Great Graphics Heighten Immersion

Photo by Road to VR

And then there’s the content. Without incredibly high fidelity content, high pixel counts in VR headsets go underutilized. We see this often on mobile VR headsets, like Gear VR, where many applications render to a sub-optimal frame buffer in order to keep the application running at the right level of performance. The result is a virtual view which actually looks worse than what we see in a high-end headset like the Rift, even though Gear VR has a higher resolution. But some applications take full advantage of Gear VR’s pixels and the results can be really impressive (check out Oculus 360 Photos for one example).

Photo by Road to VR

Starbreeze made a smart acquisition of Nozon last year, a company which is developing a method for rendering film-quality visuals for VR which, unlike 360 video content, allows for 6DOF positional tracking and proper stereoscopy. Essentially they’re able to render the same level of detail in both geometry and lighting that you’d expect out of a pre-rendered CGI film, while retaining many of the benefits of a VR scene rendered in real-time.

Nozon took the CGI assets as-is from the independent short film Construct and rendered a short scene directly from the film for the StarVR headset. The result is a VR experience with visual fidelity that goes above and beyond anything else you’ve ever seen rendered in real-time in VR, and makes full use of StarVR’s ultra-wide field of view and massive pixel count. When I got to see this for myself I was in awe.

Between a screen door effect and pixels which are nearly invisible, the ultra-wide field of view, and content which can effectively take advantage of those elements, I felt like my head was thrust into a completely different place, far more fully than the binocular-like feeling of other high-end headsets. It was one of those moments I only rarely have in my work covering the VR industry where I think to myself ‘This is the experience we want all VR to feel like in the future’.

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Now, that’s not to say that StarVR is perfect. I have the fortune of being able to look past a number of otherwise glaring issues which I know are not major technical hurdles and will come to the headset in time.

Photo by Road to VR

For instance, the PhasesSpace-based tracking as shown at VRLA was pretty awful. Starbreeze said this was due to an issue related to RF saturation at the event and a problem with configuring the tracking system correctly. I know for a fact that the folks developing this headset know what good tracking looks like, and that PhaseSpace is capable of very good tracking; this truly was just an issue of setup. I also know that even if it wasn’t, by this point other tracking tech like SteamVR Tracking (AKA Lighthouse) is relatively easy to come by, and further, because StarVR is positioned as a B2B product, high-end tracking systems like OptiTrack are also easy enough to slap on. Starbreeze in fact plans to support various tracking systems modularly so that businesses can use whichever is best for their needs.

There was also some notable stutter and tearing seen in the Nozon demo, which I was told was due to the content having a mismatched framerate compared to the refresh rate of the display. Again, I have seen Nozon’s work over the course of development, and I know what it can look right when all the technical tidbits are toggled correctly.

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What I see—when I filter out what I know to be easy fixes of a VR headset that’s still in development—is a very promising device that’s capable of delivering a uniquely immersive VR experience, one that gives us a glimpse of what VR can and should look like in the future.

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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."
  • Xron

    The sad thing is, that we might see it only in arcades, atleast for now.

    • Dave

      Don’t be sad about that, anything that pushes technology forward I’ll take it. Besides when Sony introduced the first OLED TV (Sony XEL-1) in 2009 did you really think no one would catch on to the tech, a company called UDC had license on the original patents for the AMOLED displays… It all depends on how badly Oculus and HTC/Steam want the technology to move forward and if it was that revolutionary, then I’ll assume they would (pay) for it, otherwise they’ll probably come up with something similar anyway.

  • Gamevid4

    Great update but it is hard to get excited about this knowing it will not be available to the consumer.

    • random_name

      I think the important take away here is knowing that it’s possible for a higher field of view and high resolution.

      • Gamevid4

        Good point, I can’t wait until HTC Vive 2 or Rift 2 with hopefully similar specs mainly higher resolution. 1st day buy for me when it happens.

        • Dave

          I would caution that if I was you. It’s great the screen door effect appears to be reduced, but the resolution pixels per inch doesn’t seem to be much bigger than the Rift or Vive when talking about 210 degrees of view. Also if Vive or Rift 2.0 go down the path of wireless solutions that could all be shot to bits anyway. Personally I would rather they focused on resolution and field of view over anything else at this stage, for now I’m happy to keep my teather, it was good enough for Mr Anderson afterall…

          • Adrian Meredith

            yeah, i really don’t think the cable is that much of an issue compared to fov and resolution. I’ve been playing with bigscreen recently and its incredible. If the resolution was better i’d sell my screen entirely

      • kontis

        All it proves is that we still need huge form factor and giant screen to do wide FOV, just like 20 years ago, ie. nothing changed. Palmer made a 4 screen 270 deg prototype before the Oculus DK1. So what? It’s not feasible.

        • dsadas

          and why would we need 270 degree of fov if human eye FOV is 210?

    • brandon9271

      It really is only a matter of time before we see higher resolution and FOV. There’s no way that “Rift CV2” or “Vive 2” wont have them. Wireless would be great but FOV, RES and better optics to eliminate “god rays” are at the top of my list. Oh and gloves!! I want my HANDS in VR!! We had power glove in the 80s so VR gloves should’ve been available yesterday!

      • kontis

        Are you sure? The widest FOV consumer headset so far is the Oculus DK1 released more than 4 years ago(!!!). So far all I notice is the degradation of FOV in the consumer space and all this hype for the comeback of microdisplays screams “even lower FOV soon”. How will the consumer space look in the next 4 years? Will 80 degree be the norm in the 2021 (but much higher res)? Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised.

        That brute force solution (giant headset, two huge screens) that is currently the only known way to achieve super wide fov will NEVER be used by companies like Oculus, Samsung, Microsoft, HTC, LG.

        • dsadas

          please that showing off… Of course FOV never decreases.

      • JeySigma

        gloves?? heh.. don’t you know that with Leap Motion VR, you can have 1:1 movement with your bare hands? (kinda like the Kinect, except better)
        why would anyone want gloves with technology like that.

        • brandon9271

          Leap motion has many limitations. What if you reach behind your back? Even when moving your hands in front of you, LM has a small FOV. Also, it’s pretty easy for fingers to be occluded by other fingers or other parts of the hand. Gloves have none of these issues

          • JeySigma

            Ah I see! I didnt know that. Thank you for the feedback man, helps me in future decisions.

  • Demongo

    They also make you look like the protagonist from Dead Space which is pretty cool

  • Antonio Vacos

    Great article! You also will find interesting servise here

  • Oscar Tong

    I wonder what kind of graphic card I’ll need to drive this headset

  • Mr. Goldfinger

    I was originally excited about this product. Then I heard about the really bad decision to sell this only to businesses that “offer premium VR experiences.” How long before consumer VR will offer the same or better specs than StarVR? Who wants to go to an arcade to play video games or experience VR today? We don’t have the patience to drive to a place to pay someone to let us experience “premium VR.” This company had the right ideas for the product, but a horrible idea for delivering it to the market.

  • Here’s hoping consumer headsets get this kind of field of view and resolution in the near future too.

  • Artur

    Cool! See awesome photos here:

  • Amazing review. Interesting product for B2B businesses. What will likely be its price?

  • Robert M

    The awesome photos for VR was made by famouse american photographer – Frank Cricchio. Read more about him on this website.

  • Khalietal

    we have curved monitor, edges on smartphones, why not a curved display around the wearer’s face? we know they can make them. I understand that they use already built by the tons displays for current smartphones to drop the cost but I think it would be a good idea to try the curved displays. Maybe it would make the lenses easier to design too. curved display would also help with the FOV since the screen would appear to go further on our peripheral vision.

  • William R.

    Great article! Cool photos! Visit also this website.

  • Great update however it is hard to obtain excited about this knowing it won’t be available towards the consumer.