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Goggles that'll make you boggle

IT IS 17 July 1994 and you are at the soccer World Cup Final in the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, writes Steve Boggan. The sun is beating down, but you don't mind: you are wearing your sun goggles. You are absorbed in a classic confrontation between England and Germany. England have dominated the game but, with 30 seconds left and the score at 3-3, extra time is looming.

Suddenly, one of the purveyors of US soccer razzmatazz, far below your seat, accidentally lets off one of the fireworks that will be lit to salute the winners. In the split-second you have taken your eye off the game, John Barnes has beaten two men and scored with a curler from 35 yards.

You missed arguably the most glorious moment in the history of English football. Disastrous? No, you simply look down, as if in disappointment, and you see a replay in virtual reality on screens that appear to be 60in wide and 10ft in front of you.

This is not science fiction, it is science fact in the shape of Virtual Vision Sport goggles, the latest hi-tech consumer gismo. Virtual Vision, a company based in Washington, has succeeded in packing virtual-reality technology into a tiny power-pack which can be linked to special sun goggles that allow you to see the world around you when you look straight ahead and to view a virtual world when you look down.

The equipment, on sale now at dollars 899 ( pounds 600) in the US and later this year in the UK, includes a tiny television transmitter in the power-pack which feeds TV or video images into a small lens in the top of the goggles. These are reflected from a liquid-crystal display as two 1in images on to your goggles but not immediately in your field of view.

When you look down towards the images, you get the impression of watching a large television screen about the same distance away as your own TV viewed from your living-room settee. Your action replay has come courtesy of the live television sports coverage of the World Cup Final, but you could as easily be watching Neighbours in the launderette or Coronation Street at the supermarket.

The 5oz goggles can even be wired up to your video player or camcorder, and Virtual Vision is developing a system that will allow you to use a computer without a screen - you will simply view its output through your specs.

'It uses virtual-reality technology, but instead of encasing the viewer in a hood it allows him to see the real world with a slight movement of the eyes,' said Brian Durwood, marketing vice- president of Virtual Vision.

'It is the only system of its kind in the world and it went on sale in the US last month. We are already sold out right through to August. I think it will find a limited market, like the Walkman did. You won't see whole lots of people walking around watching TV but I expect you will see the occasional person leaping up in church and shouting 'Well, all right]' because he's secretly watching the game.'

So what about that England World Cup Final? John Barnes? 4-3? Well, why not? They say anything's possible in virtual reality.

(Photograph omitted)