By Bobby Carlton
Despite the excitement surrounding the coming of the metaverse, XR hardware is still far from being able to meet its full potential. One of the biggest challenges is developing better displays that can deliver more pixels per inch, but that could all change thanks to new OLED design.
Even with all of the excitement surrounding the technology, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are still in their early stages. Yes, we have several big named companies such as Nike, Disney, Coca-Cola, and Walmart jumping into the digital realm, and many industries such as robotics, warehouse automation, aerospace, manufacturing, travel, and others, XR as an enterprise solution is still evolving. We are even seeing cities turn to XR for things such as infrastructure and city services!
But we're not there yet.
One of the biggest challenges that VR hardware manufacturers face is the lack of display technology. In order to achieve the best possible experience, they need to create a huge amount of pixels in a small space.
In a study published by researchers from Stanford University and Samsung, the team noted that new technologies could eventually achieve the ideal pixel density for VR headsets.
Unfortunately, improving the performance of displays is not the only goal that manufacturers have to achieve in order to make their products more energy-efficient and small. Today's devices are too bulky and cumbersome, which limits their usefulness and time spent using them.
One of the main factors that contributes to the large size of headsets is the various optical elements that they feature. This need to be kept in mind so that they can focus light properly. Although the use of metasurfaces and compact lens designs has allowed miniaturization, this is still not enough to address the issue.
New lens designs, such as "pancake lenses", which are made of glass or plastic, can bounce light around between different materials could reduce the lens-to-screen distance by around two to three times. However, these interactions can also reduce the brightness of the images.
Another issue that manufacturers need to address is the lack of resolution. Currently, Ultra-HD televisions can produce a pixel density of up to 200 pixels per inch at distances of around 10 feet. However, VR devices are only about an inch from the viewer's eyes, so they can only produce a total of 15 PPD.
According to the authors of the study, VR devices need to produce a total of around 7,000 to 10,000 pixels per inch in order to match the resolution of the human eye.
Despite the size of the gap, there are still plenty of ways that manufacturers can close it. Currently, most VR headsets use different types of light-emitting diodes. Due to their manufacturing process, they are hard to make more compact. However, an alternative approach could allow them to achieve 60 PPD.
One of the biggest challenges that manufacturers face when it comes to making their products more energy-efficient is the lack of filtering. This issue can be solved by implementing a new OLED design known as a "meta-OLED", which combines multiple nanopatterned mirrors to create a single light source.
Although it's still in its early stages of development, meta-OLEDs could potentially produce a pixel density of over 10,000 PPD, which is well above the physical limits set by the light wavelength. They could also be more energy-efficient. Despite the interest shown by the display industry, the technology is still far from commercialization.
The researchers believe that the most significant innovation that could be made in displays in the next few years is related to human biology. For instance, the human eye can only distinguish 60 PPD in the retina's central region, which is referred to as the fovea.
If the user can track their eye movements accurately, then the display can render the highest definition possible in the section of the screen that they are looking at. Although the complexity of implementing head tracking and eye movement detection would add to the design process, the researchers believe that this innovation will be the most significant in the next few years.
Aside from better displays, there are also other factors that need to be solved in order for VR to become commercially available. One of these is the ability to power the devices. This issue is caused by the lack of power capacity and the heat that can be generated by the onboard electronics.
Although the researchers focused on the display technologies for VR, AR headsets are likely to rely on different optical materials to provide the users with a completely different view of the world. Despite the obstacles that still need to be resolved in order for VR to become commercially available, it's still believed that the road map to its development is well established.
What this will mean for enterprise solutions is companies and industries will have a tool that will have a positive impact on how employees engage in training, work, and socially. It will also mean more robust KPI and a could become a driving force behind ROI.