I put on a ridiculous looking headset that seemed twice as wide as any mainstream VR gear. I had visited the bottom of the ocean in VR before, but the last time I was there I was looking through lots of little squares. Try playing a video game with a screen porch door in front of your TV and you’ll get a taste of what most commercialized VR headsets are like today. This was about twice as good.
8,000 pixel VR headsets, like this Pimax 8k that I demo’ed, are being introduced to the space as the most high fidelity VR experiences money can buy – and with a $500 tag, they’re very competitively priced.The small group of engineers from east Asia has earned over $4.2M in funding on kickstarter.
It begs the question, how advanced will headsets need to be before they feel completely real? I’m no expert in optics, but I do enjoy experience design and the demo made me curious.
Headsets VS. Real Life
When looking straight ahead, a person’s real life field of view is approximately 170° horizontal and 130° vertical which, if we equate to digital terms, means you’re looking at about 10,200 x 7,800 pixels (totaling approximately 79.5M) at any given time assuming both of your eyes are open. You can find a more in-depth summary of these calculations on Road to VR.
In theory, if a headset were to achieve a 360° field of view it would need about 21,600px of horizontal resolution all the way around. At this size, pixels would completely disappear to the naked eye — we wouldn’t be able to see them without a microscope. In addition to pixel density, our depth of focus is variable, meaning objects come in and out of focus as we move closer and further away.
Traditionally (if that’s a word you can use in VR), headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have had a total pixel density of 2160 x 1200 in the field of view — a far cry from our every day 10,200 x 7,800.
By comparison, an 8k headset like the Pimax is 150° horizontal and 120° vertical. Each eye has a panel of 3840 x 2160 so a total of 7,680 x 2160 or 16.6M pixels. So, is it 8k really? No, it’s close on horizontal field of view and still very very far from real life, but it looks significantly better than most of today’s widely available headsets.
The Technological Innovation
If you’re curious about how 8k VR headsets work, Pimax CEO, Nordic Ren, tells me their 8K technology is built on the back of their earlier 4K headset. They customized the display panel for low persistence, then used the Brainwarp technique to lower the hardware requirements, reduce latency, and boost the refresh rate for a smoother experience.
What Higher Fidelity Means for VR
There are some major effects that 8k resolution has on usability today:
- Reading text becomes easier
- Using your peripheral vision means more natural head movement
- More life-like immersion means more effective tricking of the sense
- Greater detail for work Applications like interior design, architecture, healthcare and corporate training
Much of the content that exists for the major platforms can be compatible with 8k. Other 8k headsets are sure to come on the market and it’s unclear whether or not these manufacturers will compete with the major players or if they’ll be acquired.