Apple Vision Pro’s Secret To Smooth Visuals? Subtly Substandard Optics

The displays inside the Apple Vision Pro have 3660 × 3200 pixels per eye, but veteran engineer [Karl Guttag]’s analysis of its subtly blurred optics reminds us that “resolution” doesn’t always translate to resolution, and how this is especially true for things like near-eye displays.

The Apple Vision Pro lacks the usual visual artifacts (like the screen door effect) which result from viewing magnified pixelated screens though optics. But [Karl] shows how this effect is in fact hiding in plain sight: Apple seems to have simply made everything just a wee bit blurry thanks to subtly out-of-focus lenses.

The thing is, this approach of intentionally de-focusing actually works very well for consuming visual content like movies or looking at pictures, where detail and pixel-to-pixel contrast is limited anyway.

Clever loophole, or specification shenanigans? You be the judge of that, but this really is evidence of how especially when it comes to things like VR headsets, everything is a trade-off. Improving one thing typically worsens others. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why VR monitor replacements are actually a nontrivial challenge.

Making Your Own VR Headset? Consider This DIY Lens Design

Lenses are a necessary part of any head-mounted display, but unfortunately, they aren’t always easy to source. Taking them out of an existing headset is one option, but one may wish for a more customized approach, and that’s where [WalkerDev]’s homebrewed “pancake” lenses might come in handy.

Engineering is all about trade-offs, and that’s especially true in VR headset design. Pancake lenses are compact units that rely on polarization to bounce light around internally, resulting in a very compact assembly at the cost of relatively poor light efficiency. That compactness is what [WalkerDev] found attractive, and in the process discovered that stacking two different Fresnel lenses and putting them in a 3D printed housing yielded a very compact pancake-like unit that gave encouraging results.

This project is still in development, and while the original lens assembly is detailed in this build log, there are some potential improvements to be made, so stay tuned if you’re interested in using this design. A DIY headset doesn’t mean you also must DIY the lenses entirely from scratch, and this option seems economical enough to warrant following up.

Want to experiment with mixing and matching optics on your own? Not only has [WalkerDev]’s project shown that off-the-shelf Fresnel lenses can be put to use, it’s in a way good news that phone-based VR is dead. Google shipped over 10 million cardboard headsets and Gear VR sold over 5 million units, which means there are a whole lot of lenses in empty headsets laying around, waiting to be harvested and repurposed.

Behold A DIY VR Headset Its Creator Will “Never” Build Again

Unsatisfied with commercial VR headset options, [dragonskyrunner] did what any enterprising hacker would: gathered parts over time and ultimately made their own. Behold the Hades Widebody (HWD), a DIY PC VR headset that aims for a wide field of view and even manages to integrate some face and eye tracking.

The Fresnel elements hugging the primary lenses provide a way of extending the display into the wearer’s peripheral vision.

[dragonskyrunner] is — and we quote — “NEVER building one of these again.” The reason is easily relatable to anyone who has spent a lot of time and effort creating something special: it does the job it was created for, but it also has limitations and is a lot of work. If one were to do it all over again, there would be a host of improvements and changes to consider. But one won’t be doing it all over again any time soon because it’s done now.

The good news is that [dragonskyrunner] made an effort to document things, so there is at least a parts list and enough details for any suitably motivated hacker to replicate the work and perhaps even put their own spin on it.

The Hades Widebody has a dual-lens arrangement and wide displays that aim to provide a wider field of view than most setups allow. There’s a main lens in front of the user’s eyes and a cut Fresnel lens providing a sort of extension to the side. [dragonskyrunner] claims that while there is certainly not a seamless transition between the lens elements, it does a better job than an Ambilight at providing a sense of visuals extending into the wearer’s peripheral vision.

The DIY spirit of making a piece of hardware to suit one’s own needs is exactly the sort of thing that would fit into our 2023 Cyberdeck content, and while a headset by itself isn’t quite enough to qualify (devices must have some form of usable input and output), it just might get those creative juices flowing.

Enhance VR Immersion By Shoehorning An Ambilight Into A Headset

Everyone wants a wider field of view in their VR headsets, but that’s not an easy nut to crack. [Statonwest] shows there’s a way to get at least some of the immersion benefits with a bit of simple hardware thanks to the VR Ambilight.

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Low-Cost Head Mounted Display From FPV Gear

A common complaint we’ve seen on many of the recent cyberdeck builds is that they don’t offer any display technology more advanced than a tablet-sized IPS panel. The argument goes that to be a true deck in the Gibsonian sense, it’s got to have some kind of virtual reality interface or at least a head mounted display. Unfortunately such technology is expensive, and often not particularly hacker friendly.

But assuming you can settle for a somewhat low-tech alternative, the simple head mounted display that [Jordan Brandes] has been fiddling with is certainly a viable option. By mounting a five inch 800×480 TFT LCD to the front of a pair of goggles designed for first person view (FPV) flying, you can throw together a workable rig for around $30 USD. Add in some headphones, and you’ve got a fairly immersive experience for not a lot.

Naturally the display will show whatever HDMI signal you give it, but in his case, [Jordan] has mounted a Raspberry Pi to the back of it to make it a complete wearable computer. With a Bluetooth travel keyboard in the mix, he’s even able to get some legitimate work done with this setup. If he ends up combining this with the ultrasonic keyboard he was working on earlier in the year, he’ll be getting pretty close to jacking into cyberspace for real.

Hackers have been chasing cheap head mounted displays for years now. Back in 2007 the best you could do for this kind of money was a 300×240 black and white monocle. Getting our hands on the good stuff is still harder than we’d like, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.

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Gaze Inside The Valve Index VR Headset In Detailed Teardown

Valve’s unique multilayer lenses are far thinner than one might expect.

Want to see what exactly is inside the $500 (headset only price) Valve Index VR headset that was released last summer? Take a look at this teardown by [Ilja Zegars]. Not only does [Ilja] pull the device apart, but he identifies each IC and takes care to point out some of the more unique hardware aspects like the fancy diffuser on the displays, and the unique multilayered lenses (which are much thinner than one might expect.)

[Ilja] is no stranger to headset hardware design, and in addition to all the eye candy of high-res photographs, provides some insightful commentary to help make sense of them. The “tracking webs” pulled from the headset are an interesting bit, each is a long run of flexible PCB that connects four tracking sensors for each side of the head-mounted display back to the main PCB. These sensors are basically IR photodiodes, and detect the regular laser sweeps emitted by the base stations of Valve’s lighthouse tracking technology. [Ilja] also gives us a good look at the rod and spring mechanisms seen above that adjust distance between the two screens.

Want more? [Ilja] also has a gallery of high-resolution images available for those you who fancy a closer look. Also, if you missed it, we covered an examination of the Index’s optical design as part of everything you probably didn’t know about field of view in head-mounted displays.

[via Twitter]

See The Science Behind VR Display Design, And What Makes A Problem Important

VR headsets are more and more common, but they aren’t perfect devices. That meant [Douglas Lanman] had a choice of problems to address when he joined Facebook Reality Labs several years ago. Right from the start, he perceived an issue no one seemed to be working on: the fact that the closer an object in VR is to one’s face, the less “real” it seems. There are several reasons for this, but the general way it presents is that the closer a virtual object is to the viewer, the more blurred and out of focus it appears to be. [Douglas] talks all about it and related issues in a great presentation from earlier this year (YouTube video) at the Electronic Imaging Symposium that sums up the state of the art for VR display technology while giving a peek at the kind of hard scientific work that goes into identifying and solving new problems.

Early varifocal prototype

[Douglas] chose to address seemingly-minor aspects of how the human eye and brain perceive objects and infer depth, and did so for two reasons: one was that no good solutions existed for it, and the other was that it was important because these cues play a large role in close-range VR interactions. Things within touching or throwing distance are a sweet spot for interactive VR content, and the state of the art wasn’t really delivering what human eyes and brain were expecting to see. This led to years of work on designing and testing varifocal and multi-focal displays which, among other things, were capable of presenting images in a variety of realistic focal planes instead of a single flat one. Not only that, but since the human eye expects things that are not in the correct focal plane to appear blurred (which is itself a depth cue), simulating that accurately was part of things, too.

The entire talk is packed full of interesting details and prototypes. If you have any interest in VR imaging and headset design and have a spare hour, watch it in the video embedded below.

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