Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality Headset Technologies: Almost ready

Virtual Reality (VR) appears like a smaller market than the Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) ones. On top of that, VR has become a lesser stuff of dreams because it became real, products are already there, available to the consumer.

As these concepts aim at changing reality, it is extremely important to have systems that are properly designed to trick the brain and produce a feeling of immersion. But as the brain is a complex piece of machinery, VR and AR systems require advanced technologies that are not quite ready yet. The key is to understand what must be developed in terms of displays and optics for these headset markets to thrive.

VR has been developed with off-the-shelf components, mainly smartphone-sized displays and magnifying lenses. However, the field of view in today’s headsets is small and restricts the user’s immersion in the image. Improving it by working on the optics may seem trivial but it implies headset ergonomics and manufacturing challenges regarding size, weight, scalability. And then comes visual fidelity, as improving the field of view without improving the pixel density reduces the number of pixels over each degree of visual acuity, which restricts immersion again. So displays need to improve pixel density, amongst other parameters, in parallel to optics improvement. But associated technical and manufacturing challenges are difficult to attain.

Alternative developments are ongoing and should pave the way towards an ideal VR headset: the proper number of pixels per degree on a wide field of view at a very fast framerate, with perfect color reproduction and in a compact form factor. And this grail would not only be for videogames only, even though this is the easiest and most marketed target for the consumer today.

(Dr. Bouhamri, Technology & Market Analyst at Yole)

On the opposite, AR headset applications are less driven by videogames but by real use cases deployed within the industry or especially developed for consumer comfort.

“AR is right around the corner but technology still is limited and/or expensive”, 
asserts Dr. Bouhamri from Yole. “New optics and display elements could help the AR market soar.”

AR presents a very different visual paradigm compared to VR, as the user needs to clearly see the world through superimposed virtual images. Having a screen in front of the eye is impossible, so the image must be brought to the eye in an efficient and undistorted manner. AR is already big in the military, a field in which there are few restrictions in terms of size, volume and design. But the consumer wants nothing but a sleek headset that must not be cumbersome, and be perfectly see-through. The road to miniaturization and cost reduction from existing technology is extremely complex. Physics cannot be violated, and “étendue” management, efficient diffraction, transparency, field of view, and many other parameters have to be handled. Similarly to VR, developments are ongoing and will define the roadmap for upcoming AR headsets. However due to manufacturing challenges, adoption will start slowly before markets soar.

“Displays & Optical Vision Systems for VR, AR & MR” report offers a deep understanding of VR, AR and MR headset applications, their status and what could happen tomorrow. This is a comprehensive technological review of the working principles of VR headsets and AR headsets, with a deep dive into the key elements of displays and associated optics. In addition, Yole’s analysts describe the main players involved, the potential impacts on manufacturing challenges, and more.