Germany-based startup Vality is developing a VR headset that aims to offer near-retina resolution in a compact form-factor. This week, Road to VR got an exclusive hands-on with an early prototype of the Vality headset.

Vality wants to rewrite the definition of ‘comfort’ when it comes to VR headsets by drastically reducing size and weight while delivering ultra-high resolution.

There’s a reason that even the latest generation of mass-produced VR headsets share a similar ‘box on your face’ form-factor: the use of macro-displays and relatively simple optics require that the lenses be a certain minimum distance away from the displays in order to achieve focus. This straightforward design brings low cost and a wide field of view, but makes trade-offs in size and resolution.

Vality prototype compare to the original Oculus Rift | Image courtesy Vality

Another approach—one which Vality is taking—is to employ micro-displays with more complex, high magnification optics. Doing so allows you to shorten the optical path for a more compact form-factor, while also opening the door to ultra-high resolution thanks to the pixel density of micro-displays. The trade-offs in this case are largely the opposite of the aforementioned: cost and field of view.

Vality believes there’s a market in the enterprise space for a compact, comfortable headset with near-retinal resolution, and they’ve built a prototype to prove out their concept.

Meeting with the company in Silicon Valley this week, I got a very early look at a prototype of the Vality headset to see their approach first-hand. The company doesn’t expect to launch their initial product until Q1 2021, so this really is a prototype, and while it’s clear there’s still tuning to be done, the headset’s form-factor is certainly enviable.

Photo by Road to VR

The current Vality prototype is in many ways a proof of concept, as the company plans to make a handful of improvements and add features as they refine the design. The prototype weighs in at around just 200 grams—less than half the weight of a headset like the original Rift or HTC Vive—and Vality expects the finished product could be under 150 grams.

The Vality prototype presently offers just 3DOF tracking, but the company plans for full 6DOF tracking with an inside-out solution that’s in the works. The company also confirmed development of controllers for the headset, but wasn’t ready to show them.

Photo by Road to VR

The prototype uses a pair of 2K × 2K micro-displays which, across its 80 × 80 degree field of view, offers 36 PPD (pixels per degree) in the center of the view. In the final version the company plans to use higher resolution displays and a slightly wider field of view (85 × 85 degrees or so) and ultimately land at 46 PPD.

This is very high pixel density—roughly twice as much as something like HP Reverb—but not quite ‘retinal resolution’ (which would mean enough pixel density to meet or exceed the resolving power of the human eye). Vality says the headset will be “close to retinal resolution,” which they define as around 60 PPD.

Indeed, the view through the headset is impressively sharp. Despite some understandable issues still to be dealt with as the prototype is refined, it was plain to see that resolution is the headset’s greatest asset next to its compact size. Peering through the lenses, I was also impressed with the size of the sweet spot which seemed to be sharp across the vast majority of the field of view, whereas for many other headsets things start to blur not far from the center of the lens.

The image also seemed to be particularly bright. Vality didn’t want to say much about their compact multi-element lenses, but did say that they were very efficient in terms of light transmission compared to the ‘pancake’ lens approach which is sometimes used in conjunction with micro-displays. However, the company hasn’t yet implemented low-persistence on the headset (which reduces motion-blur by pulsing the backlight), which would have an impact on the final brightness of the image. While the prototype is currently running at 60Hz (which likely also contributed to the brightness), the final version of the headset is expected to run at 90Hz or 120Hz. Without knowing the specs of the final display and not seeing the headset with low-persistence or at full refresh rate, we can’t be sure if the finished product will have an edge on brightness over other headsets or not.

Photo by Road to VR

Of course, the compact size and ultra-high resolution bump up against the field of view limitations that seem to come with all headsets that use this particular optical pipeline. When putting on the headset, the field of view definitely has a swimming-goggles feel to it, and though the company expects to deliver a slightly larger 85 × 85  degree field of view in the finished product, it’s still going to be a notable reduction compared to the larger ski-google feel of the bulkier class of headsets.

For that reason, Vality’s headset is likely going to be best suited for experiences where high pixel density is more important than high immersion. That could make it best for certain types of training and simulators where being able to read small text and see distant objects and landscapes is important.

A flip-up design makes it easy to peer outside of the headset | Photo by Road to VR

Indeed, Vality is building its headset primarily for enterprise. And while the consumer segment isn’t a focus at present, the company expects the finished version to cost around $1,000, which is not outside of the high-end enthusiast class like Valve Index and Vive Pro.

In addition to tethered PC functionality, Vality also plans to offer an SKU including a mobile ‘belt-pack’, which would pair the headset with a mobile compute package similar to Magic Leap. The company believes that the mobile version will appeal to different use-cases (especially training) than the PC tethered version. Both versions are planned to use the same headset and connect with a VirtualLink adapter.

Photo by Road to VR

Vality wants to do more than just ship a headset though. The company said they want to deliver an enterprise app platform for VR too, making it easy for businesses to find quality VR applications for the headset, though they didn’t offer much detail on those plans at this time.

– – — – –

This early glimpse of the Vality prototype shows that the company is serious about their vision for the headset and their belief that there’s demand in the enterprise space for a VR headset which offers a compact form-factor and ultra-high resolution, even if it means a less immersive field of view.

A rendering of Vality’s vision for the finished product | Image courtesy Vality

With the finished version not expected until Q1 2021, they’re also giving themselves a reasonable timeline to continue honing the prototype into the product they ultimately expect to deliver. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the development of the Vality headset to see how key elements come together, including inside-out 6DOF tracking, controllers, and the final displays and optics.

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  • Zantetsu

    That 80×80 (or even 85×85) field of view is a 100% showstopper for me.

    I don’t think that the tradeoff of losing field of view just to reduce the size of the headset is in any way shape or form worth it.

    • namekuseijin

      that’s tunnel vision. let down…

      • Virtual Funkality

        Well said.

    • impurekind

      Totally agree. I don’t really care so much about a smaller form factor than say the current Quest if it comes with blatant compromises. I say they can keep the headset the same size so long as the other specs keep increasing, from resolution to field of view and refresh rate, and of course ideally wireless. Once all that stuff is nailed they can worry about making it even smaller.

    • Jistuce

      I’m just giving them credit for even reporting a real field of view by specifying both axes instead of giving a single measure that doesn’t, and can’t, present the whole picture(or handwaving the entire issue away and waiting for buyers and reviewers to reverse-engineer the design spec).

      A single angle isn’t a field of view, it is a line.

      That said, I’m surprised at the symmetry. I would expect something that favored the X axis over the Y.

      • Caven

        I’m pretty sure the FOV is the maximum they could get away with in that form factor, so favoring the X axis over the Y axis would just mean further reducing visibility by artificially limiting the vertical FOV

        • Jistuce

          I suppose that’s fair. If the design can’t be made smaller in the Y axis anyways(and their primary goals are size and pixel density), may as well get the most viewing angle possible.

      • Ace of Spades

        micro displays are square

        • Jistuce

          Doesn’t mean the view has to be. Anamorphic lenses are old technology.

          • Moe Curley

            Anamorphic lenses sacrifice pixel density.

        • That’s not always true. Often they use 16:9 formats. And then there is Mojo Vision.

      • Simon

        Actually our displays really are square.

    • Rogue Transfer

      Worth noting that for most users, the Rift S FOV is reported to measure around only 86×86: https://www.reddit.com/r/oculus/comments/but4ca/my_fov_results_with_the_rift_s_id_like_to_know/

    • Horizontal fov: 85°
      Vertical fov: 85°
      =
      Diagonal fov: 120°

      • Zantetsu

        Well that’s encouraging if it’s true but just look at the spacing and size of the lenses in the photos … maybe it’s diagonal fov 120 with very little stereo overlap?

      • Moe Curley

        Really? How do you calculate that?

    • cataflic

      I think they mean 85° per eye with an overlapping zone in the middle…maybe 40/50°..total fov maybe 120°/130° or similar

      • Moe Curley

        I don’t think so. The author said that it was a notable reduction over current headsets.

    • 80×80 may maybe be acceptable today, but not in 2021 for sure

      • Moe Curley

        Lets hope not )

    • Simon

      For the record, repeating it here. Diagonal FOV for final product & with final displays will be 120-127 (meaning 85-90 X 85-90), and from the feedback we have it seems we’ll try to optimize for the higher end. This is just extrapolating from the prototype to the new display and doesn’t require any other breakthroughs. In any case, logging off here as I shouldn’t spend much time commenting here but rather go on building the future of pro VR.

  • impurekind

    Well it’s good to see all the progress being made in VR, but I still want a headset that gives us the best in every spec all in one, rather than a few great specs but with compromises on the other specs that don’t even match most other current gen headsets. Shrinking the form factor a bit is not worth it for me unless it comes with no obvious compromises. And I’ll happily wait a bit for headsets to shrink it that’s what it takes–because 80×80 field of view is just too big a step backwards for me.

    • kontis

      I still want a headset that gives us the best in every spec all in one, rather than a few great specs but with compromises on the other specs

      You can always dream, but that’s not how technology works. There are always trade offs. Always. A horse is still superior in some specs to the best car. Same for an old phone with tactile keyboard and 3 weeks battery compared to the newest iphone. LCD screens are to this day in some ways inferior to old CRT monitors.

  • Sven Viking

    Might not be suitable for most consumers (if any), but this would still be a big step forward in specific areas for a mass-produced headset, and would be very well suited to some enterprise and military uses.

  • Ratm

    85 fov ? Why would anyone build something so unimmersive ?

  • Francesco Fazio

    Is it WMR ?

  • Gonzax

    I find it very impressive, I mean, I wouldn’t buy it with such a small FOV but just look at the size of it and the weight, it’s amazing! What is really great about it is that in 4-5 years we’ll get something like that with a good FOV and it will make us laugh at all the current headsets. Things will only get better and better, future VR will be an incredible thing.

    • kontis

      No, that’s not how it works. VR in 90s was all microdisplay terrible FOV. The reason the Rift revolution happened is because a kid decided to do something unacceptable in the industry and ignore optical and clarity issues and just go for the FOV with a large screen.

      This microdisplays dead end is as true today as it was 20 years ago and it will be also true in the future. They can’t move past 90 deg FOV.

      Sony HMZ in 2011 had better clarity than Valve Index. Yet that “awful” Oculus DK1 with 800p screen was better.

      • Gonzax

        I’m pretty sure in 4-5 years we will see HMD’s with much wider FOV and much better clarity. Index is already better in both aspects, I don’t see why it wouldn’t get even better.

      • Simon

        Microdisplays in 90s were *way* too small for VR and also too low resolution.

  • Jarilo

    Chill out guys about the compromises when this is obviously a pRon device.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    I have so much respect for road to vr.They are one of the only sites that hasn’t banned me for my faith and sharing Jesus within my posts and discussions.

    • brandon9271

      Nothing wrong with faith but being off topic your above post amounts to spam.. Maybe that’s why you got banned?

      • Jistuce

        Nah, that couldn’t possibly be it. There is DEFINITELY an anti-Jesus agenda at play.

        • brandon9271

          Sinistar’s got jokes :)

    • Git

      Others aren’t banning you for your faith, they’re banning you for spam proselytising where it’s inappropriate. I know plenty of people of your faith who I respect, rather than seeing as scum like you fish for.

      • JesuSaveSouls

        Thanks for the kind words and lack of sarcasm hope you and your family will be abundantly blessed always in Jesus.

  • Guess

    90° field of view is the minimum for vr to work. I wouldn’t called this a vr headset however, it’s a neat concept. In 2019 I wouldn’t take anything under 120° fov.

    • Jack H

      If the display is 85deg. by 85deg. (square aspect ratio) then the diagonal FoV is just over 120deg.

  • mfx

    Primary hardware needs are comfort AND high res AND high FOV.

    No need to go further if you skip one of those.

    Take more time and make a large FOV version, if not you will go into the wall.

    Nice to see where is goes though :)

    • kontis

      Taking more time will not fix this problem. This is decades old solution that always had the FOV problem.

      • Simon

        Have already fixed this problem. Production version is based on relatively large microdisplays (not too large to make form factor worse though) which along with our custom optics can achieve 120-125 diag FOV in our Gen 1 product.

      • David Quinn

        Right. What they also did here is artifically increase the distortion from the lenses so they get more PPD in the middle of the vision by sacrificing PPD on the edges. That’s already how all single element lenses in HMDs work, the edges are always stretched and middle shrinked. That’s a side effect of a single element positive lens. That’s why a barrel distortion is applied to the frames digitally.

        They just made the pincushion distortion from the lenses more to have more barrel distortion in software and more middle region PPD.
        I’m not sure but I think this is what XTAL does as well. These guys just get more PPD due to the lower FOV.

        Amazing how naive startup can be by thinking they are the first to think of a simple solution or other times how naive they expect us to be to believe they were the first.

  • brandon9271

    If they could tweak this same design to have a higher FOV and use quality, NON FRESNEL lenses they could also dominate the consumer market.

    • kontis

      Plenty of companies trying this. No one tweaked it like that.
      Guess why…

      • brandon9271

        Because it would add to the cost and corporations are greedy? ;)

        • David Quinn

          Corporations are not greedy when it comes to profit.

          The answer is they can’t. Non Fresnel, mult-element lenses are heavy/bulky when you reach 90 or more degrees.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    This is just a waste of time, the FOV won’t increase, and it’s already way WAY too small. I’d rather have a ‘low’ resolution headset with a wide FOV than a high resolution with a stamp view (like the old VR-headsets had)..
    But microdisplays have always been very expensive, and they won’t get better results in the near future. I think the RGB laser glasses that is shown on IFA now has much more potential (as it also perfect for people who wear glasses, with it they don’t need to wear their glasses).

    • Kim from Texas

      Wished that there was more detail on your comment (company name, brand name). Your comment was really, really interesting and I was unable to find out additional detail.

      • Jack H

        I think it might be a demo headset from QDLaser, who make laser diodes with quantum dot semiconductor layers, to show off an application of their laser product. (I saw a mention of them attending IFA):

        https://www.qdlaser.com/en/applications/eyewear.html

        There are similar headsets like the Brother AiRScouter and another by Fujitsu I think. Also recently shown by Microsoft Research.

        They have some advantages like being used in conjunction with hologram flat optics but also disadvantages like cost.

        The laser retinal condition/ Maxwellian view condition displays are usually shown with a raster scanning mirror but can also use LCOS, DMD, LCD etc.

  • David Quinn

    These PPD values seem very misleading to me.

    If we assume a perfectly uniform distribution of pixels across the FOV, with 2160×2160 pixel panels (although these microdisplays may actually be only 2048×2048) we will get only 27 PPD for 80×80 degrees. This is nowhere close to the 36 PPD advertised and very far from “retinal resolution” of 60 PPD or even 46. I think using phrases like “near-retinal” resolution in this case is pointless, you might as well call HP Reverb “near-retinal”.

    Now it is possible they use a double or triple element lens to distort the image to concentrate more pixels in the center, but then you sacrifice anywhere away from dead-center and have much less than 27 PPD outside of the very middle. This is known as pincushion distortion and a very old known concept. You generally try to avoid it, not introduce it since then you have far worse PPD in the periphery and no way to easily define the PPD of your headset without intentionally or unintentionally lying.

    What I believe happened here is Ben was introduced to this headset which used two or three element aspheric plastic lenses which had a much better field curvature (sweet spot) so it seemed higher resolution to him acrosss the whole field of view than it really is. I believe at most the center 20-30 degrees had higher PPD than 27 due to pinchusion distortion of the source microdisplay image.

    • Simon

      Simon from Vality here. Responding to the PPD comment as it might not be obvious what we’re doing. You’re right that the numbers don’t add up, but 36 PPD in the center of vision is the actual measurement on our prototype, not a scam (which would fail to convince anyone with basic math skills). We indeed have a custom optical train that makes our PPD much higher in the center compared to a standard lens. Our technology enables us to do this without compromising any other desirable optical quality properties. As Ben noticed, our sweet spot is even higher than in current headsets. I fear we can’t say more at this point, other than the fact that many people we showed it to and who are very knowledgeable in VR display and optics tech were quite impressed by the results.

      Only one short sentence regarding FOV as we’ve already commented that on twitter. We think we can get our final FOV to a point where it’s not noticeably different from the Rift CV1.

      • David Quinn

        Hi Simon,
        Your comment first seemed like a neutral and objective response to my points, but then I read my comment and your reply to it again and I don’t believe you addressed most of my points besides the main ones which I had elaborated on myself.

        1) As I explained myself, if you use pincushion distortion or similar intentional distortion to squeeze more pixels to the middle of the field of view, you sacrifice the PPD outside of that dead-center. It’s a big compromise. You may make it seem better by using more than one lens element unlike others and increasing the field curvature (sweet spot), but the issue still remains. I doubt there is any technology breakthrough here which hasn’t been done before (fiber optic tapers, freeform lenses, liquid crystal lenses) but even if there were one, you definitely don’t want to comment on it which is fine but even if you could my point would still stand: to use more pixels in one region you have to take it from another region, you have finite pixels to work with.

        2) If you take HP Reverb’s small LCD display and use not one but two element lenses, you can cut it’s height and screen to lens distance (lens focal length) which is already less than Rift CV1 even more. If you then decrease the FOV of the lenses as you did, you can cut the diameter of the lenses.
        Their LCD panels themselves are around 45mm horizontally and vertically. This is much smaller than the ones in CV1.
        With a multi-element lens you can easily get a good field curvature with an eyepiece the same 45mm diameter or less. In comparison the Rift CV1 is 80mm in height.
        And there’s a physical limit to how much you can cut the lenses and keep the FOV because the surface of the lens towards the eye is flat or convex and needs adequate space for your eyelashes.

        Don’t try to create a narrative where this is just a claim and I have to prove it. Any optical engineer could show how using lens doublets or triplets improves chromatic aberrations, field curvature and any aberration, really, while cutting focal length. It’s the oldest trick in the book in optics.

        I have already explained why HP didn’t go that route, because it’s pointless. We are already in the FOV sweet spot. Cutting it more just doesn’t cut it and that is why microdisplays at this point, even with fiber optic tapers in front of them, are still pointless and not used by any large company even after the 2K models were announced by eMagin and Kopin way back in in 2016 or earlier.

        If your headset is even shorter than 45mm in height then fine but at that point as everyone here says it is pointless.

        You also commented further on your target FOV with your goal being ”not noticeably different from CV1”. This is both a vague and subjective claim. Why not simply ”not different or better”? Because you don’t have a design solution right now where it is equal or more than it. By using subjective and open to interpretation phrases such as ”not noticeably different” you allow yourself the freedom to make claims without the consequences if you fail to achieve them. For example if you fail to push higher than 80 degrees, you can still claim that is ”not noticeably different” from CV1 because it is technically true.

        I appreciate you taking the time to comment but all you wrote basically boils down to you having some technological breakthrough which we should doubt, you being more honest with your FOV specs which is nice but isn’t a killer feature and you saying the burden of proof is on us which is just a time waster challenge to an optical engineer and practically unfalsifiable to the average reader.

        Why even comment Simon? You know very well the prices of the microdisplays alone make this headset not profitable for consumer market, why even discuss it with us? I believe this is all just for pitching the headset to investors and corporate clients. I’m sorry the comments don’t pay you a favor here but you should have expected these responses.

        • cataflic

          At the end of the rainbow for all of these hmd I see only two miserable little screen with all known lenses/waveguides system behind.
          When we’ll have a 8k/16k microdisplay per eye (16:10 or similar) we’ll can finally get that fu**ing fov and clarity that we want (foveated, if we’ll reach the goal before also processors do it)

  • lnpilot

    Finally! 2k x 2k per eye is the absolute bare minimum resolution before I would spend a dime on a VR headset, so it’s nice to see one in development.

  • Jim P

    No being a Debbie downer. But if it has no ecosystem then it is DOA.

    • Simon

      Our demo driver runs SteamVR, this is more a matter of optimization. If there’s enough interest from consumers at some later point when we have more resources, we can allocate resources to optimizing that. Building own ecosystem for enterprise as there is still no well established one.

  • dota

    Wonderful

  • The form factor is great… but the release date in 2021 with 85° FOV seems a bit limiting to me…

    • Simon

      We’re doing our best to push the release date, but didn’t want to be overly optimistic.
      Now have more preliminary simulations for the final (slightly larger) display after the early feedback that we might want to push FOV as much as feasible and will most likely be able to go up to 90 degree horizontal and vertical (~125 diag).
      Maybe we should in the future just state that we’re most likely be able to achieve 125 degrees FOV. Even though it’s less descriptive than the H/V numbers, maybe people will be less confused.

  • Seems like a step backwards, but I suppose if you slap “Enterprise version” on it, then you can build whatever you want. In theory, somebody out there will pay for it to, in theory, do something useful. Charge a few thousand, drop out a whole bunch of industry standard features, make it blatantly inferior in most ways to better consumer versions. As long as you say “Enterprise”, sky’s the limit!

  • Rupert Jung

    Nice form factor but super-low FOV, no audio, sub-descent tracking (two cameras only), no eye tracking planned, wires – I’m out. Sorry.

    • Simon

      We have an 3.5mm audio connector for headphones or earphones. Controller tracking will be 6DOF wide FOV and likely won’t have to rely on the cameras (can’t say more on that yet). Can do solid tracking of the HMD itself with two to three cameras with our early prototype setup and external face-mounted camera module.

      Will support wires to PC and belt pack. Will be very thin and almost unnoticeable in the belt pack case.

  • care package

    “For that reason, Vality’s headset is likely going to be best suited for
    experiences where high pixel density is more important than high
    immersion”
    So, high pixel density is the opposite of immersion? Immersion includes both pixel density and FOV. A reduced FOV takes away from immersion, but FOV doesn’t define it.