We learned last week that PSVR 2 will use Fresnel lenses, which have a range of advantages over traditional lenses, but also come with a big downside: god rays. However, Sony may have a trick up its sleeve that could give the headset’s Fresnel lenses a big advantage over the competition.

As we explained last week with the revelation about PSVR 2’s lenses, every major consumer VR headset on the market has moved to Fresnel lenses, but they unfortunately come with one major downside and that is ‘god rays’. This is a visual artifact that’s especially prominent with high-contrast elements (like white text on a black background) which appears to show streaks of light radiating outward from the center of the lens. This is a lens-dependent issue; no matter how much resolution you pack into the display or what kind of display you’re using, the image will always be negatively impacted by god rays.

A comparison between a Fresnel lens (1) and a traditional lens (2). The Fresnel lens has the same overall curvature but in a more compact package.

The industry at large has leaned into Fresnel lenses seemingly because they offer greater flexibility for optical designs that are light and compact. High-end optical systems (like the lens of a DSLR) often stack multiple lens elements in a row to achieve the desired optical characteristics, but this has been largely avoided for VR headsets due to the additional cost, complexity, and size that can come with multi-element optics.

Are we forever doomed to suffer god rays in VR headsets with Fresnel lenses? Maybe not. And PlayStation 2 might be the first headset to truly address the problem.

A patent granted to Sony in 2020 proposes a “method of manufacturing the Fresnel lens which can suppress [god rays] […].”

The patent describes adding a “light absorbing portion” to the surfaces of the Fresnel lens that don’t actually contribute to the overall shape of the lens (the back-side of the ridges). This would, in theory, reduce god rays by preventing light from being scattered by those parts of the lens. The patent shows several arrangements for the light absorbing portion, both on the surface of the lens and embedded within it.

If you’ve ever seen a Fresnel lens in a modern VR headset then you know how tiny the ridges of the lens can be. Placing a light absorbing material only on those parts of the lens that are undesirably would understandably be difficult.

HP’s Reverb G2 headset; zoom way in to spot the tiny Fresnel ridges in the lens | Photo by Road to VR

Sony’s patent proposes several different methods for manufacturing such a lens. One of which involves applying a ‘mask’ (which blocks light) over the entire lens surface, and then, using some kind of exposure technique, removing only portion where light is desired to pass through.

Another method proposes starting with the light absorbing material already shaped and then forming the lens around it so that the ridges align just right with the light absorbing structure.

It’s an interesting idea and, to our knowledge, not one that’s been employed in a VR headset yet.

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As ever, big companies like Sony file lots of patents and many of them never become products. There’s no telling whether the methods described are even practical for mass manufacturing. So it’s tough to say if this might end up in PSVR 2, but the option is on the table.

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At a minimum we at least know that Sony filed the patent with VR headsets in mind. While this patent could easily apply to the company’s many other optics-related business interests—they make their own high-end cameras and lenses, after all— this patent was specifically filed by Sony Interactive Entertainment, the division of the company responsible for PlayStation. What’s more, the patent specifically mentions using two Fresnel lenses in front of a display for use in a “head mounted display.”

It’s unlikely that we’ll get any more details on PSVR 2’s lenses before the company reveals the final design, which is expected sometime this year.

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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."
  • brandon9271

    I hate fresnel lenses and really hope there’s an HMD available without them soon. I’ll never buy fresnel lenses again unless this Sony patent works

    • Arturs Gerskovics

      I am kinda with you but still, it will be hard not to the get the latest Sony vr module. Just thinking of all the experiences there makes me salivate with or without the fresnel lenses.

    • akira kawatech

      Same. Love the visual purity of PSVR. Death to godrays.

  • sfmike

    So disappointed as fresnel lens suck.

    • Jistuce

      And this patent is a way to make fresnel lenses suck less. How is that disappointing?

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    Very wild speculation, but this may be one of the reasons why the PSVR2 will have continuous hardware IPD adjustment, compared to fixed lens positions on PSVR 1 or stepped settings on the Quest 2.

    A lot of what they’ve announced so far hints that the PSVR 2 hardware itself is designed to be rather cheap to produce, while adding hardware IPD adjustment adds costs. The single display/software only IPD adjustment on both the PSVR 1 and the Rift S (also using Fresnel lenses) left out users with extreme high or low IPD, but reduced complexity and costs. So there must be a reason why Sony took the more expensive road, and it might be these glare reducing lenses, which would be sensitive to gaze direction.

    If for example they put the light absorbing portion inside the lens or covered the whole lens with a masks blocking the ridge edge sections (which would mean a lot of concentric circles), the masking has to be exactly aligned with the ridge. And as there would be a small distance between the two, this would require placing the lens at exactly the right position in front of each eye.

    Software IPD adjustment wouldn’t work, as this only moves the two images on the display closer or further apart, the user still looks through a different part of the lens with a slightly different gaze direction. So you’d see one set of concentric circles from the ridges overlaid by a slightly shifted second set from the mask. This could create some very annoying Moiré pattern distortions, plus again god rays from the not fully masked edges. With its cameras for eye tracking the PSVR 2 can measure the exact IPD for each user and then ask them to adjust the lenses manually with the IPD wheel on the HMD until the lenses are perfectly aligned with the eyes.


    • benz145

      Good points, I’m curious how misalignment would impact the visuals. It might be close enough and fine enough that you wouldn’t be able to see the mask (same way that you can’t ‘see’ the Fresnel ridges when you’re looking through them, but I’m not sure.

    • Erilis

      I have pretty strong astigmatism, my eyes would never exactly align on a ridge… well, unless each eye would separately adjust it’s ipd. I don’t notice it generally on headsets with large sweetspot

  • This would be a very cool technology to add for the psvr2 headset