At CES 2017 Panasonic showed off a new VR headset prototype with a 220 degree FOV derived from four displays and a rather unique set of lenses. I was able to try the headset myself, and while it seemed that there’s certainly still work to be done, there might be some merit to their method.

The headset—which is actually quite compact for the provided field of view—uses four individual displays (two per eye) each at 1600×1440, for a total resolution of 6400×1440. In order to add peripheral vision, they’re using two lenses which are fused together to make one lens per eye. The lenses seem to be a combination of traditional aspheric and Fresnel optics.

The horizontal field of view was among the widest I’ve seen in any VR headset, including StarVR, but the vertical field of view was lower, almost distractingly so. In addition, the physical fusion between the lenses was imperfect, resulting in high distortion and warping along the vertical seams where they met. If I made sure the IPD and tilt were adjusted right, and viewed a VR scene without moving my head, they almost seemed to vanish, but immediately became noticeable and distracting again once I began to move my head. The distortion profile for warping the image to match the lenses also appeared slightly wrong (or perhaps is just very difficult to achieve with fused lenses like this), which prevented me from being immersed. There was also some latency to the head tracking which further threw things off, but as a prototype headset I wasn’t too concerned about the head tracking latency.

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panosonic vr headset 220 degrees (4)

With that said, the horizontal field of view was still interesting to see, and unlike other high FOV headsets I’ve tried, like the StarVR and Pimax 8K, this headset actually had a decent amount of binocular overlap (the regions of your vision which both eyes can see), meaning that it didn’t feel as much like I had a blinder in between my eyes. That may be one of the advantages to their approach, not to mention achieving a fairly compact form-factor.

panosonic vr headset 220 degrees (2)Getting a high FOV without extremely expensive and complex optics, optics with many artifacts and even more distortion, and other problems, has shown to be a challenge. High FOV headsets that use only two screens like the StarVR and Pimax 8K have shown that distortion and artifacts are harder to deal with at such a high FOV, and that binocular overlap is challenging to get higher. Since they’re probably already pushing the panels as physically close together as possible, the only way to increase binocular overlap would be to increase the magnification of the lenses, which could then mean increasing the intensity and amount of artifacts and distortion. Without a more novel approach or breakthrough in optics, it’d be hard to get around those problems.

That’s where Panasonic’s approach might help. By using two displays of differing angles, it’s easier to create higher magnification optics, but since they’re not using displays that actually bend, they have to fuse the separate displays and optics together, which then results in problems of distortion and warping that this prototype has demonstrated. If they can somehow fuse the optics together perfectly without the distortion at the seam, and without a visible physical seam in the display itself, then it might just be a viable solution to high FOV VR, but that’s a big “if”. In the future it may be easier to develop such a system with a curved display instead of two individual displays per eye, but that’s likely to bring its own challenges.

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The Panasonic headset also had an interesting mounting system which didn’t use any over-the-head straps, but rather some folding arms which clamped behind your head. It didn’t seem exceedingly comfortable, but as Panasonic says this headset is intended for enterprise purposes, it’s likely designed to go on and off the head quickly. We’d also guess the same reason for the choice of bone-conduction headphones, which vibrate near your ear to produce sound rather than going on or over your ear. That would leave the user’s ears wide open to hear colleagues outside of the headset.

panosonic vr headset 220 degrees (1)Panasonic’s goals for this headset so far are in the business, training, education, medical, and professional markets. The company says they’re to ship in 2018, but it’s clear there’s much more work to be done between now and then to make this headset more than a prototype.

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  • VirtualBro

    This looks amazing! I can’t wait to try out a consumer version of it someday

  • Walextheone

    Maby the higher FOV is harder to obtain than we all thought. I hope for at least 120+ deg in 2nd gen of the Oculus / Vive HMD.

    • OgreTactics

      Are you fucking kidding me? Panasonic just DEMONSTRATED a working version of it, for the sole purpose of proving it’s already possible the matter now being design and optimisation. People like you are the reason why VR’s death is pending on it’s head for this cycle.

      • Walextheone

        Nah definitely not. Why are you so aggresive in your tone man? Nothing in my post could really deserve it.
        Anyhow what they showed is that is incredible hard to pull off without a lot of artifacts. If it was easy do right it would be without faults right?
        I’m pretty sure we will see this perfected in a couple of years but there are right now some key technolgies that need mature to really work.

        OFC I wish us all to get 220 FOV but managing expatation and also being a realist about how stuff works. Augmented reality are even further away 40-60 degrees FOV…

        – Lenses without too much god rays / screen door effects or big problems in distortions as the editor reported
        – Eyetracking / FOVE:ated rendering to be able to show 4x the amount of pixels.

        • OgreTactics

          I reacted to the fact that in front of a concrete demonstration of the maximum FOV possible, you are making an arguably false contradictory statement that this is harder to obtain (even though they’re the first one, in early 2017, to have done it) and then went on settling for a ridiculous and problematic 120° FOV even though Oculus/HTC are the one holding VR back because it’s more profitable despite their R&D budget and the numerous solution already existing for higher FOV (the BozoVR, a cheap korean mobile VR HMD has a 120° FOV thanks to anamorphic lenses for example).

  • El_MUERkO

    THIS! I WANT THIS BAD!

    FOV is a weakness that I hope to see resolved soon, the wider the better!

    • James Friedman

      I agree, I hate feeling like I’m looking through a porthole on a ship. I want this sooner than higher res screens.

      • victor

        Same here !
        Can’t wait for higher FOV!!

    • Ned Hoon

      I 100% agree the wider the FOV the deeper the immersion imo.

  • George Vieira IV

    No mention of eye tracking. Running that kind of resolution at a decent frame rate without foveated rendering seems unlikely.

    Also Does it actually have less vertical FOV than other headsets, or does it just seem that way do to the extreme difference between vertical and horizontal?

  • DaKangaroo

    Can’t they just smooth out that transition between the fused lens a bit to get rid of that line? If they could do that, it would be perfect.

  • NooYawker

    I’m both happy and sad that so many companies are pushing VR forward so quickly. Happy because I love VR and love to see it getting better. Sad because my very expensive Vive may become obsolete fairly quickly. It’s like my first computer. Paid $3000 and it was obsolete months after I got it when the pentium was released.

    • In this case, be proud as you helped VR get off the ground. Exciting tech will always be out of date the moment you buy it as there is always something just around the corner. There must be 30 or so HMD’s in development at the moment so the next generation will have the exact same dilemma you are having. And if you sell you only lose half the cost not all of it.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Don’t count on your vive becoming obsolete this year, and you’re still able to use it the coming years, the newer headsets will be just as expensive, so you propably can sell your vive to someone who doesn’t have the money to buy a new one..

    • OgreTactics

      Well you experimented VR early enough. It was obsolete as it was released because it was badly conceived (which I only realised when I set a first one at my agency and then couldn’t sell ONE project to brands because how messy and bulky it’s system is).

      • muchrockness

        I measure the obsolescence of a product by how much worth it has to me as a consumer. The people you’re targeting want the most exposure possible for their brand. That’s a different criteria altogether.

  • V.

    Curved displays solved all these problems years ago. Lens are causing history to repeat itself!

    • Armando Tavares

      Great minds….. :)

  • Armando Tavares

    Curved displays are already a reality. Why not using something along those lines to simulate wider FOV?

    • Kyle Biggs

      The problem isn’t the displays, it’s the optics. Try to imagine a magnifying glass that is curved, but creates no distortion. It’s not impossible, just really difficult to pull off.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        Wouldn’t it be possible to counter the distortion through the image that is shown, just like they do/did on the older DK1/2 (but with another distortion).

        • Kyle Biggs

          I’m sure it would be possible, but I imagine the distortion would be much more complex. Current HMDs apply a very simple distortion that can be done with a single shader (and very few instructions). The distortion just falls off from the center (or inward from the sides). If you add a second layer of convolution, you need to develop that anti-distortion effect as well as apply it to every frame (Twice!) at very high resolution.

          I am not an optics expert, but that sounds like a tough problem to solve. Again, probably not impossible though.

          • Fredz

            The distortion function doesn’t change over time though, so you could simply implement it with a look-up table. I think the biggest challenge is in the lens design but there has been good advancements in this field recently (Oculus hybrid Fresnel, Wereality Sky dual Fresnel, eMagin IHMD pancake optics, Sensics dual aspheres, etc.).

  • HopscotchInteractive

    That’s the way to do it, replace the foam for probably a few bucks and have a huge increase in the FOV. Good job!

  • Andrew Jakobs

    How about using a curved ‘projection screen’ and use 2 or 3 micro DLP projectors. I know the headset would be bigger on the upperside, but with a construction like the old VFX-1 it shouldn’t be a problem. Our dolby cinema theatre has a curved wall which is projected on by multiple projectors, and you don’t see the seem.. I wouldn’t mind having a ‘lower’ resolution but a much higher FOV..

    • Fredz

      > and use 2 or 3 micro DLP projectors

      DLP is a no-go for VR because they are color-sequential, explained in details here : http://blogs.valvesoftware.com/abrash/why-virtual-isnt-real-to-your-brain-judder/

      But I also think that a curved display could be a better solution than tiled displays.

      • Andrew Jakobs

        It being a no-go is ofcourse nonsense, it all depends on how fast you can display the different colors. Just look at the glyph (which at the moment still has a crap FOV, but even at the MUCH lower resolution it has a much better visual (far less screendoor and a more smooth picture).. Also just look at the following from TI themselves: http://www.ti.com/lit/wp/dlpa051/dlpa051.pdf

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Now that’s a good tip.. why htc didn’t do it themselves is beyond me, it’s propably even cheaper.

    • VRgameDevGirl

      And it’s more comfortable and made of a fake leather material that can be wiped down with alcohol wipes. Great for sharing. It was $30 for 2

  • OgreTactics

    This is great that they showed that this was possible (even if obviously that’s not going to be the solution).

    I think that FOV is way more of a problem than resolution…it might even be a bigger problem that design in the usability of VR headsets.

  • brubble

    Call me in 5 years…when VR has stopped crapping its diapers.

  • Chippah

    That scuba google rubber gasket is sure going to help with the sweat problem.. ugh.

  • q23main

    Wow, i just had an epiphany! And i’m calling it:
    When flexible displays will hit the market in upcoming years those Panasonic HMDs (and others) will implement it. No need for 2 displays at an angle, just one bent display!
    The lens would have to be then of some crazy shape, but it could (??) be 3d printed.
    I have a feeling this might work.

    • q23main

      lol, should have read all the comments before posting mine ;) Armando Tavares (http://disq.us/p/1f82y41) already called it.

  • JustNiz

    Speaking as a vive owner, I think by far the biggest problem with VR headsets is the use of Fresnel lenses and the low quality image/unavoidable nasty banding they cause. I’m actually very disappointed that no-one has already come out with a kit for the Vive to replace the Fresnel lenses with more expensive conventional lenses.
    I really hope that people just dont grow to quietly accept Fresnel lenses and their inherent problems as the unavoidable norm in VR headsets (kinda like the same way that Microsoft Windows set the quality bar so low that most people now just incorrectly believe that its actually normal for all software to be awkward, insecure and buggy).

  • Rafał Komarnicki

    120′ of FOV will do the job. the problem sits elswhere