When Will Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality Look Completly Real?

Using technology forecasting to compare predict the future

Ankur Lal
Ankur Lal
Jan 31, 2019 · 5 min read

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.

Photo by Martin Sanchez

What technologies am I talking about?

Oculus (left) and Magic Leap (right)

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:

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?

2. Light field displays, which power the Magic Leap, will continue to see exponential quality increases just as LCD/OLED display resolution have.

3. Data from this Wikipedia page, and websites reporting on ODG, Nvidia, Primax, Hololens is accurate.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +417,678 people.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +564K people. Follow to join our community.

Ankur Lal

Written by

Ankur Lal

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +564K people. Follow to join our community.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade