Kopin microdisplays could make VR headsets sharper and slimmer

Even the best available virtual reality headsets could be a lot better. Higher resolutions, higher refresh rates, reduced weight, and lower power consumption would all make VR experiences more immersive and convenient. Massachusetts-based wearable electronics manufacturer Kopin says its Lightning OLED microdisplays could make all of that happen. The company showed off a 2048×2048 1"-diagonal display at the Consumer Electronics Show with 2940 PPI that can operate at refresh rates up to 120Hz with 10-microsecond latency. Kopin says future-generation OLED microdisplays could sport 3000×3000 or higher resolutions, and could fit into VR head-mounted displays with form factors closer to eyeglasses than to existing headsets.

Seth Colaner from Tom's Hardware had a chance to meet with representatives from Kopin, and described what he learned in this recent article. Kopin's Lightning display uses an OLED array on silicon rather than glass. According to Colaner, Kopin is integrating the Lightning display into prototypes with Fresnel lenses and stacked optics.

Lower power consumption in a VR headset could lead to reduced cabling and bulk, both prized conveniences in the VR space. Kopin says its technology would be ideal for mobile VR where every watt comes from a battery. The company says the Lightning microdisplays could be adapted for use in augmented reality platforms, too.

Kopin's Lightning microdisplays are still firmly in the prototype stage. Dr. Hong Choi, the CTO of  Kopin, told Tom's Hardware that the price of the company's microdisplays "may be competitive or somewhat higher than the direct-view OLED on glass panels used in VR headsets such as Oculus or HTC Vive."

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    • psuedonymous
    • 3 years ago

    The breakthrough needed for microdisplay-based HMDs to be viable for VR is not the microdisplays themselves, but the optics. With ‘conventional’ optics (lenses, fresnels, prisms, etc) you have a tradeoff: you can have a large field of view, a large exit pupil (the area your pupil can be in and see an image), or a short optical path, pick two. If the exit pupil shrinks too much then as you look to the side your physical pupil moves out of it (moves across your eyeball as it rotates), and you can no longer see an image (no good having a high FoV if you can’t actually look at it). If you try and make the exit pupil larger, your focal length grows, and to prevent the lenses intersecting each other the path length grows and your optics become very large. If you use a compact optical setup with a large exit pupil, you are stuck with a tiny FoV (~45° tends to be the useful limit).

    The two technologies that look to be able to break past this limit are metamaterial lenses (pretty far on the horizon for broadband optical-range lenses), and the combination of semi-reflective optics and fused-fibre faceplates that eMagin has shown off with their high-density microdisplays (http://doc-ok.org/?p=1254). Neither of these will be cheap optical setups like the current moulded plastic lenses used in the Rift/Vive/PSVR.

      • mcnabney
      • 3 years ago

      I think the need for a broader exit pupil can be solved by putting the optics on a self adjusting harness. The display will find the narrow sweet spot for you. That will allow for a 90° per eye FOV and maintain compactness. Of course it will cost more…

    • GrimDanfango
    • 3 years ago

    I certainly don’t know the technicalities, but I suspect that for VR devices with 1″ screens mounted very close to your eyes, the lens optics would end up being the technological barrier… it would presumably take one hell of a lens to focus the screen plane at infinity over the span of less than half an inch.

    (Edit: hmm, thinking about it, maybe it wouldn’t be any different in optical terms – it might just mean the lens scales down proportionally with the screen and mount depth.)

    I’d guess it’d also require an even more exact alignment with the center of your eyes too – a couple of mm either way and you’d be looking through the wrong part of the lens.

    I reckon VR is going to stick with screens in the ~3″ territory for a while yet, until they develop headsets that not only have eye-tracking, but have motorized eye-tracking-driven active screen/optics alignment.

    If it gets to that point, it’ll be gloriously cyberpunk 🙂

      • Voldenuit
      • 3 years ago

      Small sensor might make it easier to adjust lens + pupillary distance. Just move each eye unit independently, and the screen is always perfectly centered relative to the lens.

        • GrimDanfango
        • 3 years ago

        Fine in theory… but whenever I put my Rift on, I have to spend a moment fudging it around until I find the sweet spot. Stretchy straps, squashy foam, and a squashy face combined isn’t a configuration that lends itself to accurately returning to the same position each time.

        Shrink the whole setup to a third the size, and that vagueness will be three times more pronounced, and every time you went to scratch your nose while wearing the thing, you’d need to spend a couple of minutes carefully adjusting it back to the correct spot.

        That would practically necessitate some kind of automatic alignment system.

      • UberGerbil
      • 3 years ago

      [quote<]I reckon VR is going to stick with screens in the ~3" territory for a while yet, until they develop headsets that not only have eye-tracking, but have motorized eye-tracking-driven active screen/optics alignment.[/quote<]Motorized active optics is going to have a lot of problems. I'm sure we'll see it attempted but it will be an intermediary tech, much like the CFL lightbulb interregnum between incandescents and LEDs. The future is phased-array optics, with a spatial light modulator over each eye instead of a lens.

    • brucethemoose
    • 3 years ago

    But what about brightness and longevity?

    I wouldn’t be happy if those 1000 nit HDR peaks burned out bits of my expensive VR display…

      • not@home
      • 3 years ago

      [quote<]I wouldn't be happy if those 1000 nit HDR peaks burned out bits of my retinas...[/quote<] There, I fixed that for you.

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