2016 might be VR's break out year but the headsets we'll be wearing next year won't arrive in perfect shape. Focus and motion sickness are two big problems and that's precisely what Nvidia and Stanford University are working to solve.
The new display tech, named light field stereoscope, could be in VR headsets in three to five years. It uses two layered displays, with two LCD panels separated by 5mm, in one headset. The Nvidia and Stanford set-up, then, can send an entire light field of imagery to each eye. This is where it gets seriously futuristic so hold on to your tinfoil hats.
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The near eye light field display works in the same way as light field capturing cameras such as Lytro. It uses a microlens array to split each image into individual light rays, tracking (and displaying) where each one has come from and the direction it is travelling, which makes it easier for our eyes to fix on focus cues at different depths. A sense of depth and images that appear more three-dimensional are exactly what will minimise motion sickness and feelings of discomfort when wearing VR headsets.
If it's good enough for Magic Leap
It's not something we've seen too much in first gen consumer VR headsets - though FOVE's eye-tracking headset is promising. But secretive startup Magic Leap says it is working with light fields in its AR tech where it could be even more crucial as users' eyes will also have light from the real world to process in addition to virtual imagery.
"Almost all of the VR setups are pretty uncomfortable to use if it's within arm's reach because of depth cues like stereo and accommodation," David P. Luebke, senior director of research at Nvidia, told Fortune. "This is because of the vergence-accommodation conflict, which is how much the lens of your eye has to change to bring sharp focus to your retina."
The team at Stanford are convinced the light field stereoscope has cracked it. "It provides a much richer and more natural visual experience than conventional head mounted displays," said Gordon Wetzstein, assistant professor in electrical engineering at Stanford University. "It has the potential to reduce nausea, eyestrain, and also increase visual comfort."
With spherical light field camera rigs such as the Lytro Immerge and these next-gen light field VR headset displays, the sense of immersion in virtual reality games, movies and experiences could reach mind boggling levels in the next five years. It's hugely exciting stuff and Stanford is already three years into its research.
Nvidia is getting into VR in a big way. It also recently announced that it's rolling out its SDK for GameWorks VR, its VR software development tools, following testing by studios at Valve, Oculus VR and Epic Games. An SDK for VR headset developers is also in beta.