Text Readability

Even on the newest headsets, screen resolution will feel worse than what the average consumer has been spoiled with over the years. The average viewing distance of an iPhone or laptop is far greater than the distance a VR headset’s displays have to work with. If you put any modern high density monitor close to your eyeballs, you’re going to see individual pixels. There is simple a limit to how dense even LCD screens can be crafted at the moment. This inevitably leads to a problem known as “screen door effect” or “SDE”, where fine lines are apparent between the pixels in front of you.

Screen Door Effect Screen Door Effect from low pixel density

The only way to properly fix this is to increase pixel density up to a point where the human eye cannot see individual pixels. Many companies are doing just that, but it takes time to improve technology. For now, text readability remains a huge obstacle when creating VR experiences. When I spoke with Brian Peiris about his RiftSketch demo, he told me that each text character on screen had to be the equivalent of 20ft away from the user and at least 1ft tall, just so text was readable.

dk1_text Text readability on the original Oculus DK1

As we move towards more intricate interfaces and user experiences in VR, the need for high fidelity text increases. Currently thick borders around large piece of text help with readability, but sharp fonts won’t be in VR until displays increase in density.


Text Input

Typing is easy when you have a keyboard right in front of you. Typing is equally as easy when you can tap a the buttons on a screen. Typing becomes difficult – especially for those who are not touch typists – when you are in virtual reality. The keyboard is no longer part of your in your environment. You are typing blind.

Many of us are touch typists, and we can input text just fine without looking at our fingers. The same goes for mouse input. Problems start arising when desktop environments are no longer part of our visible reality. Typing is hard enough if you can’t see your keyboard, but what about if we are in a more mobile environment – such as walk-around VR?

LeapMotion works for some virtual keyboard solutions.

People have placed webcams to capture footage of their keyboards below them.

Some have even tried new handheld keyboards.

Nothing really works well yet. Some have said that we need to get used to other mechanisms for typing. The massive amount of inertia that the modern keyboard has is very difficult to disrupt. I suspect we will be seeing some great innovations parallel to the keyboard, rather than perpendicular to it.


Fast Paced Action

Every person who has ever spent a considerable amount of time with VR game has experienced motion sickness. “Cybersickness” is the body’s response to seeing – but not feeling – an high level of motion, rotation, or action. There are a few key factors that immediately make people sick. Just to name a few:

  • Low frame rate
  • Desynchronization between head movement and vision (input lag)
  • Forced camera movement
  • Unnatural movement

The first two are technical problems that will be fixed over time with better hardware and software. The second two are just a few of the multitude of factors that can make people feel nauseous because they’re entering a new reality that the body has not prepared for.

Unfortunately, quick motions are the staple of many, many video games and movies. Implementing a fully immersive version of these games will be a challenge. Many first person shooters have been created for VR, but few truly capture the fast paced excitement of a game like Counter-Strike or Call of Duty.

There have been recent efforts by innovative companies to build “room-scale” virtual reality experiences in which headset-wearing players can physically move about an open empty room while seeing a virtual reality environment. Unfortunately the average gamer does not have access to large open rooms nor do gamers want to become physically tired from their gaming experiences. Similarly, products like Omni have tried to map treadmill-like controllers to  Could you imagine doing this for a few hours?

Games like Counter-Strike require high levels of movement. They’re arcade games. This includes everything from quick 180 degree turns to shoot enemies that have snuck up behind you to rapid sprints across the playing area to complete an objective. Arcade shooters like Counter-Strike will always exist, and they will make their way to VR in some format. Some innovative interface mechanism will eventually be invented in which players can experience the ultra fast motion of Counter-Strike in virtual reality without getting sick, but for now that type of game will stay a 2D experience. I can’t imagine doing this in VR without getting incredibly sick:

My opinion is that games like Counter-Strike – which don’t rely on immersion – will exist as 2.5D games in VR. We will see a theatre-like desktop environment in which some elements of the game are in 2 dimensions as to allow mouse/keyboard movement while various particle effects will fly out from the “screen” right at players.

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