A small but significant fraction of people experience motion sickness or headaches when using virtual reality headsets, an issue Fraunhofer believes can be remedied with high-speed microdisplays that come closer to users’ eyes. Funded by a European project to popularize tiny but cost-effective screens, the German R&D institute will show prototypes of its new displays next month.
The key to the innovation is a chip design that enables multiple high-resolution OLED-on-silicon microdisplays to work quickly together at high 120Hz framerates. In addition to offering 100,000:1 contrast ratios and ultra-low power consumption, Fraunhofer’s displays include a mode that eliminates flicker and motion artifacts. Thanks to their speed and quality, the displays promise to reduce motion sickness and headaches caused by earlier solutions.
Fraunhofer is squeezing more pixels than a 1080p TV into a one-inch screen — 1920 x 1200 pixels — yielding a density of 2300 pixels per inch. Since two of these displays are used per eye, four total displays deliver a 4800 x 920 pixel resolution, which leads to a wide, immersive field of view that’s over 100 degrees from left to right. The company notes that it worked with partners X-FAB and MicroOLED S.A.S. to develop a screen solution that is affordable.
These screens are paired with a new optics system designed by Limbak, a third project partner. While typical VR headsets place the screens 60 to 75 millimeters from a user’s eyes, Limbak’s optics cut the distance to 37 millimeters, radically reducing the headset’s size. As a result of this innovation, Fraunhofer expects headset weight to be reduced by half and volume by three-quarters, without compromising field of view or resolution.
While Fraunhofer’s development could go a long way toward reducing discomfort for sensitive VR users, the company’s far from the only one trying to find solutions. Beyond ongoing work by Oculus, HTC, and others to reduce headset fatigue, Sony recently patented a sensor system to fight “virtual reality sickness,” monitoring the user’s temperature, moisture, and eye movements so that accommodations could be made automatically. It remains to be seen whether simply improving the performance and ergonomics of existing components can fully remedy known issues.
Fraunhofer will exhibit the new displays and a prototype headset at Munich’s AWE Europe 2018 event on October 18 and 19. Pricing and release dates for devices using the new components have not yet been announced.