A Virtual-Reality Tryout


Virtual Reality: Roger Ramjet stuff, right? You put on the helmet, and, blammo, you’re cruising through your personal cyberspace fantasy, whether it be battles against Martian robots or sex with Tom Cruise (like I said, it’s your trip). Well, home VR is finally here in the form of an $800 helmet called CyberMaxx. And, based on a personal test drive, the reality of virtual reality has a way to go.

CyberMaxx, which consists of a lightweight plastic helmet that jacks into your PC, represents a solid step forward. It’s not fully immersive — you have to use your computer keyboard to get around rather than a nifty ”dataglove” — but you can play just about any software in a 2-D format. And several games give you the whole VR megillah, like 3-D visuals and head tracking (turn your noggin and the image moves accordingly), to cite just two examples.

That’s the objective, anyway. But here’s what happened when I tried to run this deal on my office PC: I spent days on the phone with CyberMaxx’s tech support staff, a nice bunch of guys who couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting any images in the headset. Finally, I got two pieces of software to run.

Ghost Train, one of the games that comes with the headset, is a 3-D haunted-mansion-style ride that looks blurry, dark, and disorientingly jerky. System Shock, a Doom-like PC game, was even more disappointing: When the software wasn’t crashing the computer, the experience was like wearing thick old-man glasses in an unlit basement while a maniac shot at you. The helmet kept slipping down my nose, no matter how I adjusted it. And, face it, there’s no way to wear one of these gizmos without looking like King Dork.

You have to admire CyberMaxx for jumping ahead of the crowd (about five years ahead, I’d say). But virtuality isn’t its own reward quite yet.