Valve Develops Custom Lenses For Next Generation VR

by Ian Hamilton • October 9th, 2017

Valve Software, the technology partner that made the HTC Vive possible, is offering “new core components” to VR hardware manufacturers, including custom lenses “designed to support the next generation of room-scale virtual reality.”

Earlier this year Valve started freely licensing its innovative SteamVR Tracking technology. This tech has been critical to the HTC Vive’s functionality as it lets people explore entire rooms while completely immersed in a virtual world. We saw the technology employed in a prototype from LG earlier this year and HTC is building on it to bring a whole host of accessories into VR. Meanwhile, Valve is preparing to unleash a second generation of the technology which could make it far less expensive while enabling entire warehouses to be tracked.

Now Valve appears to be aiming to court additional manufacturers for VR headsets with a widened selection of components including new custom lenses. Its press release, included below, describes support for both LCD and OLED display manufacturers. While Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift both use OLED panels, low-persistence LCDs are used in some of the lower cost Microsoft headsets debuting at the end of 2017. Valve seems to be offering manufacturers another option besides Microsoft in adopting these LCDs with “custom hardware and software manufacturing solutions.”

Valve also “developed custom lenses that work with both LCD and OLED display technologies and is making these lenses available to purchase for use in SteamVR compatible HMDs.” Combined with Valve’s software, the lenses are designed “to be paired with several off-the-shelf VR displays to enable the highest quality VR visual experiences. These optical solutions currently support a field of view between 85 and 120 degrees (depending on the display). The lenses, which are designed to support the next generation of room-scale virtual reality, optimize the user’s perceived tracking experience and image sharpness while reducing stray light.”

For those unfamiliar, Microsoft and Valve are employing different approaches to tracking technologies for VR headsets. Microsoft’s “inside-out” solution is more convenient because no external hardware is needed, but it won’t fully track hand movements when they are out of the view of sensors embedded on the headset itself. Valve’s “outside-in” technology typically requires mounting a pair of boxes to your walls, but enables headsets to be tracked through the entire area alongside other objects. This works even if holding your controllers behind your back. So while Valve’s approach requires a little more setup, it’s possible that with extended use across many virtual worlds, Valve tracking might provide a more immersive and reliable solution. To be clear, this is conjecture still as we need to stress test Microsoft’s controllers to see how often the out-of-view tracking limitation comes up.

Press release from Valve below:

Valve Offers More Core Virtual Reality Technologies to Device Manufacturers

 October 9, 2017 — Valve, creator of Steam and SteamVR, a leading platform for games and virtual reality (VR) applications, today announced the availability of new core components needed by VR hardware manufacturers to deliver best in class VR systems.

Complementing the existing free license for sub-millimeter room-scale tracking and input technology, today’s news marks the addition of other critical pieces for developing state-of-the-art VR hardware: an advanced optical system, manufacturing and calibration tools, and the supporting software stack to unify the hardware into an optimal user experience.

“World class VR requires highly precise tracking, matched optics and display technologies, and a software stack that weaves together the interactions between these components,” said Jeremy Selan of Valve. “For the first time, we’re making all of these technologies available to anyone who wants to build a best in class VR system for the millions of Steam customers accessing over 2,000 SteamVR compatible titles.”

 About the Display and Optics Technology

Valve has spent years working closely with display manufacturers to adapt their technologies to the unique challenges of VR. Recent advancements in Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology combined with VR specific calibration now make it a viable technology choice for high end VR systems. LCD manufacturers have demonstrated fast-switching liquid crystals, low persistence backlights, and high PPI displays that, when calibrated and paired with the right software, are well matched to the highest quality VR experiences. Of course, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display technology was critical to the first generation of VR (being first to demonstrate fast transition times and low-persistence illumination), and it remains an excellent option for new head mounted displays (HMDs). While both display technologies have inherent artifacts unique to head-mounted usage, Valve provides custom hardware and software manufacturing solutions as part of the SteamVR technology suite to enable high quality visual VR experiences.

In addition, Valve has developed custom lenses that work with both LCD and OLED display technologies and is making these lenses available to purchase for use in SteamVR compatible HMDs. These lenses and Valve’s unique calibration and correction software are designed specifically to be paired with several off-the-shelf VR displays to enable the highest quality VR visual experiences. These optical solutions currently support a field of view between 85 and 120 degrees (depending on the display). The lenses, which are designed to support the next generation of room-scale virtual reality, optimize the user’s perceived tracking experience and image sharpness while reducing stray light. Valve is including the custom lens calibration and correction software within the SteamVR technology suite.

Finally, Valve continues to offer full room-scale, sub-millimeter tracking technology by providing a reference design for the “Watchman” tracking module and by offering Valve manufactured base stations with SteamVR Tracking 2.0 technology for sale to licensees.

For more information about VR technology licensing, please see


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  • Hone McBone

    Valve really has offered the best tracking solution from the start. With their continued push into the hardware along with the unannounced games they’re working on, the next lot of Steam VR headsets are looking pretty appealing.

    • RFC_VR

      Valve = 🎯

    • Sean Lumly

      Definitely! And their commitment to open-technologies (not patent encumbered) is really inspiring. I wish more companies operated this way.

    • NooYawker

      I’m definitely looking forward to seeing new hardware from different companies for Steam VR. Because I won’t be buying another HTC HMD now that they’re part of Google.

      • They are not part of google

      • Smokey_the_Bear

        Google bought a large portion of their smart phone business, nothing to do with the Vive.

        • RFC_VR

          yes 2,000 R&D staff including the in-house Pixel team, and access to technology / manufacturing base

          HTC now reported to be focusing on Vive biz, and bringing a small range of select smartphones to market.

    • polysix

      Shame about the Vive’s janky build, crappy controllers, bad SDE and awful ergonomics. Sold mine and went rift. it’s night and day and the tracking is just as good in a typically sized room.

      That said I’m not brand loyal having owned THEM ALL and will jump ship to whoever makes the best gen 2, but if it’s valve/steam VR they need to lose those crappy touch pads and put real sicks there. There’s so much you can do on the rift’s sticks with real feedback that feels like A&& on the vive.

      • Crunchy005

        “That said I’m not brand loyal” – BS you have been shilling for Rift since day one. Assuming you even own that lol.

        • Liroku

          To be fair, I’ve tried both and ended up buying the Rift because I liked the way it felt and I liked the touch controls far better. Room tracking has always worked perfectly, but I do think valve has a way better method, especially since you have to stretch USB cables all over the damn place for Oculus sensors. I try not to buy too many games from Oculus store, because who knows what headset I’ll replace it with, but for this generation and what’s available right this second in regards to peripherals, Oculus is my personal winner. This is mainly for comfort over long play periods, and the touch controls. However, not everyone has the same head/face shape and hands. For anyone to say either side is a clear winner is ridiculous, as there are many variables to consider and everyone has differing opinions and lifestyles.

          • Crunchy005

            polysix just likes to say Rift is 100% better for everyone, and that he has apparently owned every single headset and the vive is absolutely terrible in every single way.

            As for your points I agree the rift controllers are better, but I would be unable to run those USB cable in my room for 3 cameras to get roomscale. Also with the vive strap on properly it is quite comfortable, I actually think the rifts thinner cushion makes it less comfortable to wear. I think a lot of people just feel the vie weight and instantly think uncomfortable, but that is a downside to the vive, but the audio strap has made a huge difference with this and I find the vive more comfortable overall with the new strap. To each their own.

          • care package

            Not sure why roomscale is even a thing for some. Very few games even need roomscale and for good reason. Most either don’t have the room or don’t want to give up an entire room just for VR. This isn’t going to change either.

          • Crunchy005

            You don’t have to give up a room just for VR. My VR has a stand that it sits on when not in use with the lighthouses mounted to the ceiling. When VR isn’t being used the room is completely usable. Also a ton of games use room-scale. Maybe not A lot of games on the oculus store, but things like rec room, onward, Pavlov, raw data, Gorn, etc. all would be very hard without room-scale.

          • care package

            The average consumer doesn’t want to move furniture every time they VR. What ‘some’ are willing to do is more than what ‘most’ will. When I mentioned roomscale, I meant something that was solely made for roomscale. In other words if you don’t have the room you aren’t playing it, which is a VERY small percentage of games and yes you are only going to find them on Steam. The rest of them either can be played with very little space or standing in the same spot.

          • SandWyrm

            I set up my Vive in the family room in front of the TV. The only item that needs moving is one ottoman if it’s been moved out of place by the kids. The “room drawing” setup lets the “wall grid” activate to allow for niches between furniture and the like.

          • care package

            Software that requires room scale is far and few for good reason. That’s really my point. The only big budget room scale games will be commercial apps.

          • SandWyrm

            You don’t have any idea how a 3D/VR game is made, do you?

            I’ve worked in the game industry as an artist, programmer, and teacher for nearly 20 years now. There is nothing that makes “room scale” any harder for a developer to create than “chair-bound” game. Not in terms of art or programming.

            The only advantage to keeping a player chair-bound is that you can take an existing flight sim, racing game, or first-person shooter and just add the VR effect to the rendering. It’ll add a little extra to the bottom line of an existing title that was originally designed for 3D->2D rendering. But it won’t necessarily make for the best VR experience. In those games there’s nothing stopping you from leaning out of the plane or car for a better view, unless you build something for your head to bump into.

            Whereas all VR-only games (of either type) will be new projects that must make all of their money from the relatively small installed base of VR users. Those economics don’t favor large 80-100 man teams, as is the norm in AAA development. But rather small teams of maybe 3-4 people.

          • care package


          • SandWyrm

            Tried the Rift on a VR ride at the Wright-Pat Air Force museum. The fit was horrible and it had a plastic piece that painfully pinched my nose in the only position where the image wasn’t out of focus. No thank you.

            The Vive is a bit front-heavy, the room setup is a pain, and you’re *always* aware of the cables coming out the back, but it fits very comfortably on the head for long sessions. There is nothing on the mask that could possibly pinch your nose.

            My major grip with both is the resolution.

            The simple in-a-room cartoonish games my kids like are fine. But MY favorite VR game is IL2: Battle of Moscow. The flight experience is perfect, except that I can’t clearly see objects in the distance. My second favorite VR game is the Assetto Corsa racing sim, but again I can’t see the turns coming up in the distance clearly.

      • MowTin

        I totally agree with everything you said. Rift has slightly better visuals but much much better controllers. Vive’s lighthouses are much much better than those horrific USB cables. I have a third sensor but I have yet to install it because the wiring is such a pain. Plus I need a long USB cable for the third sensor and have to worry about USB long cable signal problems.

        I’m looking forward to seeing what Vive has to offer in their next gen.

        • Liroku

          When you buy a standalone sensor, it comes with a really long USB cable. I’m not sure it’s exact length, but it stretched across my room with slack to spare. I’d guess it’s roughly 15 or 16 feet long.

          • Crunchy005

            Depends on the room size if you need an extension or not. In the end I prefer the lighthouse system where that isn’t a concern at all. Most rooms are built with a socket on every wall and that’s all you need for each lighthouse.

          • Hone McBone

            Yeah once the initial set up is complete the lighthouse system really is the most elegant solution so far. The Microsoft headsets are interesting with the inside out tracking but I’m not convinced the controller tracking is as good from what I’ve heard.

          • Crunchy005

            Ya, I am curious to see how well those microsoft ones work. I don’t think the inside out on those has the ability to do room-scale, but just desk area tracking. Although if you think about it the Vive is technically an assisted inside-out tracking system while Rift is outside-in

      • Hone McBone

        I’m talking about upcoming SteamVR headsets, we can reasonably assume they’d come with the newer Valve controllers considering those are already with developers & the ergonomics will be better than what was produced by HTC, you just have to look at the LG prototype with the rising visor..

        The lighthouse tracking system is arguably better than running cables to cameras around the room & while I initially pre ordered a Rift, now that the Microsoft headsets are about to be released, the Rift is going to be just one headset that supports the restrictive oculus SDK.

  • Ethan James Trombley

    Man I was hoping Vive 2 would ship with around 140 FOV

    • Xron

      Fov is fine, we need more RES and better game AI + some multiplayer like enhanced Wow.

    • HybridEnergy

      As you increase FOV you stretch the resolution thus requiring more resolution to accomplish the same visuals. We need more pixels per/square inch.

      • Ethan James Trombley

        Yeah for sure but PPI is kinda a given jump. I’ve got a Pimax 8k preordered and am totally looking forward to seeing if it’s any good!

      • RFC_VR

        another interesting aspect of widening FOV is reportedly it increases the tendency towards “sim sickness” even in users who have not experienced it before (140 degree comes up in research)

        Some applications use vignettes and motion tricks to reduce this effect even on our current 90-110 degree systems.

        increases in FOV perhaps need to support the human vision system with high resolution focal area and lower resolution peripheral sphere?

  • HybridEnergy

    FOV is fine. People need to stop complaining about that. What we need is more PPI. Damn thing is just too blurry and SDE sucks. At least they are working on something, there is a good chance that Pimax 8k stuff is just a big flop gimmick. 200 fov my arse. 120-130 fov with 28xx by 14xx res upscaled to 4k on 4k panels would make everyone happy with a VIVE 2.

    • I cannot agree more. I think the current field of view in no way limits any use of VR headsets but resolution is a truly limiting factor. People are unable to read text, or see small details in an environment. Objects look aliased all over the placed even when supersampled to 2.0. I think the FOV with have now is pretty good but the resolution is like really old monitors. It’s crap.

      • RFC_VR

        is quality of display arguably more important than FOV at the moment?

        I’ve been surprised at the quality of display and reduced SDE on Pixel XL / View compared to my Vive, though FOV is narrower than the Vive.

        it is noticeable when starting a VR session (like scuba diving goggles), but really not an issue once enjoying the experience…kinda disappears? New View has wider FOV, interested to try when available

        • More FOV gives users a new experience, so it is really nice as something new. However, for those who are satisfied with the current generation which is pretty much everyone who has bought into VR, it is clear that the major drawback is resolution which is actively stopping users from doing things in VR. FOV doesn’t stop users from doing anything in VR, you can always move your head around. Resolution in the other hand will limit the things you can see and how legible or detail they seem. It is a true hindrance a lack of a feature. There are tasks in VR that you cannot do because of the low resolution. There are no task in VR that you can’t do because of the current FOV.

        • Crunchy005

          FOV is nice, but SDE is pretty bad at times. Once I’m into a game like Rec Room I don’t notice it, but when you have to read anything it instantly comes back into your conscious view and it’s annoying until you move on from the text. Overall I think gen 1 is pretty good considering there was nothing close before hand.

    • Mo Last

      retard. When you experience higher fov you’ll realize this was the most important immersion factor for games.

      • Crunchy005

        Not being able to properly read text completely ruins the immersion as well. I actually don’t feel less immersed with the current FOV, but the SDE does ruin the immersion at times.

        • HybridEnergy

          Exactly Crunchy, I’m on a 1080 ti and I find myself consistently having to spend an hour before each new game just fiddling the balance between super sampling and GFX settings just so I have a comfortable enough image quality. I don’t really seem to mind seeing a bit of black plastic to my sides to be honest either.

          • Crunchy005

            Must be nice lol. I’m on a 970 so I can’t super sample at all. In the end once I’m into a game I don’t notice the SDE, you mind is amazing at adapting. Text is really the only big reason for me to have a significant increase in resolution…But then I need a gpu upgrade as well

      • MowTin

        Won’t greater FOV mean more motion sickness? And clearly resolution is the biggest issue by far. It’s the most common complaint.

      • HybridEnergy

        No, it isn’t when everything looks like you are near sighted and need to see the eye doctor. With higher FOV comes also the need to push more pixels with out it increasing the image quality since the pixels are to cover the new FOV percentage. With how demanding VR is , I’d rather concentrate on image quality first before increasing something like peripheral vision. Also, you sound like the retard here and not me, I gave some good reasons why it’s better to concentrate on image quality over FOV, you just yell like an imbecile.

      • SandWyrm

        Greater FoV will reduce resolution even more on current hardware, or completely negate future advances in resolution.

        My greatest immersion problem isn’t FoV. As others have said, you can just move your head to fix that. But if you can’t see text, or distant objects clearly, nothing can compensate for that but a denser pixel field in front of the lenses.

  • leeleelee69

    I have the vive but the resolution is not good I want 4k per eye but we’ll just have to wait for the next GPU, Volta!

    • Crunchy005

      The main issue is it’s already barely affordable without having ridiculous GPU requirements. I think they did a good job balancing things for gen 1.

      • RFC_VR

        Supersampling showed the lack of GPU grunt on my overclocked i7/GTX1070 rig, simply needed more GPU power for a really crisp experience on 1st generation PC VR- exception being valve’s “the lab” with their AQ rendering tech ran like butter 😍

        Hopefully more optimised software, foveated rendering, higher resolution panels with new lenses will be the sweetspot of 2nd generation

      • Evgeni Zharsky


        • Crunchy005

          Great argument.

          • Mr. New Vegas

            Because he is right, you dont have to play in 4K on 4K screen, you get 4K screen (or higher than 4K) for PIXEL DENSITY, higher pixel density and there is no screen door effect, clear image and future proofing.
            We dont need to wait for HDMI 2.1 for 4K per eye, we already have Display port 1.4 that supports Chroma subsampling and can do 4K/120Hz per eye using Chroma Subsampling or the HMD can use two 1.4 DP cables for full RGB 120Hz per eye.
            In any case its just future-proofing, letting people have AUTOMATIC better VR experience the moment they upgrade their video card, keeping same old HMD.
            4K/120Hz or 4K/90Hz per eye if it has two 1.4DP connectors can survive for next 5 years or to the point in time we have GTX x080Ti graphics card that is capable of doing 6K per eye.

            Imagine Next gen Pimax headset (why Pimax because the crazy Chinese are crazy enough to release unrealistic hardware for cheap enough prices), its like their current 8K X model (X models have two display port cables) but with real OLED screen, valve sensors for best tracking, Microsoft inside out camera for compatibility with Windows10 and wireless gaming non Fresnel lenses (so no artifacts like in PSVR) and build in eye tracking oh and 2 gamepads copied from Rift aka they have actual gaming Thumb sticks and not lame trackpads and of course their 200fov.
            Such device will last for years, maybe even 10 years and if sold initially for 800$ than after one year drops to 600$ and after 3 years to 400$ it will sell like hot cakes.

  • Joshua Corvinus

    Correction: Valve’s tracking system is not outside-in. The base stations are light emitters, not sensors. The device tracks itself, making it an inside-out system. The distinction the author is looking for is ‘assisted’ vs ‘un-assisted’

    • Crunchy005

      Ya, i guess that’s true. The rift would be a true outside-in tracking system.

  • impurekind

    Can’t wait until we can get the likes of 8K resolution with around 200 degrees field of view and running 120fps, all wireless and without any downsides compared to the best current VR on the market.

  • cirby

    “The lenses, which are designed to support the next generation of room-scale virtual reality, optimize the user’s perceived tracking experience and image sharpness while reducing stray light.”

    Finally doing away with those damned Fresnel lenses, I see.

    This is actually pretty interesting – using “old school” lens tech, it’s hard to make a lightweight, compact, cheap, short-throw lens set that doesn’t cause chromatic aberration around the edges. There are some newer, high-tech lens technologies that have been in development for a while which could do away with most of the obvious problems, but are they in actual production for a reasonable cost?

  • GrangerFX

    I am looking forward to the day that the lenses are easily replaceable and you can order them with your eyeglass prescription. Until that happens, VR will never be comfortable for the 61% of the population that wear eyeglasses.