It’s all in the visuals as they say in the game-changing world of virtual reality (VR). As consumers and industries demand more, developers are fine-tuning the user experience to create the ultimate in immersive escapism.
Today’s VR research and development (R&D) efforts are expanding beyond gaming applications to present transformative technology that can be used in everyday life.
The big picture
While VR proved popular with early adopters, companies are now conceptualising and launching new VR features that impact social life, work, healthcare, science, travel and education.
To date, VR headsets have been designed for the mass market – shipments reached one million per quarter for the first time ever last year https://www.virtualreality-news.net/news/2017/nov/28/vr-headset-shipments-top-1-million-quarter-first-time/.
Demand has been strong for everyday devices such as TVs, smartphones and monitors. The VR headsets currently available are, therefore at the start of their evolution as they merely display an output. In other words, the 1.0 of their technological potential, to match consumer preferences for other devices where VR is making its mark.
When it comes to progressive, high-growth and smart VR headsets, developers are pushing the limits of technology. VR developers are improving the user experience by unveiling more comfortable, easy to use and affordable devices that see computing play a fundamental role in completing everyday tasks.
Lasers and holograms are driving the innovation headsets to simplify and modernise their design, both in style and use. Next-generation adopters of VR technology will move swiftly, and will use VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).
No more motion sickness
A criticism of the current VR experience is its nausea-inducing nature, which is has been known to bring on symptoms of motion sickness including dizziness and headaches. And this is exactly what researchers seek to overcome in the next VR era.
This sickness is often caused by the latency between eye movement and visual display variations. It is particularly common when high-resolution graphics are shown as these heavily impact computer resources.
Researchers at Brunel University London and Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences and Saarland University in Germany collaborated to see how VR creators can improve the speed and sharpness of visual experiences to optimise image quality and the overall VR experience.
And that’s where foveated rendering comes in…
The research team, along with other industry developers are now innovating an approach called ‘foveated rendering’.
By exploring specific rendering algorithms, the foveated rendering technique lowers the quality of images in a user’s peripheral vision to increase the perception of performance without affecting its perceived quality. Its ultimate aim is to create a more immersive, intuitive and realistic experience for the user.
Foveated rendering will only look and render the area that the user is directly seeing in full detail, while everything else will remain blurred.
This technique aims to reduce latency – the data delay that occurs before the instruction is sent to prompt data transfer – while ensuring optimum image quality. To achieve this, creators will need to explore and understand the limitations of the human eye.
Current VR display is a primary problem for consumers, commonly known as the ‘vergence-accommodation disconnect’. Traditionally market devices force users to focus approximately 1.5m away. This proves difficult when the point at which your two eyes converge does not correlate with the point that it is fixed on (‘accommodated’), and, in turn, creates discomfort.
‘Visual tunnelling’ is also a common eye movement, where VR users follow a moving target. This results in the periphery visuals becoming less perceptible as the intensity of remaining focus on the moving object affects the eyes.
Newly-devised technology successfully mimics how we see the world as it strives to understand what area of the image is sharpest and where this clearness starts to decrease. For a person with normal-functioning eyes, the sharpest image will be the one at the centre of vision. This clarity then lowers the more you move into the outer fields of vision.
The research team analysed the movement and activity of individual eyes, while participants wore a headset. Each participant wore 96, eight-seconds VR videos. Following the experiment, these participants were asked about the quality of the videos including specific factors such as blurriness and flickering images.
Participants delivered the best response for foveated rendering with an inner radius of 10⁰ and an outer radius of 20⁰. However, implementing further detail to the periphery area of the user’s vision showed no particular positive change. Instead, the results detailed the opposite, by indicating that these additional details may lead the wearer to perceive the image as being of lower quality.
How can eye-tracking help?
On 7th December 2017, Google’s latest research into VR and AR entered the tech world. Behnam Bastani, Software Engineer at Google and Eric Turner, Software Engineer at Daydream have conducted research into the present limitations of latency, content creation, transmitting data and interaction with real-world objects by applying the foveated rendering technique.
Through the exploration of two methods relating to phase-aligned foveated rendering and conformal foveated rendering, the duo has delved into three key concepts:
- Foveated rendering to lower the compute-intensive activities required per pixel
- Foveated image processing to reduce visual artefacts
- Overcoming latency by decreasing the number of bits per pixel transmitted
New developments in eye-tracking technology can improve the VR experience. This is achieved by adding control and building an intuitive experience that reflects a real-life environment, which can then be extrapolated to other industries and sectors.
This eye-tracking technology will modernise and stabilise motion controls. As a result, this will not only provide a better experience for the consumer but will also help developers understand the user experience.
Tech developers can, therefore, expect to explore and create more natural, efficient and socially responsive VR applications.
Making it a reality
Looking ahead, the technological area of foveated rendering will reduce the processing power for rendering complex 3D environments, and will help make VR more sophisticated, comfortable and accessible.