From Wikipidia: Virtual reality (VR) is a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment, be it a real or an imagined one.
So how does the iWear VR920 from Vuzix match up to this claim? The VR920 is a self contained Head Mounted Display (HMD) that projects the image from your desktop to the glasses/HMD. What is different about the VR920 is its ability to also incorporate head tracking into the virtual experience.
This is done using your magnetic field to sense the motion of your head. This means that you do not have to sit in front of an IR sensor and you can be anywhere the nine foot cord will allow you to go. The VR920 also incorporates an internal microphone and removable ear buds to provide sound via a USB connection, eliminating the need for a second contraption hanging on your head or a sound card.
The Vuzix website states that the display is equivalent to a person seated 9 feet away from a 62” screen. This is made possible by twin high-resolution 640x480 (920,000 pixels) LCD displays. The two displays also make it possible to create stereoscopic 3D. Stereoscopic 3D is a method of displaying one screen slightly in a different position to make a 3D representation (more on this later). The HMD includes a head tracker giving it the ability to provide three axis tracking, Yaw, Roll, and Pitch. The maximum screen resolution for your monitor must be set to 1024x768 and 60 hz which is then automatically reduced to 800x600 on the VR920 display.
The VR920 unit has a wheel/button on the lower right side to control the speaker volume when rolled, or if pushed and held will give you options to change contrast, eye dominance and brightness between each screen.
What’s in the box:
The VR920 came in a nicely packaged box containing the VR920 HMD, Driver disk, Head strap, Ear bud covers, wire management clips, VGA to DVI adapter, Lens Cleaning/carrying pouch, and a quick-start guide.
The VR920 comes with a driver disk with installation software Revision 2.2. The Vuzix support site has a version 2.4 that fixes a lot of issues and gains support for additional software. Installation is designed to be a very simple process. As per the manual, you run the driver disk, plug in the USB and let the system recognize the new hardware, then plug in the VGA cable. You then set up the VR920 as a second monitor and clone the display to the HMD, all of which is described very well in the manual. From reading the forums it does appear that this is very easy for most people.
In my case for some reason, the ATI drivers and Windows XP did not play well with the VR920 and it did not like it as a second monitor. I first installed the 2.2 drivers from the disk and followed the process. I then calibrated and fired up FS2004. Everything seemed to run fine.
I then did a re-start of Windows and I received the dreaded black screen after windows log on. Hmmm… Maybe it is version 2.2? So I unplugged the VGA Connection and fired Windows back up, removed version 2.2 and installed 2.4, restarted and nothing.
I then had to fire up safe mode, remove 2.4 and restart, with the same results. I was starting to get frustrated. I finally went in and reinstalled 2.2 and then immediately removed 2.2. I restarted in safe mode, uninstalled my 8.11 video drivers and used DC to scrub the system and then installed 8.12 for my video card. I then had everything back as before I installed the VR920.
As you can imagine I was pretty frustrated with the unit since I could not get it to work after a re-start. I contacted Vuzix technical support via phone and they gave me a few pointers to try to correct the problem. They were very helpful and knowledgeable and seemed to genuinely want to help me, which seems to be rare these days.
I also found a lot of information from a Google search on my symptoms and it seems to be a common problem with video cards and Windows XP/Vista getting confused and not designating the primary display properly. After my re-install of my video drivers, I was able to properly install the VR920 Version 2.4 drivers and I was able to re-start my system and log back in.
The VR920 installation software includes two programs that must be run in conjunction with the HMD.
The first program is the calibration software for the head tracking. The software is very easy to use, possibly too easy. When calibrating the VR920, there are really only three easy steps.
1. Press the “Begin Calibration” button.
2. Rotate the VR920 through the three axis’s and press the “Lock Calibration” button.
3. Place VR920 on your head and sit as you would sit at your flight simulator, then press the “Set Zero” button.
It sounds easy, and it is. My problem with it is that you are actually moving all axis’s at the same time and it is very hard to tell when you have a good calibration. I would personally like to see the software modified so that you can calibrate each axis individually, this may or may not bring more accuracy to the calibration.
The second program that is included is a utility that runs in the background called “iWearMonitor”. This program does two main things for the user. The first is to detect programs and provide stereoscopic 3D and head tracking to programs that do not have native iWear support. The second is to actually give you a visual display to tell you the health and status of your VR920 HDM.
On my system only two applications are shown in the iWearMonitor, FS9 and FSX. Both versions of Flight Sim are supported by the iWearMonitor for both 3D and head tracking automatically. (As a note, FSX SP2 or Acceleration must be installed for FSX to be supported).
How does it actually work:
Well here is where we get to the fun part; using the VR920. The first thing that you have to realize is that you now have a HMD on your head and it does take a little getting used to.
The HMD is very light in weight but you must get the ear buds, nose pieces and head strap fit to your head to be comfortable. Inside of 15 minutes I almost forgot that I even had it on. When in Flight Simulator, there are in-game commands that you can use. The first is CTRL+F7, this brings up the head tracking fine tuning. There are many different options including changing sensitivity and the ability to use the roll axis to control camera position.
The next Key combo is CTRL+F8, this brings up the Stereoscopic 3D configuration menu. The in-game 3D does take a little tweaking to get it just right, this is because each person see’s a little differently out of each eye. Between the drop down menu and the display options on the VR920 (Using the wheel/button on the HMD). I was able to get the 3D set up in less than 5 minutes.
In addition, the 3D does take a little getting used to. It is hard and a little disorienting to go from a 2D Virtual Cockpit to a 3D cockpit. Doing circuits is now a totally immersive experience. You will notice you are no longer looking at your gauges but now looking around and out the window.
One draw back/limitation that you immediately notice is the lower resolution. Due to the effective resolution of 800x600 it does become very hard to read the gauges in the virtual cockpit. I understand that at this price range it is not economically feasible to have the higher resolution screens in the HMD just yet, but I would like to see a future version that incorporates a much higher resolution and/or possibly a Wide Screen Version, such as incorporated in the iWear AV310WS.
When you first get in your aircraft, you are immediately struck by the ability to now "LOOK" around the cockpit. Up until now, whether you use Track IR or your hat switch, you are always basically still looking at a screen in front of you. Not anymore, when I look down to where my feet are, I see my rudder pedals. If I look up to the ceiling, I see the overhead panel and if I look over my left shoulder I see out the window. VFR flight has now become my favorite part of a flight. The freedom of movement and sensory immersion is out of this world.
Prior to receiving my VR920, I was worried about navigating without being able to see the keyboard. After I received the glasses, one of the first things I did was test my ability to peer below the glasses to see the keyboard. I actually have very little trouble seeing the keys and doing everything that I need to do.
I also tested my ability to pull up charts in PDF format and found that I could read everything very well. I would sometimes have to zoom-in a little bit, but other than that, I do not see any problems with it.
So back to the original question. Does the iWear VR920 allow a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment, be it a real or imagined one? I would whole heartedly say yes, and iWear has really hit a home run with their VR920 HMD.
Not only do you immediately feel that you have stepped into the cockpit of your favorite aircraft, but you are presented with all the sensory data to make your mind believe what is around you.
The only major shortfall that I found, was in the lower resolution graphics. But even that is something that you do not realize after a short period of time.
If you are looking to build a home simulator, this may be an option to save you money and space and gain a whole new realm of realism at the same time.
What I Like About The VR-920
What I Don't Like About The VR-920
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