When Will Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality Look Completly Real?
Using technology forecasting to compare predict the future
One day we will be able to put on a pair of glasses and be teleported from the NYC subway to a beach chair in Bali. One day these glasses, which are as light as a pair of Ray-Ban’s, will let us swim the depths of the Great Barrier Reef while remaining dry in our living room. One day Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality will be central to our work, communication, entertainment, and exploration and rendered objects/worlds will appear 100% indistinguishable from the real thing. Using trend forecasting techniques, I hope to predict when this day will arrive.
What technologies am I talking about?
- Virtual Reality (VR) — Fully immersive headsets, like the Oculus Rift, which prevent users from seeing anything other what is displayed within the device.
- Mixed Reality (MR) — An emerging technology that allows users to see virtual objects “mixed” in with the surroundings. This means that the objects are fixed in place, even if the user moves around the room. Additionally, Mixed Reality objects must be viewable from multiple focal points. This is referring to the way eyes can focus on a near object and the background blurs to the perception and vice versa.
What exactly does “Indistinguishable From Reality” mean?
It means your eyes will see things in the headset with the same clarity you see the device that you are currently reading this on. It means these headsets will fill the entirety of our peripheral vision. Here are the numbers experts say quantify this:
- Screen with resolution of 10,200 X 7,800 pixels for each eye
- Field of View of 220+ degrees
Am I a wizard?
I do own a wand from Harry Potter world, but sadly, no.
But then how will I predict this ? 🔮
With a little bit of modern magic (data) we can do a trend forecast and extrapolate current trajectory and its implications on the future.
When will screen resolution be good enough to fool me?
As the screen resolution increases, image quality goes up and the “screen-door effect” is reduced. I plotted all the historical resolution data I could find from both Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality displays. Often emerging technologies are on a faster growth curve, surpass the capabilities of the incumbent process, and lead to faster improvements. Looking at the graph, this seems to be the case here as well.
This forecast predicts 2040 for VR and 2032 for MR to achieve pixel density in displays to look indistinguishable from real life.
My gut feeling is that this seems fairly reasonable given mobile phone progress over the last decade as an analogy. A source of error could be the limited amount of data points that exist before 2012.
When will headsets extend as far as the eye can see?
Field of view is a measure of how far within peripheral vision virtual objects can be rendered. This is currently the most significant shortcoming of Mixed Reality displays as opposed to Virtual Reality displays. The light-field display showcased by Nvidia in 2013 had a field of view of 29 degrees, less than a third of Rift DK1 unveiled the same year.
This forecast predicts 2050 for VR and 2068 for MR to reach the FOV of 220 degrees to encompass the full human peripheral vision.
This is probably an overly pessimistic outlook. The Primax 8k already has a FOV of 200 degrees. As more manufacuters begin to focus on this metric I believe that number will be the norm as opposed to the outlier. Mixed Reality will likely still be delayed behind VR in this metric, but not as drastically as this forecast might suggest.
So what does this mean…?
Although these predictions should be taken with a grain of salt, the fact that perfectly real VR/MR displays could be less than 20 years away shows how rapidly this technology is improving. Similar to the introduction of the mobile phone and computer, use cases and features will increase over time. These devices don’t have to create an experience indistinguishable from reality in order to make a difference in users lives.
What assumptions did I make?
- The resolution graph measures total pixels on the display.
- I wanted to normalize data since different manufacturers use different display dimensions. For example, a 146 X 78 display would be given a value of 11,388 on the graph.
- Light field displays project light rays into the eye, allowing for eyes to shift focus and see objects at a specific depth plane.