Frank He goes hands on with PiMAX’s ludicrously high-spec 8k, 200 degree FOV prototype at CES and find the company has some innovative solutions to some of the substantial challenges driving a headset like this poses.

While there were many perhaps questionable Chinese VR headsets shown off at CES this year, Pimax’s new 8K, 200 degree prototype actually stood out from the crowd. Moreover, Pimax perhaps even showed both some of the potential that high spec headsets might provide along with the challenges associated with getting the details right. Not only was I able to give the new headset a try, I was also able to learn more about how exactly they intend to address the significant challenges behind powering a headset that boasts a 3840 x 2160 per eye resolution.

The exterior of Pimax’s new prototype bears some resemblance to Starbreeze’s 210 degree StarVR headset (and the InfinitEye before it) but uses a PlayStation VR (PSVR) style mounting mechanism. Each of the headset’s displays (one per eye), are placed at a canted angle, just like StarVR’s. In terms of heft, the Pimax unit didn’t seem that much heavier than the PSVR upon use, although as ever, it’s hard to judge this accurately given that it was just a short demo. One thing’s for sure though, the bulky shell makes it look heavier than it actually feels.

CTO on Future of the StarVR Headset: Roomscale Tracking, Input, Eye-tracking, and More

pimax 8k (2)The headset’s resolution was probably the best thing about the headset. Whilst inside, I couldn’t discern individual sub-pixels no matter how hard I looked – whereas with the Rift or Vive I can. It took some effort to even discern individual pixels. The result was that it felt like I was looking at a slightly textured surface or film, similar to the current headsets, but much sharper and transparent. I can imagine I wouldn’t be distracted by the resolution.

The FOV (Field of View) was also impressive, feeling close to the aforementioned StarVR’s. Of course, the ultra-wide FOV was beneficial to peripheral awareness, but in terms of actual added immersion, I’m not sure if there was much of a real benefit. However, there were a few issues which perhaps hindered this. Issues include low brightness from the displays, weird inconsistent warping or geometric distortion when getting farther away from the center of the lenses, an inaccurate distortion profile in general, a low binocular overlap (the volume of FOV that overlaps between both eyes), and a very little bit of ghosting and/or smearing in motion. All of these issues unfortunately formed a barrier against proper immersion in the game. The low binocular overlap seemed to be the biggest immersion killer alongside the warping/distortion, whilst the low brightness and smearing were slight – far beyond that found in the Oculus Rift DK1 of course. It’s uncertain whether more time to play around with the IPD adjustment and time to get used to the distortion would have improved the experience.

Pimax are also using fresnel lenses in this new headset, but interestingly, the ‘godray’ artifacts usually associated with these type of optics were actually very subtle. It’s entirely possible however that the low brightness of the displays may have played a part in that.

So alas, presence was non existent for me. However, playing Lucky’s Tale and Radial-G: Racing Revolved on the headset I could see how, once distortion is reduced and that binocular overlap increased, it might truly represent a new jump in visual quality for VR.

pimax 8k (1)All that aside, how exactly do Pimax expect people to drive two sets of 4k displays at higher enough refresh rates needed for good, low latency VR? Enter ‘Brain-warp’. Brain-warp is a technique where you render and display an image to one eye only, and then render and display for the other eye, in a sequence such that one eye is seeing an image and the other isn’t at any given moment in time. This way, they’re actually rendering a single 4K image at 120 times a second, but the user perceives it as a complete 8K image at 120Hz. How? Because that frequency is high enough that we don’t perceive that one eye is blind while the other isn’t, at least for a tiny fraction of a second. It’s like raising one hand to one eye, lowering that hand and raising your other hand to your other eye, and doing that very so fast that you simply don’t notice it. Active-shutter 3D glasses use the same concept, often at the same 120Hz refresh rate.

Pimax’s ‘Brain-warp” rendering technique illustrated

Brain-warp is a neat trick then, but not without its downsides and clearly there’s still a huge amount of power needed to drive the displays in this headset. To output 4K at 120Hz, they say you’ll need at minimum an NVIDIA GTX 980 but that’s assuming Async Timewarp is also in play helping resolve dropped frames. Their actual recommended specification however is either dual GTX 1070s, or one GTX 1080.

Another caveat here is that brain-warp also requires “very accurate synchronous fine tuning” according to them, and results in a “ghosting” artifact that appears during motion. That artifact wasn’t very distracting to me in the demo, but it may be more distracting at higher brightness levels or other scenarios.

Pimax say they’re using custom LCDs in their headset in order to drive the display’s response time down and to achieve low persistence. My experience with the headset was that it did exhibit the smearing associated with typical LCD HMDs, but to a smaller extent than you might expect. As such, they state that this prototype can achieve a the motion-to-photon latency of 18ms.

They still have yet to demonstrate positional tracking and motion controllers, both of which they’ve announced. Valve has of course now opened up their Lighthouse tracking tech for it to be used by anyone on anything. It’ll be interesting seeing which route Pimax pick, given the fact that they already supporting SteamVR.

As this was a prototype, there’s no release date yet, but they have announced that the company will take to Kickstarter with the new device. At their Gearbest storefront at least, the price is listed as $599, but this may well be subject to change.

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  • WhywasIbanned

    They say you’ll need a minimum of 980 to run these, but I get by with a 980 TI, but with the more polished games, that card even feels under powered at times.

    • J.C.

      Thank you, I read through a LOT of comments on these, wondering why no one was concerned with the hardware demands. This site is PACKED with people complaining that VR is too expensive, and then here’s people saying “oh boy two 4K screens, that’ll totally work fine”.

      Where are the hordes of “it’s too expensive raaa, no one can afford this!” naysayers? Or did those people finally realize that VR is a new tech, and won’t be mass-market-cheap for a couple years at least?

  • psuedonymous

    So to read between the lines:

    – They’re using a pair of 60Hz LCD panels (and staggering the refresh rates to call it ‘120 Hz’)

    – No position tracking at all is not present (not even a Vive remote strapped on), but “we totes have inside out tracking guys”

    – Distortion correction is wrong

    – Latency is 18ms, leaving 2ms for rendering

    – Calling it ‘8k’ when it has a pair of UHD panels. This is pure sillyness.

    – Demoing with an OVR SDK title (super dodgy, smacks of the Deepoon E2 shenanigans)

    Yeeeeeah, I’m not going to hold my breath on this one.

    • benz145

      It’s not so much about this headset specifically as it is about wide-FoV in general. Now with PiMAX, there’s a few companies who have shown decent and fairly practical headsets with FoV above 200 degrees, which means it’s realistic that expect we’ll see improved FoV fairly soon on top tier headsets.

      • Dave

        This is my thought too, we should be encouraging this development not bashing it. Sooner or later this or simiar specifications will filter to the big boys who have the financial clout to make this more consumer friendly and iron out the distortion issues etc. Hardware requirements really is an issue for the graphics card companies and I think VR headsets should drive this forward and not wait for graphics card companies to ‘catch up’.

        Whats inspiring to me is that some of the dificult tasks seem to have made decent progress from what we’ve seen before and I’m sure a HTC or an Oculus looking at this will now revise possibly there entry specifications for 2.0 HMD’s as they will not want a Pimax to steel there market and thats really whats exciting about this article.

    • Ran Björnelid

      Did you try the headset yourself? I’m going to go ahead and guess that you didn’t, but please do excuse me if I’m wrong.

      I tried them at CES, and my mind was *blown*. First of all, their booth was located along the wall (not the center aisle)—usually where fringe players go, and not exactly where you expect to find the coolest technology—and I kind of just stumbled upon them. But since I was there, I thought, why not… I’ll try their HMD.

      I’m glad I did. This is all about the displays, the FOV, and the perceived, staggering resolution—and not about the specs. I bet that if you tried them, you wouldn’t have written what you did. I own both the Oculus and the Vive at home, and tried a bunch of other headsets too at CES. Nothing even came close to Pimax’s HMD. Did their tracking absolutely suck? You bet it sucked (in fact, it was non-existent). But that’s not the point—this is not a headset you use for its tracking abilities. Not every company has to re-invent everything. This headset, coupled with the Vive’s tracking, would be awesome in my opinion.

      By the way, this was the first time I truly felt immersed in the virtual world. The field of view was so enormous that…. the whole concept of field of view simply went away—because the field of view, with Pimax’s glasses, approximates the eyes’ natural field of view.

      Having built an awesome display (and yes, very possibly with shortcuts that trick the eyes, but who cares?) doesn’t mean that Pimax will overtake the Vive or the Oculus, but they showed us it’s possible for the eye to perceive a vastly better, immersive experience.

      The big guys might learn from this, or even buy Pimax, what do I know. Heck, Pimax might get a following of its own and start to become a force—they have earned it.

      But I think you should give them a little bit more cred, and appreciate that maybe they are (at least trying to) drive VR forward. Don’t just sh*t on people who do good stuff. My $0.02.

      • bill carson

        Well said Ran … You have to give these guys a break . They are small company so they have to do things slower . They came out with the Pimax 4K , they made some money and now they can improve with the next iteration … and so on . I think they will get there or get bought out .

        • Ran Björnelid

          Yeah! And thanks!

      • Fredz

        > The big guys might learn from this, or even buy Pimax, what do I know

        They’ve known about very wide FOV HMDs for quite a long time, it’s basically a clone of the InfinitEye which has existed since 2013 already.

        There is a reason why nobody went that route (consumer product), including the creator of the InfinitEye. It’s simply not viable for now, even if the promise of a 200° FOV is appealing.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          Well, it is viable at a lower resolution, and IMHO I’d rather have a lower resolution HMD with a higher FOV, than a higher resolution with a low FOV.. But then again, I’m not even bothered with the resolution of the DK2 (that doesn’t mean I’m not bothered with other points of the DK2).

      • It seems he’s trying so hard to convince himself to not buy this by writing this off so easy :)

      • Heimdal

        “The big guys might learn from this, or even buy Pimax, what do I know. Heck, Pimax might get a following of its own and start to become a force—they have earned it.”

        The headset sounds fun but i doubt there is anything to buy really? It´s all just high fov and res , things we all know is good but it could not be affordably higher in the first gen mainstream hmds . The price/performance req were already so high . Brain-warp is a thing i guess but I think i’ve heard of this kind of software being worked on before. Maybe by Nvidia? Hopefully fovated rendering will come along and work along side something like this in the future of vr .

      • Dave Graham

        Well said mate – I’d love the chance to try the new stuff.

        I love my Rift but there are serious improvements needed in the visual quality and immersion departments. I’m REALLY looking forward to see what arrives in the next two years. My wallet is ready.

    • Anthony Kenneth Steele

      so its only crap for silly reasons so thats encoraging.

    • Kristofer Stoll

      Exactly right on the 8k point… 8k resolution is 7680×4320… So how they are getting away with claiming 8k when the headsets total resolution is only 7680×2160 is pretty much false advertising. It’s like saying 3840×1080 is 4k…. complete BS. And I’m surprised the author of this article didn’t bring it up.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        Well technically 3840×1080 is 4K in horizontal resolution… 4K doesn’t really say anything, UHD says something..

      • Jonttu Palomaki

        And if you want to get really technical about it, we can talk about how 3840×2160 isn’t really 4K either. Remember that vertical fov is smaller than horizontal, it doesn’t really matter, but yeah you’re right it’s not really 8K in semantic marketing terms.

      • MainFragger

        Random seque: Just think..TV resolution was the same for over 50 years..and in 10 years, it went up to 2K, 4K and 8K the resolution is roughly 108 times better than than standard resolution. (not even taking the interlaced vs. non-interlaced into account).

    • Psycold

      Reminds me of when I started seeing 4k 60″ TV’s at Wal-Mart for $400. I knew something had to be wrong there.

    • William Wallace
      www(dot)mtbs3d(dot)com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=140&t=19834 applehmd

  • guest2

    “Brain-warp”, “timewarp”, “spacewarp”… all these buzzwords. It’s going to become a standard for naming a reprojection technique, isn’t it?

    • benz145

      They’re all different… so probably not.

    • No one(at least consumers) knows what any of that crap means, anyway :)

  • davo

    I own a Rift and Vive and have bought and tested both the Pimax 4K and the new 3glasses S1. These Chinese made headsets are absolute junk compared to the Rift. I can gaurentee you’ll feel like throwing the thing out the window after just 10 minutes of use

    • Ran Björnelid

      So let me get this straight–you have **not** tried this 8K headset, yet, here are you are, making guarantees on how people are going to throw out a headset because it’s Chinese (or for whatever reason), even though you haven’t tried it?

      Why should we take your statement seriously? I suggest that next year, you pony up and go to CES, try the stuff out like I did (including the Pimax 8K), and then we can have a discussion.

      Please don’t offer sweeping statements that are not anchored in facts, you are not helping anyone.

      • 1kakje

        Would you recommend this 8k headset for movies (in like a theatre mode) and 360 videos? If it is than I will definitely keep an eye on this product. :)

      • davo

        I know because I own their products. The Pimax P1 and 3glasses S1 both claim to be next generation technological advanced headsets where In fact they are complete rubbish in every detail. I did try tge 8k at CES and it looked terrible. There is not one good review about the pimax P1 or this “8k” sample. The only thing these company’s specialise in is false advertising

        • REP

          Explain why it is terrible. Go into details, otherwise…it’s just words.

          • hmm

            Throwing out the important VR innovations that have set the current benchmark for user experience in order to make a quick buck – I would say that’s a problem, or at very least not worthy of any praise. This isn’t moving VR forward at all because there’s precisely zero new knowledge being generated in the process. It’s an exercise in productization and marketing, not engineering, and isn’t a pathway to anything worth having.

            Using bigger screens with higher resolution doesn’t actually address any of the engineering problems that real VR R&D teams are facing right now. We need more FOV, which is currently constrained by display tech, optics and overall ergonomics. We need more resolution, which is currently constrained by rendering power, OLED panel availability, and communication bandwidth.

            How did Pimax make a “4K” HMD when everyone else did not? By not actually running it at 4K, and by using an LCD panel while ignoring refresh rate or full persistence concerns.

            How is Pimax delivering an “8K” HMD? By calling a pair of 4K screens 8K, by throwing ergonomics out the window, using LCD panels again, and using a 90s era alternating stereo output and calling it “brain-warp” as if it’s something new.

            Do these pseudo-products better inform us as VR enthusiasts? No. Does it drive innovation forward for VR companies? No. Does this get us to the promised land of full-FOV, retinal-level resolution anymore quickly? No.

        • Jonttu Palomaki

          um, if you owned or even remotely tried the Pimax “”4K”” you would know the name cause it’s practically adorned on every inch of their fucking forum and you misspelled it twice. I doubt you’ve ever tried any headset. Get the hell out of here you bottom feeder.

          • Chucksta

            I question the validity of davo’s statement re the Pimax 4K. I have one and it’s damn good, but then I have not tried any other HMD.

            I have 3 issues with the headset:
            1) FOV is too small for me, but I have a larger range of view than most people
            2) The filters make it too dark in some games
            3) There’s no padding on the nose area, which makes it uncomfortable at times.

            Judging by the review, the darkness issue will exist in the 8K :(

            Other than that, the 4K is great :-)

            I am at the this moment in time, bidding on Ebay for a Rift and a Vive, as I want to see for myself how they truly compare.

            If trustworthy reviews come out for the 8K that show it to be well worth buying, I will buy it for sure :-)
            Otherwise, hopefully next gen Rift or Vive will be more to my liking.

    • victor

      Not according to this guy who actually owns CV1 too. He finds the Pimax 4K a league above CV1 (except for positional tracking):

      • Chucksta

        Yeah, it’s damn good in Elite Dangerous :-)

        I’ve put in a silly amount of hours in ED and NoLimits Rollercoaster.

        But there are 2 issues with ED VR:
        1) The smaller text on the side panels is hard to make out
        2) The filters make things hard to see at range, as they create a darker game than usual. This is not really much of an issue in ED, but I have found it to be so in other games, although admittedly mostly non VR ones using VorpX to make them playable in VR

        Elite Dangerous VR is absolutely awesome :-)

        But we need next gen VR, really

        True 4K per eye
        Larger FOV (110 is too small for me)
        Decent FPS/Hz

  • ChinaBob

    I viewed the 8K unit and it preformed well. While I was at the booth
    some heavy hitters form Disney and others companies commented on how
    much they like the 4K model and the 8K was very impressive.The Pimax VR
    Rep.mentioned that this was a prototype the final product will be
    refined. I ordered the 4K hooking it up on Sunday.

    Hey Davo not to burst your Rift bubble But all this technology is made in China!

    • Vae

      But not designed in China.

    • davo

      Yes they are all made in China but the company that designed them is not Chinese with Chinese business standards. Support when buying these products is nonexistent. They dont understand detailed questions and give generic answers. If your products arrive faulty you have no chance of a refund or replacement because they dont fall under normal consumer rights gaurentees because guess what? They’re in China with your money and they couldn’t care less

      • Jonttu Palomaki

        I give you that on return policy, but the support has been pretty strong for the past 2 months. People have made many requests and had them filled.

  • wowgivemeabreak

    I like this and am giddy for increased FOV and resolution with OLED screens in the next gen headsets.

    • What about HDR?

    • Schorsch

      Everyone is giddy for this and rest assured the makers of HMDs, Oculus, Vive etc. sure as well. Except that for proper VR it simply needs more than higher reso and bigger FOV. And then of course there must be hardware (and new rendering tech) which can actually drive such resolutions at reasonably fast rates. No problems for “watching movies”…but good luck driving 8K for a game and then have consistent 90 FPS. This hardware simply doesn’t exist yet.

  • DaKangaroo

    2 x 4K screens side by side is not 8k. 8k would be 4 x 4K screens arranged together in a rectangle.

    Also the lack of brightness is probably due to their ‘trick’ of displaying an image in each eye. One eye is seeing black, the other eye is seeing a screen, so the overall mix of the two is a half brightness screen.

    Which leaves my mind asking all kinds of problems, like, ‘what if the user closes one of their eyes?’. Like say, if they were aiming down the barrel of a gun?

    I don’t know, I’d rather just two 90Hz 4k screens, eye tracking, and foveated rendering.

    Or, if this generation of hardware can’t handle two 4k resolution images rendered at 90fps, go slightly lower resolution. The Vive was 1080×1200, and had pentile subpixel arrangement. Just increasing the resolution to say, 1600×1800, and using RGB subpixel arrangement would be a significant improvement in terms of overall image quality.

    • Uyen Do

      4x 1080 =4k
      2x 2k = 4k
      2x 4k = 8k
      4x 4k = 16k

      Simple Math

      • DaKangaroo

        Er. No.

        2k/4k/8k all refer to horizontal screen resolution. 720/1080/2160 refer to vertical screen resolution. Industry prefers horizontal now because it’s a larger number for marketing purposes.

        2k/1080p (same thing) = 1920×1080
        4k = 3840×2160
        8k = 7680×4320

        2 x 4k screens side by side is only 7680×2160.

        2 x 2k screens side by side is only 3840×1080.

  • Raphael

    Isn’t it a case of trying to run before we can walk? Pie max… Foveated rendering? No foveated rendering so it’s pretty much useless at such high res?

  • victor

    I’m just glad FOV is being tackled. For me it is one of the biggest issue in my CV1 aside from res and smearing in dark scenes.

  • Luis Miguel Pinto Gonçalves

    This discussion about who’s the best (or the worst) is a pure nonsense. The VR industry is still young and needs as many players as possible to support its development. Who is the best? Oculus? Vive? Pimax? PSVR? Fove? How important is today? What counts today is to have the greatest possible activity and players dare to take risks. When the technology has reached a certain maturity, then this question will make more sense …

    • JeySigma

      I know your comment is half a year old, but it’s very well said man!
      competition does drive things forward, and we do need that to get VR into later stages (and better, full games too!)

      • Dave Graham

        I want every company and their dogs pushing the tech and thinking outside the box. The more the merrier and better for us hungry consumers.

  • Sin Lee

    Calling this VR set 8K is false advertising. This headset is more accurately represented of a true UltraHD (4K) VR display head set at 3840×2160 resolution per eye. For this to be an 8K VR Head set, it need to provide 7680×4320 resolution per eye.

    Their Pimax 4K VR headset is also falsely represented. As it’s 1920×2160 per eye. Should be called Pimax 2K FHD+ VR.

  • Schorsch

    The big guys might learn from this,
    Really? You assume that Vive/Oculus haven’t considered higher resolution and then the drawbacks? Who would even be able to render 8k, without required tech like FOVeated rendering etc. which would help decrease demands on GPUs. Who would want to actually *PLAY* with these things without positional tracking and abysmal hertz, it’s 60hz. It’s a nice “porn 3D movie viewer”, this is how I see it, and nothing more. Even the reviewer said he couldn’t actually get presence, despite the high FOV and oh-so-.great 8K resolution.

  • Having an image rapidly alternate between one eye and the other doesn’t sound like healthy thing to me, it only looks fine because your brain is fucking awesome at what it does. There is no natural scenario where you would be exposed to alternating images like that and i could see it totally fucking with your eyes in no time. Sketchy like those 3d televisions that give senior citizens strokes.

  • impurekind

    It’s not quite there yet . . . but it’s certainly coming in the very near future. . . .