Modern VR is pretty incredible, but the technology still has major shortcomings when it comes to visual quality. Even with the incredibly pixel-dense LCD and OLED panels of today, its still hard to do high-resolution, sharp VR images.
The hardware inside the Oculus Rift is fantastic for immersing us in spacecraft or the treehouses of cartoon hedgehogs, simple things like a VR Windows interfaces tend to be blurry.
It seems that right now we’ve reached a fundamental limit to what display technology can do right now. However, a Finnish tech startup known as Varjo say they have an answer to the issue.
Angle of Approach
With present VR headsets the clarity of the image at the perfect focal point of the lens can actually be quite brilliant. However, the effective angular resolution and field of view are still pretty limited. Which means it feels a little like having tunnel vision. So how has Varjo gotten around this?
When In Doubt, Add Another Display
Well, they haven’t created some sort of revolutionary new display technology. Instead, it seems they have mainly remixed existing tech in a fabulously creative way.
What they’ve done is create one large 1080p display that spans 100 degrees of the visual field. Then they put another 1080p screen in the middle 35 degrees of the total field of view.
By seamlessly coordinating this macro- and micro-display the company says the centre field of view is razor sharp.
Don’t Let the Door Hit You
The upshot of this is that the central part of your vision (where most of your attention is focused) has no screen door effect. According to those who got to try the alpha prototype of the Varjo HMD the division between the two displays isn’t seamless yet.
Of course, this begs the question of why they simply don’t just stitch together a bunch of these tiny 1080p panels so that the same quality is evident across the entire field of view.
For one thing, that would be way too expensive to be cost-effective. Secondly, current hardware can’t render at such a ridiculous resolution anyway. Lastly, you simply don’t need to do it that way because of how our eyes work.
The Eyes Have It
While you might perceive the world as one seamless, high-resolution image, your eyes and brain are actually cheating a little bit. Only one part of your visual field has sharp focus. It’s known as the fovea.
Our eyes make small movements known as saccades. This scans the world constantly with the fovea, so that a total picture can be stitched together with the brain.
The Varjo HMD uses this concept in its approach. The small high-quality display can pivot so that it can replace the low-res portion of the larger display whenever you look straight at it. It achieves this through eye-tracking technology. Varjo refers to this technology as a “bionic” display.
It’s certainly an amazing concept, but only time will tell if Varjo can turn it into a viable product. It might also only be an interim solution until the day when incredibly high-resolution panels are so cheap that they become the norm. Either way, the march of VR progress seems to only be picking up steam.