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The Next Step for VR Headsets: Display Technology to Improve Before Wireless Solutions Arrive

ABI Research finds that 4K displays are likely to be the next great leveller of the VR headset playing field.

The growing adoption of virtual reality (VR) devices worldwide is a fantastic achievement, but at the same time is accelerating the need for improved hardware. While many argue that wireless head-mounted displays (HMDs) are the next barrier, ABI Research suggests that the display technology will improve before high-end untethered VR becomes the norm.

VR Headset Price WarsHigher resolution displays are required to solve the ‘screen door effect’ caused by short distances between the user’s eyes and the display. Although the majority of VR HMDs available today support resolution of 2K or less, HMDs with higher resolutions are starting to enter the market.

According to recent forecasts from ABI Research, almost two-thirds (66%) of VR HMDs are expected to support 4K (Ultra HD) resolution in 2022. Displays with higher pixel density, wider field of view (FOV), and higher refresh rates are being developed to provide consumers with a more immersive experience. These displays, along with HMDs with reduced power consumption, size and weight will likely be the major considerations for the second generation of high-end HMDs.

“Tethered VR devices which are usually targeted at gaming applications, support higher resolutions displays compared to mobile or standalone segments. A number of tethered VR devices provide 2K resolution and some with 4K resolution displays have already hit the market,” commented Khin Sandi Lynn, industry analyst from ABI Research.

VR prototypes with even higher resolution have already been developed. In early 2017, Panasonic demonstrated a VR HMD of 6400×1440 resolution, 200-degree FOV, by using 4 LCD display with 1600×1440 resolution each. Another VR HMD maker which has showcased high resolution display is Pimax, with a prototype that supports 8K resolution with 200-degree FOV.

Fove image headshotWhile improving the VR display resolution, headset makers are also working towards development of foveated rendering, which computes the highest quality image only at the centre of the human visual field. NVIDIA has already developed a proof of concept for this technology, as showcased at SIGGRAPH, Anaheim, last year, while FOVE is a HMD based entirely on the progression of foveated rendering.

“While our eyes can see full resolution only at the center of vision, foveated rendering tracks eye movement and enables the processor to render full resolution on display any area where the eyes are focusing,” Lynn explains. “With efficient eye-tracking technology, foveated rendering sharpens the image at the focus point of the eyes, and reduce the resolution outside the focus point saving the graphic processing loads.”

Foveated rendering and eye tracking are likely to become important technologies in future VR HMDs for rendering high resolution images.

You can check out ABI Research’s report at https://www.abiresearch.com/market-research/product/1028886-display-technologies-in-virtual-reality/, and VRFocus will keep you updated with all the latest display technologies, rendering techniques and more for the future of VR hardware.

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