The first generation of VR headsets is out. We have good first generation headsets from Oculus, HTC, and Sony. They help spread the word of VR and allow people to try experiences they never would otherwise. However, as with all technology, we are always looking forward to the next generation.
Where will VR go next? What does the future hold for VR headsets?
Field of view
Field of view (FOV) for existing headsets is between 100 and 110 degrees. The idea here being to reduce the number of pixels needed to generate the image by the computer and reduce complexity with lenses and screens and therefore the cost. Some headsets out there boast upwards of over 200 degrees but at the expense of more space between pixels. The headsets of around 100 degrees often feel like you are viewing the image through binoculars, especially if the image is bright.
I’d love to see FOV of over 200 degrees. Technology from providers such as Tobi can provide eye tracking to allow the ability to generate high resolution only where the viewer is looking, reducing the need to generate maximum fidelity across the entire FOV.
The sound is often forgotten, yet it plays an important part in the feeling of presence. You need to see and hear the world as it should. The 3D sound is improving, and I certainly hope second generation headsets will continue to provide integrated headphones as Oculus have done and HTC recently as an add-on. I also appreciate Oculus providing higher fidelity headphones as an accessory.
The dreaded cables
Feel that tugging at your head? Yeah, that is the HDMI/USB cable dangling from the headset to the computer. That needs to go!
Already, manufacturers are working on solving the problem. My favorite I have seen so far is the wireless add-on from TPCast for the HTC Vive. I had a chance to try this at CES in January, and the result was seamless. I could not tell any difference between wired and wireless. It’s unlikely this will be included in future headsets due to cost, but available as an add-on will suit me just fine.
With all the technology strapped to your head, it is a tough challenge to make it feel like nothing is there. Oculus I would say have won this round, their headset is marginally more comfortable than the others. Manufacturers need to continue to strive to reduce weight and comfort, so I forget I am even wearing it.
Resolution is often the topic most discussed. Why does it matter? On VR headsets today, you will see what is often referred to as the screen door effect. The screen door effect means you can see the gaps between the pixels. Therefore, increasing the resolution is the best way to reduce or remove visible pixels. Having tried 4K headsets, even those will not remove the visible pixels. To achieve no visible pixels, 8K will probably be needed. However, I expect the most we can hope for with the second generation would be 4K. Along with 4K comes the problem of driving those pixels. Video cards are always getting faster but driving 4K today at the needed 90 fps requires two high-end cards in SLI to achieve and even then, often turning off some of the graphical niceties. Again, as with FOV, this is where eye tracking can help by only driving 4K at where the viewer is looking and not in their peripheral vision.
I hope we will see 4K or even more in the second generation, I do!
When is the second generation VR coming?
When is second generation? As we head into 2017, I see nothing big coming from the big three this year. In January, we saw a few new accessories from HTC with their tracker for tracking third party items in VR and TPCast coming in Q2 for the Vive. I suspect we will see the big three focus on software and experiences. We need some great new “must play” experience for VR that get people excited. Excitement is what we need today, probably more than the second generation. The second generation, just like the first, will be reserved mostly for the early adopters.