Nearly two years ago, Wearality created a unique Fresnel lens for VR headsets offering a claimed 150 degree field of view. The company successfully funded a VR viewer featuring the lens called Wearality Sky through Kickstarter. The company recently revealed a new and improved lens, but this time around they intend to act as a supplier rather than directly selling a viewer to consumers.

While at VRTO in June, I met with David A. Smith, the CTO and founder of Wearality. Smith showed me a prototype of the new lens the company is developing. Just from holding it, it was clear that it was extremely thin and light, significantly thinner than the lenses found in tethered VR headsets today. The lens is even thinner than a quarter.

A thinner lens means less weight, but Wearality also says that the optical properties of the lens can create much smaller headsets. One of the main reasons why today’s headsets are so big is because the lenses typically need to be a significant distance from the screen in order to focus the screen properly for your eye. With Wearality’s lens, I observed that it only required somewhere around a finger’s thickness in distance between the lens and the screen for proper focus. This could enable a headset form-factor that’s closer to the size of ski goggles, which would be a big step forward over today’s headsets.

Still, the image through the lens needs to look good, otherwise everything else is pointless. To investigate that, I held up the lens up in front of my smartphone. The lens wasn’t built into a VR viewer, so the conditions were a little shaky and unreliable, but what I saw was very promising.

Wearality Sky viewer with the company’s prior lenses | Photo by Road to VR

When we saw the company’s prior Wearality Sky lenses, we noticed that trade-offs were necessary in order to reach the very high FOV in a thin lens. The trade-off was mainly that we got a ‘god ray’ artifact common in the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but perhaps to an even harsher degree. This effect comes as an artifact of having Fresnel ridges. There was also a sort of interference pattern that emerged from the ridges, manifesting as concentric rings in the view. In the new lens, I saw little of these fresnel artifacts in comparison the Sky. In comparison to the Rift and Vive, it seemed about the same amount or less. When considering chromatic aberration, spherical aberration, and other effects, the visuals didn’t seem worse than what was in the Sky, at least to my eyes. But the clarity still felt a bit lacking in a way that I couldn’t quite pinpoint at the time. It might have been due to a smaller eyebox (or ‘sweet spot’) which I couldn’t align with very carefully given that I was holding the lens and display by hand.

It’s early to say without more careful testing, but if what I saw turns out to be representative of the lens’ performance in a VR headset, producing a lens that’s almost a straight upgrade from the company’s previous lens is impressive.

What Smith tells us is that they’ve learned from their previous design, and that their new ‘single lens’ naturally eliminates most of the Fresnel artifacts by not having light bounce around inside what would otherwise be a two element lens (the Sky’s lenses were designed like two lenses in one). But according to common logic, that should produce other problems since now we’re relying on a single lens to do all the magnification and focusing. Smith however teases that they have another way of fixing aberrations that he couldn’t disclose.

Maybe the flat shape of the lens has something to do with their secret sauce, but in any case, another aspect of this lens that needs to be taken into account is that it necessarily magnifies the image even more than the previous lenses. With my smartphone’s screen, the size of the lens itself limited the FOV rather than the display. At the same time, the pixels appeared horrifically huge, so we’ll need a display that’s better optimized in size and resolution for these lenses. Perhaps microdisplays would fit well.

Kopin's 'Elf' Headset is Impressively Compact, More Than 3x the Pixels of Rift and Vive

Wearality’s latest lens seems to be an impressive development that could be a significant step forward, but there are still many questions left on the table before we can be sure. Since they’re only developing it for potential business partners, there are no guarantees if we’ll even see it as consumers. We can only hope that the lens, or something better, will appear in the next gen consumer headsets. And hopefully, this development signals that next gen headsets will be notably slimmer than they are today.

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  • “The trade-off was mainly that we got a ‘god ray’ artifact common in the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive”

    Companies need to learn this is not acceptable… The difference in eye strain going between the PSVR and Rift is noticeable, and it’s near impossible to watch more than 30 minutes of video or use a virtual desktop for long periods on the Rift, entirely because of the glare. I will take comfortable vision over headset size every time.

    • Icebeat

      I will take comfortable and small headset.

      • There’s no point in being small and comfortable if you can’t actually put the product to use.

    • Cl

      At least this is a step in the right direction… That quote was about the first version. They said this version has the same or less amount of artifacts as rift and vive. So, same or less arrifacts while being thinner and higher fov.

    • brandon9271

      I’m with you there. There’s physical comfort and then there is optical comfort. I want higher resolution, less artifact and higher FOV. I think most people will get fatigue from eye strain and vision artifact WAY before they notice any fatigue from the weight of the HMD.

    • Nimso Ny

      I really don’t understand the fuss.
      I can watch a full Marvel movie on my Rift with no eye strain, and I am shortsighted and use a Rift DK2 (yeah, the 1080p, 75Hz one)

      On the other hand the weight of the headset on my nose bridge is especially a problem. I’ve been contemplating making an elastic cable that pulls the headset up slightly for when I watch movies since that’s my only real issue.

      I’m personally making a walking based locomotion system and even then I have no real problem with the tether either!

      • You realize your dk2 doesn’t have Fresnel lenses, right (unless you replaced them with a third party set)? It doesnt have the glare of a normal rift. This is the whole reason a lot of dk2 owners complained about the commercial model.

        If anything, you are proving my point. What you describe is why I prefer the psvr headset for video (also, doesn’t put pressure on your face, though does make your forehead sweaty :-) )

        • Nimso Ny

          Man, you just made me less likely to upgrade to a CV1… oh wait, I was never going to do that anyway. (SteamVR and openness is what I need for development)

          I’m all up for better quality but I think this is really pushing towards the future of VR, if the article’s being accurate about a 1 finger depth between the lens and screen we’re talking about devices that are nearly the depth of normal glasses, and that really is an achievement!

          You’re absolutely correct in that we should never jump back in terms of quality though, I can only hope that these lenses inspire something similar in linear, non-fresnel lenses later down the line.

          Right now, I think they should probably be working on better hand controllers (seriously, we need more buttons!) and wireless systems.

          • Mr. New Vegas

            VIVE has the same horrible Fresnel lenses that RIFT does, both models have identical issues: God rays, screen door and low resolution because they use identical lenses and identical AMOLED displays.

          • Nimso Ny

            Based on what you’re saying the current Consumer Editions of both the best(?) devices available have the same problem that you would get from these lenses.
            Except that these would make the screen depth incredibly short.

            Well then I go back to my first point, this is still much better than anything currently available.

            Or am I missing something?

            (I would only know for sure if I could test all of the devices myself, something that the manufacturers should easily be able to do anyway)

          • Mr. New Vegas

            Check PSVR, thats how you do first gen VR, its somewhat limited by its platform and controllers, but not the display.

            It uses real OLED screen and has no screen door effect, and it uses normal lenses, so it has no god ray effect.

            If you go read about Pentile AMOLED that used in Rift/Vive, its cheap economic mobile technology that has 33% less subpixels compared to standard RGB, 8 subpixels for 12.

            If you do the math, count all the subpixels per screen, than PSVR with its actual lower resolution, has higher pixel density than Rift/Vive.



    • NooYawker

      Yea, a lot is taken away when you watch a block buster movie in a virtual HUUUGE screen but see god ray reflections and screen door effects.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    I’d rather have thicker lenses and heavier headsets but better visuals with wider FOV, than having godrays etc.

    • impurekind

      Yeah, I’d also rather have slightly larger headsets, which isn’t something that particularly bothers me, with wider FOV and no god rays over a smaller headset with a smaller FOV and god rays.

      If we can get completely wireless headsets with high quality inside-out tracking and a field of view near 200 and now god rays then I’ll be very happy.

      • Richard

        You got it wrong. Smaller headsets have wider FOV. Focal length is distance from the screen. Shorter focal length =

        higher magnification.

  • DaKangaroo

    Looking forward to the day when VR headsets may be as thin and lightweight as a pair of aviator sunglasses.

  • Konchu

    Lot of hate on the Fresnel Lenses here, though not perfect I think both my Vive and Rift have been great even with these I do like the cleanness of the PSVR’s none Fresnel Lenses but I personally welcome these innovations to lenses. I am not going to say I haven’t had annoyances with God Rays, Vive definitely seems worse that Rift to me here. But normally when it is at its worse is when devs over saturate bright White etc and can be limited greatly in design. I wonder if things like anti reflective coatings could help here too.

    No pun intended but I think Fresnel lenses may be more Flexible especially for field of view. Pair a curved screen with a curved Fresnel and I bet we could get a good full perceptible field of view. Screens will need be a little wider to match this.

    • Nimso Ny

      About the over-saturated whites statement you made.

      I’ve been a game dev for quite some years now, just to throw in my 2 cents (or pennies, I’m british),

      It’s actually important to use different white levels when working with things like VR.
      I would personally suggest using the absolute entirety of the brightness range of the screen when developing for VR, as it’s important to make things feel more real.

      Simple example, a Bright Bulb in a Dark Room should just be as bright as your screen can get, your eyes should do the adjusting, not the effects (I tend to avoid much HDR Tonemapping and dumb down the Bloom when developing VR)

      Hopefully this can help you to understand why a dev might choose to really go crazy with the brightness range on white areas, it’s really unfortunately that the contrast between dark and light causes these god rays because of our lenses these days.

  • NooYawker

    If they still have ridges on the lenses on gen 2 VR I won’t upgrade until my present one becomes completely obsolete and unable to play any new software. A lot is forgivable on gen 1 devices but not gen 2.

    • Nimso Ny

      I use the Rift Dev Kit 2, and I’m still perfectly content with it’s capabilities!

      Though Oculus really isn’t happy about it!

      • NooYawker

        If I had the dev kit I wouldn’t have bought the gen 1 hardware either.

  • RockstarRepublic

    I love my vive but the lens they use are extremely distracting. I hate noticing the rings, a problem I do not have with the PSVR.

  • SandmaN

    Yep, this is a perfect example of one step forward and 3 steps back.

  • Still not good, then… but seeing that they’ve improved them a lot makes me think optimistically for the next gen…

    • Nimso Ny

      I dream of the day when I can just wear VR headsets exactly like my normal prescription glasses, no hassle :D

  • Austin

    I just love how the lenses look. There is something hypnotic about them lol