Kopin is touting a new prototype VR headset featuring their 4K OLED ‘Lightning’ microdisplay that they say is made specifically for VR. At nearly half the size of other headsets, and made from lightweight materials, the device feels featherlight compared to VR products on the market today.
Kopin is a publicly traded display manufacturer that was founded in 1984. With the massive buzz generated by VR, the firm has turned developed a roadmap for manufacturing displays specifically for VR headsets. Microdisplays by their nature are small and incredibly pixel dense, and also capable of high refresh rates.
The first microdisplay that Kopin is positioning for VR is what they’re calling ‘Lightning’, a 1-inch display with 2,048 x 2,048 per-eye resolution and running at a whopping 120Hz. With the Rift and Vive using displays of 1,080 x 1,200 pixels, Kopin’s Lightning display has just over 3.2 times as many pixels, and runs substantially faster than the 90Hz refresh rate of those headsets.
The tiny size of the microdisplay also brings another advantage: the potential for a much shorter focal length. Consumer VR headsets on the market are all roughly the same bulk size, not because we can’t design smaller enclosures, but because the physics of light requires that the displays be a certain distance from the lenses in order to present a focused image to the user’s eye. A smaller image allows for a shorter focal length, which means the displays don’t need to be as far from the lenses, potentially resulting in a much more compact headset.
Kopin has worked with Chinese ODM Goertek to develop a prototype VR headset that employs their Lightning microdisplay. The result is an incredibly compact and lightweight device that is an absolute joy to wear compared to the bulk of today’s consumer headsets.
I got to handle and wear a functional prototype at E3 2017, but unfortunately I didn’t actually get to see VR content through it since, according to the company, the only computer the company had on hand that was cooperating with the demands of driving a custom 4,096 x 2,048 resolution across both displays at 120Hz had to be shipped off to CES Asia (another conference which is also running this week). I expect to meet with Kopin again in the near future to see content running on the prototype headset; for now I can only talk about the form factor.
Compared to the consumer headsets on the market today, even the very lightest among them (like Gear VR and Daydream View) the Kopin prototype headset feels feather-light (note that it was missing a small driver-board for the displays which would add a slight bit to the weight). A single flexible strap that goes around the back of your head holds the device on your face with ease, no top strap required. The shell was made from a thin and extremely lightweight plastic. It was rigid, but it’s unclear to me if the durability of this material is enough to stand up to consumer usage; they may need to shift to a thicker or more durable material which could push the weight up some.
In photos alone it’s hard to appreciate how much smaller the Kopin headset is than others, but it feels much closer to the size and weight of a pair of ski goggles; it hugs close around your eyes without taking over so much of your face. It’s not nearly as ‘deep’ either, meaning it doesn’t jut out so far from your face. The slender profile compounds with the light weight since the leverage is not nearly as great as it would be with a bigger enclosure sticking further out from your face.
If and when most immersive VR headsets achieve this form factor, it’s going to make a massive difference in comfort and ease-of-use for VR.