Contemporary virtual reality as marketed by the likes of Oculus Rift and Vive promises 'never-before-experienced' levels of immersion and the 'magic of presence' as a radically new consumer product. Yet these hyped up claims are far from new and echo similar hype from the 1990s and resonate with earlier forms of immersive audiovisual experimentation.
This talk will put these claims in context by looking at the larger history of the resonance between computing and audiovisual media that goes back at least to the 1960s, including the work of John Whitney and Jordan Belson, as well as experimenters with video in the 1960s and 1970s such as Frank Gillette, Bill Viola and Alberto Grifi. It will situate the actual development of virtual reality in the 1990s in proximity to both these practices, and histories of stereoscopy, 3D and special effects. Finally it will propose that while discussions of VR in the 1990s were no less prone to exaggeration and hype, their speculative qualities are valuable for thinking about what may actually emerge as genuinely new in 21st Century VR.