It’s Display Week in Los Angeles, which means the convention center has been colonized by display manufacturers showing off their latest panel innovations. This is primarily a trade show for suppliers to connect with consumer electronics manufacturers while their engineers present their latest research in nearby conference rooms. I thought it was notable that a huge portion of the show floor is given over to booth after booth of quantum dot suppliers. Who knew that was such a competitive niche?
What attracted the VR press to this particular event was the promise of seeing new displays from LG, Samsung and JDI (Japan Display, Inc. a joint venture of Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi). The three companies have responded to the call from last year’s keynote speaker, Google’s Clay Bavor: “We need more pixels. Way, way more pixels.”
Google partnered with LG to create a 1443-pixels-per-inch OLED display (a Rift or Vive clock in around 456 ppi). On the display it was placed next to a 538 ppi screen for comparison. You can see the difference below (you may need to zoom in a bit for the full effect).
Samsung was showing off a 1200 ppi OLED display. It was difficult to discern a difference between the two since they were not right next to each other. Samsung’s display is considerably brighter (250 nits vs LG’s 150).
Although both LG and Samsung’s displays were far sharper than anything we’ve seen in a head mounted display before, the screen door effect was still there (the iPhone camera I shot these stills with could not focus well enough through the magnifying lens to show that). I imagine that the SDE could be filtered out. In fact, Samsung had a display showing one such filter on a 613 ppi panel. It made an enormous difference, although even at that lower resolution my camera couldn’t capture it.
Two of the displays on offer had pixels that were very nearly invisible. I really had to strain to make them out. That was JDI’s 1001 ppi LCD screen and their 803 ppi LCD. Both of them looked absolutely breathtaking, even compared to the higher resolution OLEDs. The pixel fill factor makes an enormous difference! With the demonstration images it was quite difficult to notice a difference between the panels with the naked eye. It’s more apparent in the photograph because the larger pixels in the 803 ppi screen created a moiré pattern (you can get a sense for the size of the pixels if you look closely because there is a vertical line of dead pixels near the center).
The 1001 ppi LCD was being demoed with a video (remember, this is under heavy magnification). It was glorious. I can’t wait until we see this technology in real HMD products.
All four displays feature a 120hz refresh rate.
Dimenco, a 3D display maker held a press briefing on their “Simulated Reality” platform (full disclosure, this press briefing involved a delicious catered lunch). It combines face tracking with an autostereoscopic (glasses-free 3D) display and they are offering Unity and Unreal integrations. It’s actually pretty cool, since you do get something akin to 6DoF VR just by stepping up to a television:
There are a ton of problems with this idea though. The autostereoscopic screens only have a tiny sweet spot. If you move outside of it, you get a double image. There is also a major vergence-accomodation conflict issue because the screen is closer than the “virtual plane” in an HMD, and you are also seeing reflections in the screen. Field of view is severely compromised, and because the setup is physically very large, there’s a lower bound on how affordable it will ever get. The biggest problem is that this whole technique only works with one user at a time. If you are watching someone else use it, it becomes extremely uncomfortable. So I think while this is interesting tech well-integrated, there’s no future here until someone comes up with a true holographic display that can accommodate multiple users (which would in turn negate the need for Dimenco’s technology).
There were a few different lightfield displays on the show floor. The best one was at JDI’s booth, giving the very disturbing impression when viewed from about 4 feet away that a tiny woman was trapped in a glass box.
Samsung had one running on a modified Galaxy Phone that was also cool, but it was only managing to render the image at about 2 fps.
Here’s a concept Samsung phone (presented in a darkened room) with a lightfield display. The area I’m moving around inside is all it can manage. #Displayweek2018 pic.twitter.com/p2R51VH9hC
— Ian Hamilton (@hmltn) May 22, 2018
Another display showed a lightfield LED panel intended for the sides of a building. That actually sounds the most promising for the near term, since you could install a rack of computers to drive the thing. Maybe Blade Runner style advertising holograms aren’t as far off as we thought.
Facebook Research Laboratory’s Varifocal Prototypes
The keynote at Display Week was give by Douglas Lanman from the newly rechristened Facebook Reality Lab (previously known as Oculus Research). He talked about how Oculus/Facebook have been tackling the problem of vergence-accommodation conflict, culminating in the Half Moon Prototype recently revealed at F8. He showed off some of the earlier prototypes:
One takeaway is that Facebook doesn’t feel they have solved HMD eye tracking well enough yet to make this technology consumer ready. They’d better get cracking, since we are also depending on eye tracking to enable foveated rendering so that our devices will be able to drive these new ultra high resolution display panels without melting.
Oculus published a blog post to supplement the keynote, with some high quality images of the prototypes and more info about the team at FRL.
Ian Hamilton interviewed Lanman after the keynote and gathered some additional thoughts.
Custom Tracks in Beat Saber
Finally, if you’ve been playing Beat Saber and you haven’t headed over to BeatSaver.com to download some custom tracks, what are you waiting for? They’ve made installing the mod effortless, and you can browse and download tracks right in the game. The highlights for me so far are Imagine Dragons – Believer, GANGNAM STYLE, and Celldweller – The Imperial March (Pegboard Nerds Remix).
Some of the tracks are straight up impossible. But some people can manage it: