While Sony’s HMZ-T1 and Silicon Micro Display’s ST1080 have made a major splash in the world of head mounted displays by bringing high resolution and (relatively) low cost products to market, a key issue still remains — field of view. Field of View (FoV) describes how much of your vision is taken up by a display. Increasing the FoV means that more of your vision is taken up by the display and this often leads to a much greater sense of immersion. Most of the HMDs available on the market have FoVs of 30 or 45 degress. This isn’t much different than sitting in front of an HDTV that’s across the room. However, over at the MTBS3D forum, user PalmerTech is working on a project to crowd-fund a head mounted display with an impressive (and immersive) 90 degree field of view though Kickstarter.

The Verge recently took a prototype version of the ‘Oculus Rift’ (as PalmerTech is calling it) for a test drive thanks to John Carmack (of Id fame) who has taken great interest in the project. Mainstream immersive virtual reality gaming is coming, and this might be the first big step.

John Carmack is the founder and technical director of Id Software (responsible for games such as: Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, Rage). He’s taken great interest in PalmerTech’s Oculus Rift HMD and has been working on a re-release of Doom 3 which he intends to make fully compatible for existing HMDs and high-FoV HMDs like the Oculus Rift.

Ross Miller of The Verge went to Id’s HQ to try Doom 3 BGF on a very early prototype of the Oculus Rift:

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Each of your eyes has around a 95 degree FoV (combined together you can see about 180 in front of you). An HMD with an FoV of 45 degrees would take up around 47% of your vision. This is much like sitting with a large HDTV across the room from you. The Oculus Rift has close to a 90 degree FoV which would cover almost 95% of your vision and nearly completely immerse you in the virtual world that you are looking at. While the FoV is great, the Oculus Rift is still a very early prototype and has some issues, the biggest of which is a low resolution. The display is a single 1280×800 panel which devotes half of itself to each eye — making the effective resolution 640×800 — far behind the ST1080’s 1080p displays and the HMZ-T1’s 720p OLED displays.

Carmack has been rigorously testing the Oculus Rift and mentions that, “After dialing everything in, this is by far the most immersive HMD of the five I have here. If Palmer comes close to his price target, it will also be the cheapest. I will be including full support for this in the next new PC title we release [he’s talking about Doom 3 BFG, now announced].”

This is great to hear, but of course the Oculus Rift is nothing but a prototype at this point:

This photo was posted to Carmack’s twitter sayingt: “This is a lot cooler than it looks — Palmer Luckey’s 90+ FOV HMD”

PalmerTech said back in April that he hopped to open a Kickstarter campaign starting on June 1st (tomorrow!) to fund the Oculus Rift’s production. I’m not sure whether or not it will still go live tomorrow but you can be sure that I’ll let you know if it does. Update: Palmer Luckey (AKA PalmerTech) says that the current target date for the Kickstarter is June 14th. More info here.

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By all accounts it seems as though the Oculus Rift is targeted toward hobbyists rather than mainstream consumers. PalmerTech notes that, “The display module is going to be detachable from the optics module, so you will be able to modify, replace, or upgrade your lenses in the future!” which is awesome, but obviously a bit beyond the scope of mainstream. Still, with the interest of Carmack who is now showing off the immersion that a high FoV HMD can create, this could be an important step toward seeing mainstream immersive virtual reality gaming. PalmerTech also says that he hopes to produce one version of the Oculus Rift with head tracking and one without.

As brantlew on the MTBS3D forum noted, “We’re hitting a wall of diminishing returns with graphical fidelity. Immersive gaming is the next big leap and all the necessary technology is coming together at this very moment”. I couldn’t agree more, and that’s exactly why I started this blog; all the pieces are here, we just need to bring them together. PalmerTech, Carmack, and friends, might just be intrepid enough to make it a (virtual) reality.

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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."
  • Adam

    This is really good news. I am very glad you are following this and posting about it, and I’m sure others are glad too. You’re bringing us VR enthusiasts together, so that all of these things have more impact. When that Kickstarter campaign gets started, I know you’re going to remind us all to contribute — and I know we’ll all be happy to do so. GOOD WORK!

    • Thanks Adam, I’ll definitely be tracking this one. Spread the word! The more people interested in this stuff, the sooner we’ll see it adopted! The question is really not if, but when.

  • Leonardo

    I think that 90 degrees of FoV is the total FoV of the HMD not the FoV of each eye. I think this because, as you said, most of the HMDs available on the market have FoVs of 30 to 45 degrees, but this is the total FoV. For example the Sony HMZ-T1 have a total FoV of 45 degrees (horizontal), the angle subtended by a 750-inch projection screen from 65 feet away is exactly 45 degrees.

    • Good point Leonardo. I think it depends which plane we’re talking about. Some companies actually list the FoV diagonally, while others offer vertical or horizontal. In the case of the Oculus Rift, it what has been said about it is accurate (ie: image takes up nearly your whole view), the horizontal FoV must be close to 180 degrees for both eyes. If 90 degrees was the total horizontal FoV, the image would only occupy half of your horizontal vision (and that wouldn’t be all that immersive). The only way I could make sense of the research I’ve done and the claims of the Oculus Rift is to assume that the 90 degree FoV is per eye (as each eye has around a 95 degree horizontal FoV.

      • Leonardo

        Ok so it is a good step forward. Another interesting point is the resolution. Human visual acuity is 0,015 degrees. Below this value is not possible to distinguish two different pixels. The HMD we’re talking about has a vertical resolution of 1280 pixels spread over a 180 degrees angle leads to an angular density of 0.14 degrees / px. The pixels will then be visible very well and the sensation is comparable to that of observing from a distance of 5 feet a 42 inch TV with a horizontal resolution of 246 pixels that’s almost 8 times less than a full hd tv. We need to increase in resolution. It is not necessary to have a system with a horizontal resolution of 12800 pixels because visual acuity is reduced in the peripheral visual field. You can even imagine a future HMD which has a resolution greater than this but with different pixel sizes, small in the center and large in the periphery. Or pixels of equal size but with a scaling software for the peripheral pixels in order to reduce the cost in terms of computing capacity

      • Adam

        The way the optics on the Oculus Rift work, the pixel density is already effectively lower towards the periphery. If you look at the images of the software-level correction Carmack is doing to fix the distortion from the optics, this is more obvious. Bumping up the resolution in the unit really is just a matter of shoving a higher resolution panel in there, and that’s something that just needs some time. But it’s just that, a matter of time.

    • Nahory

      As far as I can see, 90 degree is enough to fill the field of view, so with the tracking software, you can feel that you are totally in the game.

  • CityZen

    The combined horizontal FOV is definitely not 180. You have to measure the amount of overlap and factor that out. Most HMDs have close to 100% overlap, meaning if the H-FOV for one eye is 60, then the total H-FOV is 60. If you have less than 100% overlap, then it feels like you’ve got a very big nose, and one eye is blocked by that “nose” as it tries to see something in that direction. Imagine placing your hand perpendicular to your face right in front of your nose, between your eyes.

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