2010 - Xbox Kinect
Microsoft might have been late to the motion controller game, but it also stands out the most. Unlike the Wii Remote and PlayStation Move, the Xbox Kinect used with the Xbox 360 console does not require you to hold a controller to interact with the system or games. Instead, the Kinect uses a camera to detect how you move various parts of your body. This not only frees you up from holding a controller, it also lets the system see your entire body as a control. Games that take advantage of this feature can detect individual hand, arm, head and leg movements to interact with the in-game world. It also incorporated speech-based controls, so you can use your console simply by speaking commands.
2011 - Vuzix Wrap VR1200
Vuzix, a company that has made several headsets with AR features as well as simple non-VR or -AR HMDs, opted to try its hand at a VR device. Its HMD, the Vuzix Wrap VR1200, could easily be mistaken for a pair of sunglasses. It's extremely light at just 3 ounces, and it incorporates head tracking technology and a stereoscopic 3D display. Although it isn't particularly revolutionary outside of its compact size, it marked an early return of VR in 2011.
2011 - Tobii Eye Tracking
In 2011, Tobii introduced two products with eye-tracking technology. This enabled users to control their systems using just eye movements. It first surfaced on a prototype laptop by Lenovo, as well as a separate device that could be connected to other PCs. It has since gained momentum and has been incorporated into more systems, with video games adding new custom controls for the interface. Now VR HMDs are also starting to incorporate this kind of eye tracking technology.
2012 - Oculus Rift, The Revolution
The disappointment caused by VR headsets in the 1990s was so strong that no one made a significant attempt at VR for more than a decade. The technology was left to researchers and tinkerers. One such tinkerer was Palmer Luckey, a teenager with a passion for VR and free reign of his parents' garage.
Luckey created a working VR HMD prototype and shared it with members of the Meant To Be Seen (MTSB) community, including John Carmack, legendary game designer and Founder of id Software. Carmack was so impressed with what Luckey had created that he brought it to E3 in 2012 and gave a demonstration of the headset.
Soon after, Luckey formed Oculus. In August 2012, Oculus launched the Rift Kickstarter campaign, which went on to bring in over $2 million. The following spring, Oculus delivered on its promise and shipped Rift DK1 (developer kit 1) headsets to Kickstarter backers, marking the beginning of the consumer VR revolution.
2012 - Valve's Room-Scale VR Experiments
At around the same time that Palmer Luckey started the Oculus Rift Kickstarter, famed PC game developer Valve began experimenting with VR. Its initial work was focused on getting positional tracking right with a view to being able to walk around in a virtual space, and it created a VR room covered with AprilTag fiducial markers for head-mounted cameras to track.
Initially, Valve used modified versions of existing industrial-grade VR headsets such as the nVisor ST50, but it soon began working on its own headset hardware, leading to a prototype HMD that used low-persistence OLED displays in 2013.
From the very beginning, Valve planned to make its own VR hardware, and up until 2014 it intended to work with Oculus to commercialize its technology. When Facebook's purchase of Oculus scuttled those plans, Valve turned to HTC, and the Vive was born.
2013 - Virtuix Omni
People had mixed reactions to the Oculus Rift. Some were enthusiastic about VR returning, but others criticized the device and were doubtful it would fare any better than the devices of the 1990s. One criticism about the Rift was that although it was capable of displaying a virtual world, users couldn't naturally interact with it.
The Virtuix Omni sought to correct this issue, as well. This omnidirectional treadmill allows the user to walk freely and naturally in the virtual world without the risk of unexpectedly walking into a wall. When its Kickstarter page went live in 2013, it was an instant success, raising over $1 million. Virtuix is now shipping the Omni to its faithful backers and accepting pre-orders for units that will ship later this year.
2014 - Sony Morpheus
Without warning, Sony threw itself into the race for VR in March 2014 by unveiling its Project Morpheus headset during GDC. Unlike the PC-dependent Rift, the Morpheus headset would interface with the company's Playstation 4 console. Sony didn't reveal much about the headset in 2014 other than noting that it would have a 1080p display, full 360-degree tracking, and a focus on ergonomic design. The Morpheus system was also designed with the Move motion controllers in mind, bringing your hands into the virtual space.
Sony announced in September 2015 that Project Morpheus had been officially named Playstation VR (PSVR) and that it would be shipping in the first half of 2016. On March 15, 2016 the company officially announced the shipping date would be slipping past the original plan to October 2016.
The headset will be sold alone (with accessories) and in bundle form. The latter includes the Playstation camera (required) and two Move controllers for hand tracking. PSVR features a single 1080p low persistence OLED display. Sony has a leg up with its display in that it features three sub-pixels per pixel (true RGB), which gives it strong clarity for the resolution. Sony also used the same optics team that designs its camera lenses to create the optics for the PSVR.
2014 - Facebook Acquires Oculus VR
Just days after Sony unveiled Project Morpheus, Facebook stole the show by announcing the acquisition of Oculus VR Inc. for a tidy sum of $2 billion ($400 million cash, and 23.1 million Facebook shares valued at $1.6 billion at the time of closing.) Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said that he believed VR would be the next computing platform and bet big on the medium.
Some were angered and dismayed by the sale of the company, fearing that it would mean Facebook-like advertisements forced upon us in virtual reality. In truth, the sale of the company gave Oculus the resources needed to build the product better and faster, and to create a stronger developer ecosystem.
2014 - Oculus Rift Prototypes
In January 2014, Oculus revealed the Crystal Cove Rift prototype. This version had a low persistance OLED display and introduced a new camera-based tracking system that allowed for head tracking in 3D space. The camera significantly reduced the motion sickness many experienced with the original DK1.
In July 2014, Oculus began shipping the DK2, which included an improved version of the Crystal Cove tracking system. The DK2 featured the same 1080p display found on the Galaxy Note 3 from Samsung, which gave each eye an effective resolution of 960x1080.
In September 2014, Oculus began showing the Crescent Bay prototype to media and developers. Crescent Bay featured built-in audio for the first time in a Rift headset, a lighter overall weight compared to the DK2 kits, and 360-degree tracking thanks to LEDs located on all sides of the HMD. Crescent Bay is also the first Rift design that included separate displays for each eye.
2014 - Google Cardboard
Although the revolutionary wave of VR headsets contained numerous features, they were all quite expensive. Google opted to create a more affordable solution, the surprisingly simple Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard is essentially just, well, a piece of cardboard that holds your smartphone. It does contain a piece of glass and an optical system, but the smartphone used in the Cardboard headset does most of the work. This headset gives users an extremely basic (and extremely inexpensive) VR experience.