VividQ and Dispelix waveguide optics display objects with varying depth of field. AR games could benefit from a wide field of view.
Holographic display developer VividQ and waveguide maker Dispelix are reporting a breakthrough that could improve gaming with transparent AR headsets. A proprietary solution is said to provide a clear image with varying depth of field. Benefits include a wide field of vision and a large eyebox for people with different interpupillary distances (IPDs).
A key requirement for a good AR game, according to VividQ, is the ability to accurately render different depths of field. If an insect is crouched at the end of a real hallway, the view must adjust to this distance. If he jumps onto your hand, the focus should shift to a close-up.
Natural focus for AR headsets
According to VividQ, waveguide displays were unable to replicate this effect properly. However, the company’s proprietary ‘3D Waveguide Combiner’ and software is considered the breakthrough. AR lenses, also known as “combiners” in the industry, combine natural and digital light to create believable augmented reality.
In Magic Leap or Microsoft Hololens AR headsets, light from a small projector travels in parallel through a 2D waveguide until it reaches the eye. But the result is a 2D image. Even when a virtual insect is sitting directly on a real hand, the focus remains far away.
“Objects can’t be interacted with naturally at arm’s length, and they’re not placed exactly in the real world,” says VividQ. The result does not only seem unnatural, but also triggers the Vergence-Accommodation-Conflict or VAC for short. This can sometimes cause headaches or eye pain because the eye cannot focus naturally.
Previous 3D waveguides have failed due to distortion. A spatial image requires the use of divergent beams. Because they are reflected multiple times back and forth as they pass through the narrow waveguide, their paths diverge sharply. The result is a blurry image with many overlapping copies of the same image.
This is where VividQ’s solution comes in. The company has an algorithm to correct the defective image of the waveguide: the software calculates a hologram which corrects the distortions. Additionally, the waveguide itself is slightly modified to work in harmony with the algorithm.
3D waveguide for AR applications
That’s why manufacturers only license their hardware and software system to AR glasses manufacturers. Without the proprietary algorithm, the solution cannot be used, according to VividQ. “We solved that problem, designed something that can be manufactured, tested and proven, and established the manufacturing partnership necessary to mass-produce them,” said VividQ CEO Darran Milne.
In an industry plagued by hype, it’s easy to dismiss inventions as old ideas in new packaging, Milne said. “But a fundamental problem has always been the complexity of displaying 3D images placed in the real world with a decent field of view and with an eyebox large enough to accommodate a wide range of IPDs.”
The announcement does not mention exact values for a possible field of view. However, for augmented reality to reach the mass market, a “sufficient” field of view is important – and natural focus over distances ranging from ten centimeters to infinity.
Founded in 2017 in Cambridge, England, VividQ first developed a mixed reality headset and later worked with Arm on smartphone holographic displays for AR headsets. In 2021, the startup raised $15 million to develop technology that turns traditional LC displays into holo-displays with 3D depth.
Dispelix founder and CEO Antti Sunnari sees the potential of the new 3D waveguide combiner primarily in AR games and professional use. To be able to stay comfortably in immersive environments for long periods of time, he says, it’s essential to have real spatial content placed in the user’s environment.
Different ways to see augmented reality
Swiss company Creal takes a different approach to AR lenses. The startup is betting on another type of combiner called HOE, or holographic optical elements. HOEs for AR headsets are completely transparent to almost all real light, but reflect almost all light projected from a screen, according to a September 2022 white paper.
The first working lens prototype appeared in the summer of 2021, delivering high-quality 3D images and supporting Creal’s bright field technology, which can simulate different depth planes for AR elements. Sony, Intel, and North have also developed and deployed HOEs for AR devices.