Pimax’s 8K VR headsets could be a look into the next generation

If you've gotten to use an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift headset, you'll already be aware that the experience is enthralling, but still with some flaws. Even though VR has been around in various forms for over 20 years, it's not wrong to call the Vive and the Rift the first generation of modern VR hardware. A startup of engineers and entrepreneurs based out of Shanghai and Silicon Valley called Pimax thinks its Pimax 8K headsets will herald the next generation of VR.

That 8K in the name isn't entirely marketing fluff. It refers to the horizontal resolution of the display used in the headset: 7680 pixels, or the same width as an "8K UHD" display. The vertical resolution is "only" 2160 pixels (the same as a 4K UHD display), though, so it's only half the resolution of a true 8K display. This spec still gives the Pimax 8K a per-eye resolution of 3840×2160, or a 4K UHD display for each eye. According to the numerous testimonials on Pimax's Kickstarter page, the high resolution almost completely eliminates the "screen-door" effect that plagues the PSVR, Rift, and Vive headsets, for what it's worth.

The Pimax 8K's half-8K or dual-4K resolution is impressive, but more pertinent to the experience is the 200-degree field-of-view (FOV) that it affords. Existing VR headsets typically have a FOV between 90 and 110 degrees. A 200-degree field of view could mean that the headset's displays fill your vision from side to side, while wearing one of the existing VR headsets feels a little like looking at the world through a gas mask. Engadget's Richard Lai says the Pimax 8K is "literally the most immersive" VR headset out there thanks to its wide FOV, so there might be some truth to Pimax's claims.

There are actually three separate versions of the next-gen Pimax headset on offer. The Pimax 5K, Pimax 8K, and the Pimax 8K X have all the same features and functionality save for their display and input resolutions. The Pimax 5K has a pair of 2560×1440 panels for its displays, and it's the cheapest of the bunch at $399. The Pimax 8K has the full-resolution 3840×2160 per-eye displays running at the full 90 Hz refresh rate, but it relies on pixel-doubling to make driving the system easier. Finally, the Pimax 8K X is fundamentally the same headset as the 8K, and its $699 Kickstater price offers (or offered) improved signal processing hardware to allow it to take a full-resolution dual-4K input signal.

Pimax is showing the headset using an HDMI connection for now, but it says the final headset will likely use a DisplayPort connection. The Pimax 8K X will apparently require a pair of DisplayPort inputs for full quality. Obviously, pushing an 8K image at 90Hz is going to require some serious pixel-pushing prowess, and the company recommends at least a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti to even think about it. Most likely, the Pimax 8K X will need a pair of those cards to deliver a satisfying experience. Good luck.

Fortunately, VR enthusiasts are likely already set up to use the motion-tracking system in the Pimax headsets. Pimax's stuff is 100% compatible with Valve's SteamVR "lighthouse" trackers. They also are compatible with all SteamVR and Viveport software, and Pimax says that owners can avail themselves of Oculus Home software with a third-party utility. Furthermore, the company will be offering its own "PiPlay" content delivery platform, as well as its own hand-held motion controllers with SteamVR support.

The company's Kickstarter will run until November 3. Unfortunately, the early-bird specials on on the 8K and 8K X are all sold out. In fact, the Pimax 8K X is entirely sold out. As we noted, you may still be able to get in on a Pimax 5K for just $399, or $649 to get one with the hand controllers and a pair of lighthouse trackers. You can also put down $499 to get a shot at a Pimax 8K by itself, or $799 to get in line for the full kit with an 8K headset. Lastly, if you're feeling froggy, you could put down a cool $10,000 to maybe have a chance at 14 8K sets, including a set of controllers and trackers for each. Pimax currently expects to ship in January 2018, but buyer beware: this is a Kickstarter and not a pre-order.

Comments closed
    • Kraaketaer
    • 2 years ago

    I’m happy to see this finally getting more attention – StarVR was onto the same thing a couple of years ago, but this seems more realistic in terms of making it to market.

    Still, this needs one thing: foveated rendering. Frankly, it’s an absolute must. Rendering dual full-resolution 4k (or even dual 1440p) images for a 200-degree viewing angle is plain silly. Heck, even a 110-degree viewing angle without foveated rendering is rather silly, even if the cost to the GPU is far less. Foveated rendering should drop the GPU load by 30-50%, which would be absolutely huge. Of course, it would also require some serious renderer mumbo-jumbo/magic/mods to enable this on older titles too, although it should be possible (even with a “simple” workaround like rendering a full-quality image for the 1/4 of the image around where the eye is looking superimposed on top of a lower-quality image covering the whole scene, with some blending along the edges).

    I’m not spending $500-1000 on a VR headset until it has that – I’m simply neither rich nor silly enough to waste money like that, let alone create useless tech waste. >180-degree viewing angle, eye tracking and foveated rendering, reduced screen door effect (although I’d prefer better panel tech to increased resolution – micro-lenses per pixel on the panel?), no more than a single cable, and inside-out tracking, preferably with hand/finger tracking. Then I’ll jump.

    • Flapdrol
    • 2 years ago

    I don’t really mind the screen door effect on my cv1 as much as the aliasing. I guess I need a much faster gpu so I can run games with more supersampling.

    • danny e.
    • 2 years ago

    anything that’s not from facebook gains bonus points.

    • psuedonymous
    • 2 years ago

    Not only is the ‘8k’ not 8k but a pair of UHD panels, [b<]they are not driven at UHD[/b<] but instead 2560x1440 per eye upscaled in hardware. But the worse problem is the FoV: as you asymptotically approach 180°, your ability to use normal rectilinear rendering (i.e. what every GPU does) rapidly diminishes in efficiency, with huge areas of the image being 'wasted' on the outer few degrees of view. To exceed 180°, or even to approach it without wasting most of your rendered pixels on screen area that will be barely seen, you need to use multiple composited viewports per eye. This is not a function supported by any current VR API. PiMax's current HMDs (e.g. the 'Pimax 4k') use as their base API Oculus' OVR version 0.8 API, with their SteamVR support being through protocol translation to OVR 0.8. Not only would this need to change for multiple viewports to be supported, they would also need to convince Valve to write support for this into OpenVR, as nobody else has the ability to modify that standard or to modify the SteamVR source code ([url=https://github.com/ValveSoftware/openvr/issues/572<]which is the only implementation of OpenVR[/url<]).

      • RAGEPRO
      • 2 years ago

      The demo was being run at 2560×1440, but Pimax says you can send a 4K signal to the Pimax 8K.

        • psuedonymous
        • 2 years ago

        Only on the ‘8K X’ version that uses a pair of DP inputs (because they are not using DP1.4 capable panel controllers). The regular ‘8k’ version cannot, it is limited by link bandwidth.

      • Durante
      • 2 years ago

      The combined FoV is 200° diagonal. The per-eye FoV (which is what is relevant for the API issue) is probably around 140-150°. Not ideal in terms of pixel use, but not an issue that necessitates an API change (or any specific support in games).

      Also, Valve did in fact already make a change to support this type of HMD design a few months back — on the driver and not the application level though. (Basically, it’s to support angled displays)

      The fact that it will work out of the box with pretty much all SteamVR games is what makes this HMD exciting.

        • psuedonymous
        • 2 years ago

        [quote<]The fact that it will work out of the box with pretty much all SteamVR games is what makes this HMD exciting.[/quote<] As reported by those who have tested it (e.g. RoadToVR), PiMax are not rendering correct Orthostereo, but instead are rendering to the default Vive FoV and stretching the outside edge (as some TVs do with 'super zoom' 4:3 > 16:9 mode).

      • TheRazorsEdge
      • 2 years ago

      I expect 2560×1440 is pretty good for visual fidelity.

      Upscaling can be extremely valuable in modern VR. The higher resolution helps to eliminate the screen door effect without requiring additional GPU resources. With the upscaling, you may get usable performance on a 1070/1080 rather than requiring a 1080Ti or newer. That’s a huge win right now, although it may be less meaningful in 10 years or so.

      I would agree that VR really needs a good solution for foveal/peripheral acuity. We could save a ton of compute by rendering peripheral vision at lower resolutions.

        • psuedonymous
        • 2 years ago

        [b<]Down[/b<]scaling gives a visual benefit for VR, upscaling gives a visual performance detriment by increasing aliasing artefact size.

    • Laykun
    • 2 years ago

    Can we just start referring to resolution by megapixels? This xk business is just getting silly. Megapixels covers the one thing that matters, the amount of pixels you end up getting.

      • Entroper
      • 2 years ago

      For VR, you really need PPD (pixels per degree) to know what you’re looking at. It’s not quite as simple as resolution / FOV, either, because the lenses and screen geometry don’t map pixels linearly across your FOV.

        • Laykun
        • 2 years ago

        Of course, I mean in general. PPD probably isn’t enough either as the number of pixels per degree in a headseat is not linear because of the lens geometry but if you give a min and max PPD you could probably do alright to demonstrate what resolution you’re going to get, or at least the average PPD for the center of vision when looking forward.

    • Stochastic
    • 2 years ago

    Greater resolution and field of view address the two big limitations of current VR sets. I hope Occulus and competitors follow suit with updated headsets in 2018.

      • SlappedSilly
      • 2 years ago

      I’m kind of curious if the lack of depth of field will become a problem/limitation as resolution gets higher.

        • jihadjoe
        • 2 years ago

        Feel like that should be addressed by the content.

        Perhaps with eye-tracking integrated into the headset developers can figure out what the player is looking at and have the engine focus on that one particular thing, while adjusting other objects according to their depth relative to the object in focus.

    • Shinare
    • 2 years ago

    I wonder what the effect of such a wide FoV will be on “VR Sickness”. Seems like it would be much worse, at least going off of what Wide angle lenses look like when panning in video.

      • SlappedSilly
      • 2 years ago

      I would imagine wide angle lens padding is a different thing. The lens distorts the image which distorts the motion perception. This headset should be presenting the image with an accurate projection.

      That said, I do agree this could make thinks worse for those who already have problems.

      • Billstevens
      • 2 years ago

      FOV is not one of the major components of motion sickness. The major component most of us get sick from is from virtual motion which tricks our eyes but fails to stimulate our other senses which detect motion like our auditory system.

      • Kraaketaer
      • 2 years ago

      Google some images of the StarVR headset – viewing angles like this are far too wide to use a single round lens in front of the eye. After all, if they did that, you wouldn’t get an actually wider field of view, just a more compressed one. They need wider lenses that curve along the movement arc of the eye. As such, the distortion of wide angle lenses for photography and video shouldn’t be an issue, as long as the lenses are designed well.

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