huge data-centres to index the whole web and return results quickly, and made money via sponsored keyword advertising. As a result they became hugely successful.

Historically people have been too quick to dismiss an entire idea, such as tablets or VR, on the basis of problems with the implementation of that idea. When most people dismissed tablets, they didn't say 'tablets with desktop operating systems will never work', or 'tablets without capacitive touchscreens will never work', they said 'tablets haven't been successful, therefore people don't want tablet computers'. They were wrong.

I think, and hope, they are wrong about VR as well. The basic idea of VR is a head mounted display that takes over your entire view to create a fully immersive display. By itself, that idea is not a route to success. As history has proved, it's entirely possible to produce a shitty implementation VR, where the problems Carmack enumerates mean the end result sucks. But if someone were to come along and do a decent implementation, using the right hardware and software to createa truly compelling experience, then I don't think it would be a flop, I think it could be very successful.

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