From Sensorama to Extended Reality: the history of VR

A look back at the history of Virtual Reality, from the View-Master to the Oculus Rift.


The concept behind Virtual Reality (VR) goes back further than you might initially think, with early landscape painters even considering how to fill a viewer's peripheral vision to immerse them in alternate worlds. Theories started to become a reality as soon as the 19th century, but once the first major technological advances were made in the 20th century, progress became relentless. Now nearly all of us are familiar with the technology defining acronym, and VR has come into its own as enterprises and consumers around the world battle COVID-19 by going remote. As a fascinating future for the technology begins to unfold, now is the time to gain a better understanding of what made it all happen.

The origins

To start at the very beginning, the first device that could be considered to have had VR characteristics was the View-Master. This type of stereoscope was the patented version of a concept that had been around since 1838, which started out as a device for viewing pairs of separate images at the same time to create a single three-dimensional image. The View-Master was introduced in 1939, offering the ability to view reels made up of cardboard disks containing seven stereoscopic 3-D pairs of small colour photos on film. The concept became popular among holiday makers, with new models introduced later in the 20th century.

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