Oculus developing ‘focal surface display’ for better VR image clarity

Given all of the attention that it receives, it would be easy to forget that virtual reality technology is in many ways still in its infancy. Today’s VR experiences are better than they were a few years ago, but they remain limited in just how realistic they can be in a number of important areas.

One such area is in how well the technology mimics how our eyes focus on objects at various distances. This greatly impacts the overall visual clarity of the VR experience and Oculus is working on technology that should greatly improve its VR products and provide for sharper images and a more natural viewing experience.

Essentially, the issue revolves around the fact that our eyes are very good at focusing on objects no matter how close or far away. When we focus on one object, anything that is closer and farther away drops out of focus — creating the “bokeh” effect in photography.

VR systems project images on a magnified flat screen and do well in focusing on objects at the depth we are viewing. However, when we look at objects that are not at the same distance in the image, then the system cannot focus correctly. That creates an effect where objects that are not currently in focus are incorrectly blurry.

The solution the Oculus is developing and that will be presented at the upcoming Siggraph conference is called the “focal surface display,” and it is intended to more accurately model how our eyes work. As Oculus describes it:

“Focal surface displays mimic the way our eyes naturally focus on objects of varying depths. Rather than trying to add more and more focus areas to get the same degree of depth, this new approach changes the way light enters the display using spatial light modulators (SLMs) to bend the headset’s focus around 3D objects — increasing depth and maximizing the amount of space represented simultaneously.”

The technology is not going to appear in an Oculus Rift system anytime soon, but it nevertheless represents an important and valuable field of research for future VR systems. The net result will be a significant improvement in visual clarity and systems that work better for users with eyeglass prescriptions using today’s VR technology.