We’re not even one year into the release of the current crop of VR HMDs and mobile headsets, and while sales are in the millions, it’ll still be a while before every household has a VR device or every person walks around the city with AR-equipped glasses. So what will it take for VR and AR to be an omnipresent technology? Price is certainly one important factor, but Epic Games’ founder Tim Sweeney thinks it’ll come down to two things: better optics and smaller form factor.
“To displace monitors and keyboards and mice and become truly the way we do all these things in real life, you’re going to need about 4K resolution per eye,” Sweeney concludes. “And miniaturization that’s much more convenient to wear all day, every day.”
Thankfully, Sweeney doesn’t see these hurdles as issues that will take long to overcome.
“All these things are already happening; Moore’s law alone will get us to 4K per eye,” Sweeney postulates. “There are multiple manufacturers building 4K LCDs that are smartphone-sized, and as soon as they’re miniaturized and built into OLEDs, that’ll be the next step.”
In case you’re not familiar, Moore’s law states the density of transistors a circuit board can hold doubles about every two years, and that means smaller size, greater computing power and reduced weight.
“Reducing the weight is just a matter of componentization,” explains Sweeney. “Remember what computers looked like 20 years ago and what they look like now, and think about everything Apple packs into a tiny iPhone package. If you open it up you’ll see they’ve designed custom circuit boards and custom components that all mesh together in these amazingly compact ways — that’s all coming to VR and AR.”
“I think what we’re seeing in VR is we have not yet even gone through a single cycle in which custom hardware has been built just for the application; we’ve been repurposing cameras and displays and motion sensors from smartphones,” Sweeney continues. “When someone starts designing from the ground up for VR, the results are going to be staggering, not only in the quality and capabilities, but also the ability to be reduced into a more convenient form factor.”
While Sweeney believes the technology will hit great strides in comfort and usability over the next few years, it may be a bit longer until we’re at the point where it’s as ubiquitous as smartphones.
“I think we’re on a 10-to-12-year track until the display part of VR and AR is reduced to the size of your glasses — no more weight, no more inconvenience, something you can wear all the time and make part of your everyday, ordinary life.”
Tim pauses for a second before adding an important and clever clarification, “And if it looks goofy, that’s okay… it’ll Photoshop everyone else’s out in real-time.”