After we went hands-on with Kopin’s prototype headset featuring their 2K VR micro display last week, people are curious to know when the screens might actually hit the market. Speaking with Kopin and manufacturing partner Goertek, the companies tell us that the first products incorporating the ‘Lightning’ display are expected by the end of 2018.

We explained in our hands-on that although functional, the Kopin ‘Elf’ headset isn’t a consumer product but actually a demo for the company’s 2K 120Hz Lightning display:

One important thing to remember is that Elf headset is not going to become a product, it’s simply a pitch for Kopin’s VR microdisplays and Goertek’s manufacturing capabilities. The company’s hope is that a consumer electronics company will want to produce a product based on the Lightning display, and the Elf headset is the demo to sell them on the form-factor that it enables. Goertek says that the companies are “actively marketing” the Elf headset to potential consumer electronics companies. That means that an end product containing Kopin’s Lightning display might end up looking quite a bit different than the Elf headset today. In fact, although Elf is tethered, Kopin says that the foundation of the headset is also suitable for all-in-one mobile VR headsets.

Speaking with GoertekKopin’s partner and one of the manufacturers behind the Oculus Rift and PSVR—at the company’s Silicon Valley office, I was told that the first products to launch with the Lightning display are expected toward the end of 2018, which puts products around five quarters away.

Photo by Road to VR

Part of the gap between now and then is finding partners who are convinced by the Elf headset demo and decide to build a product based on the components; Kopin and Goertek are in the process of demonstrating the headset to a range of companies.

The big pitch for the Elf headset is its impressively compact size and diminutive weight; the prototype I tried was just 220 grams, less than half the weight of the Rift and Vive (though to be fair it’s just a demonstration of the display, and lacking some extra hardware found on most headset). And of course it’s backed by the incredibly sharp 2K Lightning display which has more than three times the pixels of today’s leading headsets, and a whopping 120Hz refresh rate (though, as I found in my hands-on, those benefits may come at the cost of a lower field of view).

 

Another reason for the delay is that the display and the lenses are still in active development; it will be some time yet until Kopin is pumping them out at manufacturing quantities. The companies expect that in 2019 they would have the manufacturing capacity to create some 5 million headsets.

A test board and headset used by Kopin to demonstrate their Lightning displays with several different lenses | Photo by Road to VR

Before that time though, there’s still a few kinks for Kopin to work out. For one, depending upon which optics they use, the display needs to be brighter. They told me that they expect to be able to double the brightness by the time they begin shipping displays, but it isn’t clear if they’ll have enough brightness to enable low-persistence, a key technique for reducing blur as users turn their heads in the virtual environment. The company also showed me three different lenses, each of a different design and offering a different field of view, though they’re still in development as well.

One big question for Kopin is whether traditional display manufacturers will be able to ship next-gen VR displays ahead of the Lightning display, potentially offering another route to bringing greater pixel density to VR headsets. For instance, Samsung demonstrated a new 2K VR display back in May, though it isn’t clear when they’ll be ready to sell the part to headset makers.

In the long term, Kopin and Goertek say they’re investing $150 million to create a new display fabrication plant which will enable them to make larger and higher resolution VR micro displays. According to the companies’ roadmap, they’re aiming to make a 1.3-inch 3K display followed by a 1.37-inch 4K, in due course.

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  • mellott124

    By then consumer HMDs will be 2k per eye and Kopin will be too late. At the current prices of Rift and Vive, which include trackers and controllers, they’re going to have a really tough time.

  • Keopsys

    Sad it’s coming so late..

  • K E

    Why can’t they make 2-inch panels? Is it because of dead pixels? Because it might well be better to have this resolution with a few dead pixels than the current displays with no dead pixels.

    • benz145

      The microdisplay manufacturing process is similar to how computer processors are created, which involves etching microscopic structures onto silicon wafers. This process is highly specialized, requires phenomenally expensive equipment, and is only profitable at scale. Because most facilities in the world capable of this sort of manufacturing are set up to make the smallest components possible, it’s non-trivial to manufacture a larger microdisplay without a massive capital investment.

      • Jeff

        Agreed. I would just add that at 1.37 inches their 70 FOV should be drastically improved over the 1″ panel they are using in ‘elf. Adding foveated rendering would mean an awesome headset at 4k per eye resolution with potentially an excellent FOV, and a very large sweet spot. If they think they can pull off 1.37″ 4k I think that is big enough to be a great VR display. Fingers crossed I am wearing such a headset come holliday season of 2018!

        • Teiji

          If 2k display is in development right now and won’t be release until next year at the earliest. 3k and 4k display will definitely NOT be ready by 2018 lol. 2020+ is more realistic.

      • Xilence

        And this is why Samsung + Sony + other companies can afford to do it but Kopin cannot.

  • And… who are the partners that will create these headsets using Kopin microdisplays?

  • MosBen

    I know that both HTC and Oculus are going to stick to their “no new hardware” line through this holiday season because they don’t want to give people an incentive to wait, but at the pace that some of this tech is developing I just don’t believe that either of them will be able to wait until 2019 to release updated products. Between higher quality displays, foveated rendering, wireless tech, there’s definitely a technological basis for an update, and with the imminent release of cheaper HMDs from Microsoft’s partners it seems like there’s a business justification as well.

    • Tomas Sandven

      I really really really hope you’re right. I *need* 2k by 2k displays in a wireless Vive or Rift.

      • MosBen

        I don’t claim any special knowledge, it just seems like waiting until 2019 is a long time to hold off, especially if we start to see wireless HMDs that really work. Sure, some people will buy an add-on, but at some point there are so many potential improvements that you just need to release a new version of the product.

        The Vive and Rift are great at what they do, but they’re not going to break into the mainstream in their current forms.

  • Virtualdaydream

    Kopin is behind the curve Samsung showed a 5.5″ 4k oled prototype made for vr more that a year ago and two years The formed a consortium of companies with the goal to make a 5 ” 11k oled display which scheduled to be demoed at the Olympics in 2018 . Once the first good vr headset with wide fov comes out no one will want a 100 fov headset

    • Xilence

      Oh my goodness. 5″ 11k at the Olympics next year? I would really appreciate it if you could show me the sources and explain further. That’s crazy, absolutely crazy (in a good way).

  • I thought has occurred to me and I think it’s worth some group discussion. How are we going to drive 2k, or even 4k, VR Goggles?

    Right now, we are pressing $600 video cards to their limits at the current resolutions. Every year video cards get about %20 more powerful. But this is at least a x3 jump in resolution! If video card power keeps rising at %20 a year, that means these headsets won’t have adequate computing power to support them for at least 6 YEARS!

    Eyetracking, and it’s related foveated rendering, should help, but so far hasn’t made much of a push into the wild. Also the gains shown foveated rendering have, so far, been well under the theoretical limits. It sounds like, by next year, we’ll need those gains DESPERATELY! Without some sort of aggressive de-rezzing, these goggles are going to wildly outstrip out computing power for the foreseeable future. Otherwise all of those new Ultra-HD VR Goggles are going to be driving some very boring graphics.

    It’ll be something on the order of sitting in a Ferrari, but the engine is just a hamster on a wheel and a big IOU note next to it saying, “See you in 5 years”.

  • Fil

    Varjo mirror system + kopin 2k-3k microdisplay (or eMagin OLED microdisplay 2k, Sony microdisplay fullhd, new display JDI 2k, Sharp IGZO display, Samsung 3,5 display 2k or samsung 4k 5,5) + pimax 8k 210 fov (or starvr) + eye tracking = best vr dive!!!!

  • MW

    80 (maybe 100) fov in 2018/2019? That’s… not great.

    • I am not clear on this but I think their main IP is in the 2K 120Hz micro display.

      Optic designs for greater FOV could come from external sources? but they are also working on that too which confuses things. I guess there could be lots of people involved in micro display technology so they have no option but to branch out in all areas of VR HMD tech hoping to discover a golden solution.