Table Stakes: Key Features for VR HMDs in 2019

J.C. Kuang, Analyst Devices & Technology, Head-Mounted Displays, Insight Articles, Virtual Reality, Virtual Reality Intelligence Service

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Over the last 6 months, announcements made by major VR firms have reaffirmed the significance of 2019 as an important year for mass adoption of VR. Enterprise stakeholders and IT professionals are noticeably more open to the implementation of VR in traditional training and design workflows. Moreover, consumer hardware has continued to improve and is set to see a major uptick in 2019. In a maturing VR hardware market, Greenlight Insights has identified a list of key VR features and specifications that represent acceptable thresholds of quality going into this year.

Key Features

  • Minimum resolution per eye of 1280 x 1440: The screen door effect is still a significant problem in most VR hardware, and as more users become familiar with the phenomenon over time, demand will grow for headsets that can convincingly eliminate the effect. However, simply naming increasingly higher numbers is not a solution; an ideal display must also balance visual quality against the need to economize compute power, particularly within the limiting form factors of standalone HMDs.

  • Minimum refresh rate of 90hz: Motion sickness was far and away the greatest barrier to adoption in VR’s early years, enabling smooth motion, powered by a strong and stable rendering process powered by a robust SoC or GPU, depending on form factor.

  • Minimum FOV of 110 degrees: Having a naturalistic field of view is crucial to maintaining presence. Like many other items in this list, this is an issue that will become more urgent as users continue to acclimate to virtual environments.
  • Minimum control interface of controller-based 3 DoF: Gaze based tracking can quickly induce fatigue or problematize interface in other ways by restricting a user’s view. While spatial 6 DoF control is for the moment not imperative for a variety of experiences (and design practices in VR content can further mitigate this need), articulate 3 DoF control is necessary to preserve control and provide ample room to facilitate multiple different functions and modalities through which VR users can interact with a virtual environment.
  • Integrated audio: Whether it comes via internal speakers or dedicated headphones, spatially mapped stereo audio has intuitive benefits, so much so that companies such as Mach1 Studios and G'AUDIO Labs have developed dedicated professional software toolkits for the creation of ambisonic sound in xR. Sound is nearly equal in importance to sight in terms of maintaining spatial presence, and moreover can serve as an important supplement to next generation spatial computing interfaces, alerting and directing users to information outside of their visual field.

If a headset fais in any of these areas, it is functionally obsolete and inadequate for a vast majority of contemporary VR use cases, across gaming, media, and industrial cases. Inversely, however, the presence of all of these features does not guarantee success, and consumers can expect most headsets in 2019 to offer other valuable features not listed here.

Mainstream-bound features in 2019

6.6 DoF

Currently, companies who are attempting to drive mass adoption from mainstream consumers aim to make the VR headset as ubiquitous as (or arguably moreso than) the television. One of the most influential companies operating under these goals is Facebook, whose hardware catalogue consistently prioritizes accessibility over power, for which 6.6 DoF control seems the next logical step. If Quest proves to be a major adoption driver, consumers are sure to see future headsets lacking the future as severely under-equipped.

Higher overall resolution

On the other hand, the contingent of enthusiasts to which VR owes much of its popularity, are waiting for new headsets to push the overall resolution threshold of VR higher and do away completely with SDE. While a corresponding increase in compute power will be necessary for VR to run at a stable 5K (2.5K per eye), headset quality will be especially important for users of PC VR HMDs. Headsets such as the newly released Vive Pro Eye may face stiff competition in this field from companies such as Pimax, Deus, and VRGineers.