Setting a new Virtual Reality standard
Virtual Reality is widely regarded as one of the most promising technologies of this decade. What once was the dream of few engineers and scientists, has now become a common sight in almost any gaming and technology exhibition. Hundreds of companies are springing up across the globe, and the interest has started to share beyond the techno enthusiast and the visionary gamer.
Looking back at similar technology breakthrough in recent years, such as the social networks or, earlier, the world wide web, a clear pattern appears. Initially there are a lot of competing start-ups that try to secure a place in the market by investing heavily on the technology and create the product that wide spreads the technology. Once it booms and the technology reaches the majority, the market starts to stabilize around a handful of companies that have found the right recipe and go on to become industry giants with multibillion revenues.
Aware of this, companies are trying harder than ever to advance the technology and reserve a secure place in the forming market of the virtual reality technology.
One of such companies is Pimax. Founded in 2015 by a Chinese team of VR enthusiasts, it aims at revolutionizing the standard for VR headsets.
After having successfully commercialized the Pimax 4K, the first VR headset with 4K resolution, they are planning to raise the bar even further with their latest product, the Pimax 8K.
At first glance the Pimax 8K is just another fancy copy of the HTC VIVE. It still goes over your eyes, requires a long cable to be connected to a computer and really it is not mobile.
However, the similarities end there. The first distinguishing bit, as the name suggests, is the resolution. The Pimax 8K comes with a 2 x 4K continuous display with a total of about 16.6 million pixels. Although not really 8K (4x4K) such a resolution is an absolute gamechanger, especially if compared to the current series of VR headsets. The Pimax 8K have more than 6 times the pixels of the HTC VIVE or the Oculus Rift.
The higher resolution increases the sharpness of the image, making distance object more recognizable and even small test fully readable. Pimax claims that the screen door effect, where the lines between the pixels form a visible squared net on the picture, has also been eliminated, which has been confirmed by the users who have tried the prototype.
It is not just in resolution that Pimax dwarves the current generation of headsets. The 8K screen has a ratio of 32:9 that opens the user to a 200° field of view.
Given the usual FOV of 110°, 8K provides a new degree of immersion. The extended FOV is much closer to reality (the eye has ~220° FOV) and allows the user to use peripheral vision. Peripheral vision plays a significant role in our everyday lives. It is especially good at detecting moving object out of focus and is more sensible to light than central vision. Being able to use the peripheral vision on a Virtual Reality Environment greatly improves realism, especially once content providers start adapting their products to take full advantage of it. On the topic of content, the Pimax 8K is fully compatible with Steam VR and has released SDKs for Unity and Unreal Engine. This will ensure compatibility with most games and allow developers to use the most successful graphic engines.
The Pimax 8K then has plenty of strength to put on the table. And it’s not just promises either. During the last year Pimax has toured the world promoting its prototype in many conferences, where enthusiast have been able to try it hands on.
The public reception has generally been very good. People praised the resolution and the extended FOV and placed it one step above the competition.
It comes to no surprise then that the Pimax 8K campaign on Kickstarter raised more than $4 million making it one of the most successful ever. One of the best features that attracted investors, apart from resolution and FOV, is the modular design.
Depending on the amount donated, users could receive the headset with an increasing quantity of accessories. Beyond the “usual” controllers and base stations, Pimax offers a handsfree set, a wireless kit, and eye tracking. There is also a plan to sell a “premiere” version titled 8K X that takes better advantage of the resolution. Although none of these extra kits has been tested in public, Pimax declares it is confident to deliver everything within 2018.
(VRS, San Francisco, Oct.25th, 2017)
It seems then that Pimax has brought a gun to a knife fight. But there is a catch.
The hardware required to manage this kind of resolution at the specification rate of 90Hz is incredible. In fact, Pimax has introduced two tricks to reduce the load on the graphic card. First, the visor can only receive a 4K input, which is then upscaled internally thanks to a custom video signal processor, thus halving the pixels to be managed.
Moreover, it introduced a technique called Brainwarp, where only one side(eye) of the screen is updated at each frame. This again halves the average pixels to manage without reducing the quality of the experience.
However, even using these two techniques, the Pimax 8K still requires a GTX 970 to run properly, which in turn means an extra spending of $600.
Things get worse for the 8K X, which does not perform the upscaling and thus requires a 2x4K input. Such number of pixels, streamed at 90Hz, requires two cables and a graphic card that may not exists yet. In fact, Pimax urges all customers who have ordered the X version to have at least a Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti ($800) or best to wait for the upcoming new generation Nvidia Volta.
There are still issues then, but we can safely say that the Pimax 8K represents a big step for Virtual Reality.
Although the non-enthusiastic user will probably not want to pay around $1000 for the 8K, Pimax has set a new benchmark for VR visors that will hurry the competition to catch up and force the overall industry to higher the standard.
For that we can say: Thank you Pimax!
Nov. 11th, 2017
Presentation Slides can be found here
Note: This article was written as an homework for course CS 491 – Virtual and Augmented Reality, held by professor Johnson at UIC.