VR, AR and MR Headset Technologies: Almost Ready


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“VR and AR have been hot topics for decades,” announces Dr. Bouhamri, Technology & Market Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole). “Therefore, during the past 10 years, we identified a tremendous activity in this field: numerous startups’ creation, more and more big players involved in the development of new technologies, an increase in the number of patents filings as well as many investments and mergers and acquisitions,” he added.

Big companies, small and experienced companies, or even newcomers are part of today’s playground and many are trying to play their cards right. Today, VR and mostly AR are the key to unlock the next generation of consumer products.

Yole proposes today a technology & market report focused on displays and optics for VR, AR and MR headsets. Titled “Displays & Optical Vision Systems for VR, AR & MR”, it reveals the state of the art of the technology and its evolution and details the structure of the industry. This comprehensive analysis presents the technical choices made by the leaders as well as the promising start-ups. It also describes the latest technical innovations and the competitive landscape with IP inputs: the patent activity trends highlighting the decades’ long research in these fields follow the investment activity trends.

It is the first report proposed by Yole’s analysts focused on solutions for VR, AR and MR headset applications. Analysts made a fruitful combination of their expertise in the field of displays, microLEDs, optics and manufacturing to evaluate current and emerging technologies and explain the market evolution.

VR appears like a smaller market than the AR and MR ones. On top of that, VR has become a lesser stuff of dreams because it became real, products are already there, available to the consumer.

As these concepts aim at changing reality, it is extremely important to have systems that are properly designed to trick the brain and produce a feeling of immersion. But as the brain is a complex piece of machinery, VR and AR systems require advanced technologies that are not quite ready yet. The key is to understand what must be developed in terms of displays and optics for these headset markets to thrive.

VR has been developed with off-the-shelf components, mainly smartphone-sized displays and magnifying lenses. However, the field of view in today’s headsets is small and restricts the user’s immersion in the image. Improving it by working on the optics may seem trivial but it implies headset ergonomics and manufacturing challenges regarding size, weight, scalability. And then comes visual fidelity, as improving the field of view without improving the pixel density reduces the number of pixels over each degree of visual acuity, which restricts immersion again. So displays need to improve pixel density, amongst other parameters, in parallel to optics improvement. But associated technical and manufacturing challenges are difficult to attain. Alternative developments are ongoing and should pave the way towards an ideal VR headset: the proper number of pixels per degree on a wide field of view at a very fast framerate, with perfect color reproduction and in a compact form factor. And this grail would not only be for videogames only, even though this is the easiest and most marketed target for the consumer today.

On the opposite, AR headset applications are less driven by videogames but by real use cases deployed within the industry or especially developed for consumer comfort.

“AR is right around the corner but technology still is limited and/or expensive”, asserts Dr. Bouhamri from Yole. “New optics and display elements could help the AR market soar.”

AR presents a very different visual paradigm compared to VR, as the user needs to clearly see the world through superimposed virtual images. Having a screen in front of the eye is impossible, so the image must be brought to the eye in an efficient and undistorted manner. AR is already big in the military, a field in which there are few restrictions in terms of size, volume and design. But the consumer wants nothing but a sleek headset that must not be cumbersome, and be perfectly see-through. The road to miniaturization and cost reduction from existing technology is extremely complex. Physics cannot be violated, and “étendue” management, efficient diffraction, transparency, field of view, and many other parameters have to be handled. Similarly to VR, developments are ongoing and will define the roadmap for upcoming AR headsets. However due to manufacturing challenges, adoption will start slowly before markets soar.

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