At CES 2020 this week, VRgineers announced a new version of its XTAL high-end headset for enterprise priced at $7,890, including business grade support.
The original XTAL was announced back in summer 2018. For $5,800 it featured dual 1440p OLED panels, 70Hz refresh rate, custom lenses with 180° field of view, eye tracking for automatic IPD, and built in Leap Motion controller-free hand tracking.
This new XTAL ditches OLED for dual 4K LCD displays instead. While VRgineers calls this “8K” (just like Pimax does), it’s important to note that the industry definition of 8K is actually 4 times as many pixels than 4K, not twice. This is because you need to multiply both axis of resolution. Hopefully VR companies stop using misleading terminology for the sake of marketing in future.
Strangely, the new model doesn’t seem to be called XTAL 2 or even have a different name, with VRgineers simply referring to it as the “latest generation of XTAL”.
The eye tracking has been upgraded to now support foveated rendering. The human eye is only high resolution in the very center. Notice as you look around your room that only what you’re directly looking at is in high detail. You aren’t able to read text that you aren’t pointing your eyes at directly. In fact, that “foveal area” is just 3 degrees wide. Advanced VR headsets can take advantage of this by only rendering where you’re directly looking (the foveal area) in high resolution. Everything else (the peripheral area) can be rendered at a significantly lower resolution. This is how XTAL can have 16 million pixels and still be usable by existing high-end GPUs.
To actually carry the display signal from the GPU to the headset, the new XTAL uses VirtualLink, the USB-C single cable standard for future VR headsets and the GPUs/laptops they connect to. VirtualLink hasn’t yet seen adoption in the consumer market.
So just how realistic of an image does dual 4K panels provide? The original XTAL is already being used by the USAF for pilot training, and Vance Air Force Base will be using the new XTAL. “The feeling that I got while flying the F18A in full VR mode in XTAL is really astonishing. It was so close to reality that I felt I was inside the F18A.” said Capt. Taimeir, a former F18 pilot from the Swiss Airforce, CEO of Mirage Technologies. The simulation rig it’s used in (which we tried at CES, more on that soon) costs $50,000.
VRgineers is also working with the US Navy to develop a next generation simulator, as well as “major national aircraft simulators and leading global automobile manufacturers”.
Like the original XTAL, the new headset supports a range of tracking systems via add-ons, including SteamVR and OptiTrack.
Interestingly, it also supports an addon module for mixed reality. We haven’t seen any details of this or tried it yet, but we’re interested to see how it compares to Varjo’s approach at the same concept.
Finally, the company intends to release a software update in the next few months for both the original and new headsets to improve the lens distortion matrix. This is likely intended to address complaints of warping on the edges of the lenses.