A More Acceptable Form-factor

Photo by Road to VR

While the head-worn prototype I wore was compelling, it wasn’t the newest thing that Creal is showing. That headset provided a proof-of-concept for the light-field itself, but clearly used bulky hardware and optics that wouldn’t be suitable for fitting into a practical headset.

To that end the company is now showing off that it can make its light-field display work with any standard lens thanks to a holographic coating which acts as the ‘lens’ to get the virtual image into your eye.

Photo by Road to VR

This approach enables much more transparent lenses and fits a much more common glasses-sized form-factor—both of which are key for social acceptance which is a big deal for any head-worn device that is used outside the home. And further, Creal says the holographic coating can be applied to existing ophthalmic lenses, meaning a standard corrective glasses lens can form the basis of the display.

That’s a serious advantage considering that traditional ophthalmic lenses are already manufactured at scale, and are a known quantity in terms of cost, durability, social acceptability, etc.

Challenges Remain

But Creal’s light-field display still has some drawbacks compared to the conventional displays seen in other headsets today.

For one, the resolution isn’t as good as what’s been achieved with displays in other headsets. Creal says its tech can achieve higher resolution, but what it’s managed to demo so far isn’t as sharp as contemporary headsets on the market today, let alone next-gen devices poised to launch. Further, the system struggles to achieve an acceptably wide color gamut, giving images a somewhat washed-out look.

Granted, the company has been continuously improving nearly every aspect of the system’s performance over the years, and it believes there’s still significant improvements to be made as it refines its methods, components, and calibrations.

Creal has been transparent about its performance goals; here’s where the company claims it is today and where it thinks its tech can get to by 2025:

(per eye) 2023 2025+
Angular resolution at infinity 40 PPD 50 ppd
Modulator resolution 1 Mpix 1+ Mpix
Depth resolution Continuous Continuous
FoV (diagonal) 36° 60°
(light-field: 20-30°)
Effective eyebox (exit pupil) 13 mm
(6 mm)
16 mm
(10 mm)
Eye relief 20 ± 3 mm 20 mm
Colors 2 M ~10 million
Rendering load
(equivalent to flat image)
HD n/a (on chip)
Frame rate 160 Hz Up to 240 Hz
Sub-frame rate 6.5 kHz 8 kHz
Brightness 2000 nits Up to 7000 nits
Contrast 1 000/1 10 000/1
Combiner type Holographic, prescription compatible Holographic, prescription
compatible
Transparency 91% 97%
Power consumption 800 mW ~100 mW
Volume module (LF. engine) 7 cm3 2 cm3

Field-of-view, however, is perhaps the system’s biggest challenge. As you can see in the specs above, although Creal expects to achieve a 60° (per-eye) FoV, only 20-30° will be a genuine light-field. The rest can be filled out with non-light-field imagery to expand the overall view, but the outer portion won’t have the same light-field benefits as the center part.

However, our eyes are rarely pointed directly ahead. Instead they regularly swivel off-axis to look at things during regular day-to-day life (and when glancing around a virtual scene). Without having the light-field cover a more significant portion of the field-of-view, this defeats some of the benefit of the display.

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Creal has said it hopes to overcome this issue with ‘pupil steering’ (also known as dynamic foveated display), which would track the user’s eye and move the light-field portion of the view to make sure it’s always at the center of your gaze. However, this is another significant technical challenge for the industry at large, and one that I’ve yet to see sufficiently solved in a form-factor that would work in a glasses-sized product.

Still, it’s exciting to see a company working hard on this challenge that others seem to be leaving untouched, so we’ll continue to keep our eyes on Creal.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • I’m following this company as well after your initial recommendation, Ben, and I agree it is one of the most interesting startups around. The VR scene the lightfield display creates is “more 3D”, feels more real, and it is just amazing

  • ViRGiN

    sounds like a company who wants to get bougt, but nobody cares

    what was the last acquisition or products released by the underdogs?
    everyone paints picture of greatness

    everything here has strong revolutionary kickstarter vibes.
    meanwhile, nothing ever crowdfunded came really to reality or goals.
    lynx r1? arpara? pimax?
    laughing my a$$ off

    • Tomas S

      Hi ViRGiN, I understand your concern and even share frustration from the market. XR is very hard. But CREAL has a different business model. We (I am from CREAL) are a display technology company. We don’t make or plan to make headsets. What we show are technology demonstrators. We integrate and license display to products of others. Example of such model is Microvision with its display tech in MS Hololense. Hence you won’t see a CREAL headset, maximally “CREAL inside” label.
      We do it for wider range of products including vision care instruments, see our web. AR is however our main mission and dream.
      Whether anyone cares about our tech is just not public. So stay tuned.

      • Max-Dmg

        He trolls everything, just ignore him lol.

      • ViRGiN

        Fair enough. Appreciate dropping by.

      • silvaring

        I’m quite surprised to be seeing a light field display in a headset form factor. I’m guessing the main challenges here are going to be numerous, especially if Magic Leap (who’s original larger prototype) seemed to struggle at getting the technology down to a compact size. Have you guys been communicating with Karl Guttag to have something published on your technology? He seems to be one of the most insightful and well established industry voices to really bring the average tech enthusiast in and make them more familiar with your guys tech and where the biggest challenges would be.

        • Tomas S

          Hi silvaring. Glad to hear that. In fact the headset is almost two years old. Since then we work on a significantly smaller display. Ben shows the proof of concept of it – the one with the normal lens – you can see a mockup of the target form factor on the same photo, on the table in the background. We hope to reach it still this year. Max early next year. We have roadmap to even smaller one.

          Yes, we know each other with Karl Guttag quite well, but I cannot speculate when and what Karl writes.

          • GmailIsDown

            I hope in a few years all the major VR/AR headset companies will integrate your technology after overcoming the current limitations and hurdles. If my understanding of the article is correct, it solves a fundamental issue that has been bothering people since the beginning of VR – difficulty/inability to focus on scenes and objects very close to the eyes comfortably.

      • CrusaderCaracal

        Hey mate. You’re best off blocking him, he’s a well known troll and has nothing good to contribute. All he does is just whine and get angry at people for liking stuff he doesnt

    • CrusaderCaracal

      You always have something to whine about

  • Ookami

    imo lightfield is the future of vr. I can’t wait to see mainstream headsets start using it

  • wheeler

    I wonder how hard is it to sell people on the idea of lightfields. I mean, I believe a proper simulation of one is absolutely essential for the future of both VR and AR. So many potential use cases of VR and AR are basically irrelevant until this problem is addressed, and I find it quite frustrating when XR fanatics seem to deliberately ignore this elephant in the room (even though it’s associated problems are so well studied). Improve any other facet of the display to whatever degree that you please (in fact, I’d say we’re already “good enough” when it comes to many other metrics)–it won’t matter until the fatigue and perceptual conflicts caused by stereo flat displays are solved.

    But it seems like it’s such a hard thing to explain. What I’ve personally come to find is that people don’t understand how both light and vision work, and so they don’t understand how stupendously lacking regular stereo flat displays are. It doesn’t help that I’ve yet to see one article or video that even explains it well, most opting for vague explanations like “it makes things blurrier”. If one explains it this way rather than explaining the 3d dimensional nature of light, it makes the entire concept seem completely inconsequential to the average person.

    And even when demoing one I can imagine many would not immediately understand the value, as they would probably take it for granted (SkarredGhost actually mentioned how easy it is to “take it for granted”). And then when going back to their regular VR displays hours/days later, they probably don’t understand what is actually causing them discomfort. If I were to demo these lightfield displays, I would probably have a “stereo flat mode” in the lightfield headset and have the user A/B test the two so that they may see the difference side by side. But even then, the major discomfort does not occur with stereo displays until the 15 minute mark or so.

  • Nevets

    Anyone heard if it can correct astigmatism? A lot of the population have this.