Limitations of the Oculus Rift

Over the last few months I’ve heard nothing but praise sung for the Oculus Rift.  More recently while I have ramped up my research I’ve found the most common complaint regarding the Oculus is the limited “draw distance” due to the low resolution of the display.  Anything in VR that is of a great distance from the viewer will be a challenge to display with the current Oculus technology, including DK2 and CV1.

The issue isn’t actually draw distance in a traditional sense.  Your PC is theoretically able to draw an object at any distance whether it be two feet or two miles.  The challenge is displaying that object on a screen at a given resolution.  The clear lines your PC sees must be broken up and represented by individual pixels.  The more pixels, the more clarity for displaying your object.

I lack the knowledge and effort to really give this explanation justice but the Oculus struggles with “draw distance” because it is forced to use half of the normal screen real estate to display an image.  A normal image displayed on a monitor will take up the entire screen.  To display a stereoscopic image you need two slightly different copies of that same image, one for each eye.  That’s fine if you can display those stereoscopic images individually on separate monitors.  But if you want to display those images side by side on one screen (like the Oculus does) then you need to squeeze each image to fit both of them on screen.  All of a sudden you’re using half a screen to display a full screen image and your using less pixels per eye.

With fewer pixels objects lose clarity.  This is especially true for objects that are farther away from the viewer.  An object that is displayed with clarity and definition in a full screen image may be reduced to a smudge of pixels in VR. Anything of great distance from the viewer will be a challenge to display in VR.

This problem can be explained and understood much better than I could ever articulate with an interactive visual demo.  Luckily I was able to find one:

The Oculus Rift Simulator

To see the resolution and draw distance limitation issue illustrated, focus at a point on the map and switch between the available resolutions.  Notice how much of an impact this has on text.  We should be happy that everything from here on out will be an improvement on DK1. DK2 and CV1 look comparable.  4K is obviously where this technology is headed but will be further down the road.  Available 4K displays need to drop in price and rendering smoothly at 4K will massively tax current PC hardware.

Note that I’ve read complaints about the above simulator regarding the fact that it doesn’t accurately represent the pentile pixel arrangement of future displays.  This is a minor quibble with a great demo.