Update: New John Carmack Software Doubles Oculus Home Resolution on Gear VR

by Joe Durbin • April 2nd, 2017

On the list of things I thought I would be seeing when I showed up to a meeting with Oculus last week to demo the new Gear VR, doubled resolution was not one of them. Increasing the resolution of virtual reality headsets is at the very top of many people’s “Problems to Solve” list including my own. I assumed it would take a significant jump in hardware to get to that next level of image fidelity, but apparently Oculus CTO John Carmack had other ideas.

Halfway through my demo, Oculus head of mobile product, Max Cohen, told me that a new piece of software designed by Carmack will be included in the brand new Oculus Home redesign releasing for Gear VR today. This new approach will reportedly provide “twice the pixel resolution” in Oculus Home for Gear VR.

Oculus Home

According to Cohen, before this software update “the eye buffers rendered 1024×1024 and because of the way it was rendered on the screen you were looking at somewhere in the order of 400 pixels vertically.”

Once the new Home goes live, however, “you’re looking on the order of about 600 pixels. So it’s kind of a one-and-a-half times, one-and-a-half times improvement which equals around two overall.”

According to a message from Oculus, this increased image clarity is made possible by “a native rewrite and cylindrical layers.”

These layers warp the native image on your phone’s screen in a slightly different manner than before to better utilize the pixels on the screen. Carmack himself describes the difference as “going from Standard Definition to High Definition.” Update: Carmack explained in a lengthy Facebook post how the new resolution boost works:

For years now I have lamented that the visual quality gap between what we should be able to do on the Gear VR hardware and what users are actually seeing is very large. Most people think “VR just looks that way (bad)” because that is all they see. I finally have a pretty good example to show what we should get.

There are a bunch of things that combine to deliver the improvement, but “Cylindrical TimeWarp Layers” is the new buzzword.

I was astonished by how dramatic the improvement was. The new Oculus Home on Gear VR is the best looking thing I have ever seen inside of any headset. It even puts its older brother Rift to shame. For the first time in VR I could read text clearly without straining my eyes. That alone is a huge milestone for this technology.

Cohen clarified that only Oculus Home is currently benefiting from Carmack’s resolution wizardry and it is only available on Gear VR. However, the technique may be applied in other experiences or headsets over time.

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  • Mourz

    If you think Carmack had anything to do with this other than putting his name on it, then you are extremely naive.

    • bsden

      Care to explain why? This is exactly the kind of stuff I *would* expect Carmack to be involved in.

      • Hawk1290

        If you think Mourz has any credible information outside of bias speculation, then you are extremely naive. Heh, in all seriousness though- unless you work at the company you couldn’t possibly tell others what Carmack does at Oculus.

      • Brad Blackmere

        Yeah, it makes no sense to suggest that Carmack had no part of this. This kind of stuff is precisely what they pay him for AND what he’s always been pretty good at.

        I say that as somebody who thinks that Carmack is a bit of a sleaze.

        • No Spam

          “Sleaze”? Why?

          I’ve heard lots of adjectives for Carmack (some good, some not) but “sleaze” makes it sound like he’s been involved in a sex scandal, or lies/cheats/steals.

          I’m not saying your opinion isn’t valid, but I’m curious how you came to it.

          • Brad Blackmere

            I meant it in the same way that one might say that a pawn shop that buys stolen car stereos and resells them is sleazy.

            Maybe I should have said “cheat” or “shark” instead.

            Seems like a competent programmer, but some of his business decisions have been ethically dubious.

      • Mourz

        Ive worked with him. No, not giving proof cause I like my job. He was a competent programmer​ 20 years ago. He is way out of touch, and more of a manager / inspiration leader for those young guys that come in with stars in their eyes.

        We have all had that​ manager. He waits and sees what works and THEN puts his name on it.

        • Kevin Smith

          Haha, you’re so full of shit.

          • Mourz

            Have you worked with a CTO at an org before? I have nothing to prove. Just curious if you understand what the role is of someone at that level. Do you think they are in the trenches codding with us?

            Looking forward to your response. In full disclosure, I am an occulus fan and develop on their sdk.

          • xxTheGoDxx

            > I have nothing to prove.

            Than keep your mouth shut! Its that simple.

          • Mourz

            It is an open convo. I look forward to more constructive input from you and less trolling. Thanks!

        • Bruce_Leet

          when you say he waits to see what works, how would you characterize his work on voxel octrees and megatextures?

          and his predictions on virtual geometry?

          all three are areas where he did the actual work himself… and in the case of mega-textures the results were amazing… the other two areas are yet to fully materialize… but he has rarely been wrong on reading the future

          its hard to read your comment and wonder what you are referring to… are you saying he is stealing the work of others?

          if that is what you are saying, what company was he stealing at? certainly not iD and Zenimax… are you referring to Oculus?

          • Mourz

            Thanks for your input. Im not accusing him of stealing. He did steal, as proven by the court, but I’m not going there.

            Im talking about how you have that​ manager who always seems to get more credit than he deserves and is reluctant to pass on praise to his team.

          • Texazzpete

            I think it’s increasingly obvious to everyone that you’ve got a tremendous amount of bias towards this guy.

          • Mourz

            It is experience, not bias. Thankfully, he is on his way out.

        • NooYawker

          Even if he is way out of touch the fact you called him a “competent” programmer 20 years ago shows you have a personal bias against him. If you did work with him he must have belittled you or something. Any way you want to spin it, Carmack is a legend and icon at the helm of yet another evolutionary change in gaming. You are an angry guy posting on a website.

          • Mourz

            Not angry at all. <3
            Thanks for your input though!

    • Walextheone

      Nahh you are wrong man. If you have listened to his tech speaches last 24 months it’s quite obvious that he has put in a lot of work.

    • ribbitz

      I am astute enough to understand that one doesn’t go out of their way to post a comment like this unless they have an agenda. So why don’t you just air it, because right now all we’re getting is that you’re jealous of Carmack, and juvenile. Where’s the beef?

      • Mourz

        No beef. He makes a mean old fashion actually. Also not going out of my way, just following the news and typing a comment. I respect your opinion though. Thanks for the feedback.

  • polysix

    Facebook yet again putting emphasis and priority on shitty mobile VR to the detriment of PC VR. Story doesn’t change. Never will.

    • GCM

      IMO it’s a smart move. Current PC VR headsets are extremelly expensive and user base is still very, very small.
      Samsung is aggressively pushing Gear VR to it’s S7 users (to try and recover some brand loyalty after the S7 note fiasco) and this makes a very inexpensive entry point to VR from the user’s perspective. As more powerful mobile devices become more prevalent in the user base this trend (mobile based VR) will only increase. This addresses one of the industry’s main challenges: growing a user base to justify app/game development by studios.
      TL;DR > mobile is cheap entry point to VR. Makes sense to support it

      • Brad Blackmere

        I have yet to see a mobile solution (with the possible exception of Intel Project Alloy devkit) that actually counts as VR. 360 degree head tracking is not VR. The lack of positional tracking is just ruining the market. We need to get past this phase of Faux VR. We’ll all be better off for it.

        • GCM

          Using your logic, Oculus DK1 (which started this new wave of VR), wasn’t VR…
          There won’t be a next phase if the only consumers in the market are early adopters willing to shell out thousands of dollar for a headset + powerful PC combo. No users means no software being developed. A cheap entry point is needed and that is what Gear VR offers. It doesn’t need to be the prime of VR experience, just a gateway for new consumers.

          • Brad Blackmere

            I just worry that it’s poisoning the well. 360 stereoscopic is not that impressive and doesn’t really create an actual virtual world to move in.

            If you think that’s VR I can see dismissing it as a fad… That kind of VR IS a fad, and will go away either when the industry fails again or when positional tracking gets cheap enough to be everywhere.

          • Gibbons1969

            >360 stereoscopic is not that impressive and doesn’t really create an actual virtual world to move in

            Oh, but it does. The vast amount of VR content I enojoy does not require me moving around (other than the head) at all. It seems like you are locked into a mindset where VR is only used for games.

          • Brad Blackmere

            Nah, you misunderstand. 3 degree of freedom headsets can have compelling content but it’s wrong to call that a ‘virtual reality’s

            Virtual Reality needs to be something you can physically traverse. We don’t call the New Zelda game VR just because there’s a world there that you can see. Without the ability to walk through it it might be compelling and 3d but it’s not VR.

            Everyone is calling static content and video VR but it’s just not.

          • mesonw

            Hmm, I understand why you’d want to argue as much, but the fact is that the key difference between Virtual Reality and any other digital form of viewing content is the fact it is wrapped entirely around you. You are *inside* the world, whether you’re able to move or not.
            The best of VR may have you traversing it freely, but there are many games that let you do that in ‘steps’ to avoid motion sickness. By your argument, such games wouldn’t be classed as VR either. From fully 3D stereoscopic worlds (games or otherwise) with positional and rotational tracking and freedom of movement, to 2D 360 degree images pasted on the inside of a ‘globe’ are all VR, *provided* you are wholly inside it, fully encompassed in it, rather than looking *into* the world through a ‘window’.
            Actually the only really dubious use of VR to me is to have a floating screen in front of you, like a fake cinema or TV screen with a film or game on it. If it’s a floating screen with a 2D image on it, and no background, that to me is not VR, it is merely immersive tunnel vision. Stick a fake living room in there as well and you have a VR room where you watch or play a non-VR game.

          • Brad Blackmere

            I understand that point of view. I just think that in 20 years VR will have a minimum specification, and that minimum specification will be something like 6 degree of freedom movement + hand, hip and foot tracking with some kind of haptics.

            It doesn’t mean you can’t have compelling stuff that doesn’t hit minimum specification… All current consumer hardware is below minimum spec… But VR should mean something specific, instead of being a vauge marketing term.

          • mesonw

            No matter how good the tech gets, there will always be an interface issue. Arguably you could say something like Elite Dangerous or a racing game where you’re fixed to your seat is more VR than a game that lets you move about freely. The latter naturally breaks the immersion with its clunky method of hand inputs trying to fool your brain, where the former is much closer to reality. In a virtual racing seat you can do everything you can do in a real racing seat… that’s *virtually* reality.

          • Brad Blackmere

            But both of those examples use 6 DOF tracking 😉

          • ribbitz

            I think the design intent for the applications on a platform is an important indicator of VR. What I’m getting at is that applications for VR have to be designed with VR in mind, to create an immersive, compelling experience with an interface that works well in VR and with consideration given to the somatic side of the users (avoiding fatigue, discomfort, sickness.) It can’t simply be desktop/console content pushed to a different display device.

            Developers are still learning how to do this, and any platform where this is important can probably just be considered ‘VR,’ even if it isn’t the flagship product. I think that’s a more important indicator of whether a platform is VR or not than counting exactly how many VR-like details, screen resolution, etc. a given platform supports.

          • Fab Z

            Last time I checked, when I stand still and look around me I’m still within Reality.

            So it stands to reason that if I’m standing still, looking around, but I’m wearing a headset that allows me to look around me in a different place, I would be using a Virtual Reality device.
            Don’t be such a snob, otherwise pedants could argue that it isn’t virtual reality until smell, taste and touch were also simulated.

          • amanieux

            the problem is not cheap positional tracking the problem is content generation, 360 photo/video is easy, 3d modeling is hard.

        • NooYawker

          I don’t see an issue with mobile VR. It’s a gateway for many people.. a taste of VR which hopefully will lead them to purchase a full VR set and experience the real deal.

        • amanieux

          6dof is better than 3dof for immersion but remember that for 360 photo/video it does not change anything as it is only 3dof content. do you really think 360 photo/video is not a interesting new medium ? anyone can generate this content for as low as $100 for lg360 camera. what you call “real VR” requires 3d modeling and there will be much less of this 6d0f content because 3d modeling is much more difficult than pressing a record button on a 360 camera.

          • Brad Blackmere

            >do you really think 360 photo/video is not a interesting new medium ?

            That’s not at all what I said/ am saying. I’ve been pretty careful to note that below spec experiences can still be compelling. That’s part of what makes me so excited for VR in general it that even experiences that only partially deliver on the promise of the VR medium are worthwhile and cool.

            But I do still think that devices like cardboard have somewhat of a negative halo effect. “VR” that only includes 3 DOF tracking is problematic in a ton of ways. Notably, the bad head tracking can make people sick, the lack of an actual world you can move in will leave people wondering how this is different from 3d TV, experiences on mobile tend to be poorly optimized, controller input weirdness is a problem without tracked hands.

            I am very much looking forward to the day when this is no longer a criticism of mobile “VR” because high quality positional tracking is available on all VR capable devices. That will make me feel a lot better about the future of the medium.

          • amanieux

            i am with you on “even experiences that only partially deliver on the promise of the VR medium are worthwhile” but the point i wanted to make about 3dof/6dof it that i see a predictable success for 3dof content (such as 360 video) based on the analogy with youtube that delivers 300hours of new 2d video every minute, how many 6dof content (such as 3d video games) are created every minute ?

          • Brad Blackmere

            Yeah, that’s a fair point, although I would point out that tech for volumetric capture of a live scene is actually pretty far along and working pretty well, also, look at something like the tech that they are using for Google Earth to do modelling with tools like drones with LIDAR. Most cities in North America are fully depth mapped via LIDAR and drones. So the tech for 6 DOF content on the scale of something like Youtube could be a lot closer than you think.

          • amanieux

            agree with you, if tango phones catch up (it is a big if because i see no killer app on tango that will bring it to mass market) in 2 or 3 generations we may have enough resolution to capture a decent 3d scene by walking around a small perimeter for 1 or 2 minutes (or driving your driverless car around an area:)) (but again not as simple/fast as snapping a unique photo), i have been working for 20 years in 3d graphic modelers/renderers. and we all dream of being able to walk into a photograph like in the famous blade runner scene 🙂

    • No Spam

      It’s funny, I was just reading comments on a GearVR story or in the GVR subreddit (can’t find it now) with a bunch of Gear users complaining that Oculus invests 99% on PC VR and 1% on Gear. They were pissed off, because Rift gets full games like Robo Recall and they get very little.

      Meanwhile, Rift users complain about the investment in mobile instead of PC. Kind of funny.

    • Walextheone

      You don’t get it do you? =)
      It’s two different branches. Big brother “Rift” is getting a lot of software updates, games, apps and so on. Hardware for full blown HMD iterates much slower than for phones. I think the emphasis is for VR and not just one of the branches

    • ribbitz

      As a mobile VR user, you can go F yourself; nobody tells you how s-tty corporate investment in your hobby is. Offense aside, there’s plenty of development in PC VR, given that there are already three major non-mobile platforms available after less than one year from release to market. GearVR gets a software update, and you’re complaining about what you have? Are you chomping at the bit to throw another thousand dollars at a hardware upgrade after just months?

  • Nicholas

    So not actually doubling anything then, just a change in the scaling. Yawn.

    • Walextheone

      Going from so-so quality to be able to read text with out straining the eyes is quite huge

  • Devon Copley

    Lots of uninformed commentary here.

    The GearVR screen actually has the highest pixel resolution of any screen of any consumer VR device, including Rift and Vive. S6/S7 have 1440×2760 screens; that’s ~1300 horizontal per eye, or about 5K horizontal for the entire sphere. HOWEVER. Due to the fact that the Oculus software stack restricts the screen buffers to 1024×1024 cubemap, the actual USABLE resolution is much lower. A few apps (notably Oculus Photo) had access to a 1536×1536 cubemap for static imagery ONLY, but any time you wanted animated CGI or Video you were forced to use the 1024×1024 cube. Apparently they have optimized that pipeline — I’m guessing in preparation for the upcoming S8 — to provide 1536×1536 cubes for ALL applications.

    Make no mistake: This is a BIG deal actually and will result in very significant visual improvements across all apps on Gear once they roll it out to the standard APIs. It will be especially great for the S8, which has a higher 2960 horizontal pixels, approaching 6K horizontal resolution.

    • amanieux

      gearvr is not the highest resolution – mon sony z5 premium is 4k and works in cardboard which is much more widespread than gearvr

      • Devon Copley

        You’re right about that. Unfortunately it’s not Daydream-compatible so refresh rate and head rotation performance is pretty poor – as a result I don’t consider the Z5 as a proper VR device. But hopefully the next 4K phone will have Daydream and could easily be the best res.

        • amanieux

          true but if you develop for daydream instead of cardboard you are working for a ridicule amount of users see below : https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/42e3de06681dacfb70e8795ab13f997d6203715f6e503fbb6d5a9a2933699c65.jpg

          • xxTheGoDxx

            I would argue that most of those Cardboards sold are not in use anymore though. Its probably the platform with the highest amount of users that have just thrown away their headset.

          • amanieux

            sure most of these free gifted marketing cardboards are unused but even if we estimate that only 1% did stick with it it is almost 1M recurring cardboard users, so even if there is 100% of adoption on daydream 100% of almost zero is still zero 🙂

          • ribbitz

            Cardboard has no future. It has no hardware support, so the performance is poor no matter which phone you’re using. It was a development testboard; Daydream is the product. In a year, nearly every phone in the top 30% will support Daydream. No wonder you think mobile is crap..

          • Fab Z

            I regularly use Daydream with my Pixel XL and it’s fantastic. I couldn’t care less about the games (I have PSVR for those) and I’ve yet to see any really impressive video experiences, but Google street view on its own is easily worth the price of admission! It is by far the most impressive non-game VR I’ve seen to date. You can travel almost anywhere in the world and with excellent resolution and speed. Sensational!

          • ribbitz

            Yeah. I have a GearVR now. Would like to compare Daydream.

          • Fab Z

            Are you able to try out Google street view VR on the Gear? I doubt there’s much difference in the hardware between the two so I would imagine it would be just as good as the Daydream version.

          • ribbitz

            For some marketing/legal reason, the GearVR version started out as Google Streetview, but after a while was renamed “Viso Places.” works great, though. I think it’s a different application than Google’s for their Daydream, though using Streetview data. Works great though.

          • by that logic, neither has a future.

            Daydream might happen when every low end phone supports it, and that’s not going to happen for another 10 years.

          • ribbitz

            Cardboard has no future because it has no hardware support, and will not be developed any further. It will not get any better than it is now. It’s done. It was a testbed for the fundamental concepts that were used to develop Daydream.

            Daydream will be succeeded and obsoleted also, but unlike cardboard is a consumer-ready product with manufacturer hardware support so that it actually performs at a VR-grade level of quality. That’s a basic differentiation.

            Low-end phones don’t need to support Daydream in order to make it a viable platform. Not everyone is interested in VR, and running Cardboard on a low-end phone is not a good VR-promoting experience either.

      • xxTheGoDxx

        Cardboard sucks though, both in image quality because of the cheap lense, the drifting from using phones IMU’s that were not designed with VR in mind, not having low persistence and because most of the apps are trash (not sure how many superior Gear VR games are around overall though). The Z5 uses a LCD panel which is nonsense for VR. I bet Sony just used a 4K panel for marketing reasons because there is no real reason to do so.

        • amanieux

          true oled is better on paper but in real world usage i don’t see much of a difference between ips of my z5 premium and oled of my s6 but i see a big difference between 4k and 1440p

    • Buddydudeguy

      So it has the highest resolution. Not that it can do much with it.

      • amanieux

        snapdragon 810 of the z5 premium is good enough for 360 video and photos even in 4k, the problem is battery life and overheat that slows down the cpu atfer a few minutes unless you put a usb fan 🙂 – the sony xz premium that is out next week with snaprdragon 835 should have more power to render 3d VR in 4k 🙂

        • Buddydudeguy

          k? Except 360 video is not real VR. Mobile is crap.

          • koenshaku

            Agreed, I was disappointed to find that out the hard way after downloading p0rn. 180 degree garbage that kinda kills the experience.. >_>

          • ribbitz

            I have PC and Gear VR. The mobile, while slightly less capable than the PC-based system, certainly isn’t “crap.” Mobile will continue to improve until a PC isn’t needed or desired.

          • Buddydudeguy

            lol “slightly”? You sir have a really really bad PC. And yes it is crap.

          • There’s some apps like Altspace VR which are practically identical on Gear VR to their PC counterparts. It really depends what you’re doing. The new processors in the S8 will be plenty good for some nice experiences, especially at that resolution.

          • Buddydudeguy

            I’ll give you that, but I didn’t get a 1080 to play alt space.

          • ribbitz

            If you don’t like Altspace, there are several hundred apps available for Gear VR. They’re behind the “Store” button in Oculus Home.

          • Buddydudeguy

            …..Why would I care about Gear VR? I have a (real) VR HMD.

          • ribbitz

            Ah but you do care, since you’re reading and commenting in an article exclusively about Gear VR.

          • ribbitz

            I’m seeing two fundamental differences between GearVR and Oculus PC: I’m seeing 6DOF as opposed to 3-axis tracking, and tracked touch controllers. Everything else is differences of degree; i.e. enhanced graphics, sophistication of applications and games.

            Touch controller for GearVR will be available this month, so the only fundamental difference left will be positional tracking. Am I missing something? Can you offer some backing for your statement that mobile = crap?

          • Buddydudeguy

            Is that a serious question? The day they squeeze the power of a gaming PC into a phone, then you’ll be right.
            The experience of a mobile VR game vs whats available on PC is magnitudes apart. I’m not talking about fake VR 360 videos and alt space.

          • ribbitz

            There’s nothing a PC can do that a smartphone fundamentally can’t, it just lags behind by a few years. The power of smartphones doubles at the same rate as desktop computers.Smartphones today already pack the power of yesterday’s gaming PC, and when that gets good enough, it’s good enough.

          • Buddydudeguy

            lol you’re not right at all. Show me a cell phone that can do a PC VR game on high settings at 90 fps. Oh wait, you can’t.

          • ribbitz

            No, the point is that it is capable of similar experiences, or will be soon. You were saying that “mobile is crap,” not “android can’t run windows games.”

          • Buddydudeguy

            That’s just it. You’re all about how it can run a android version of the experience. I’m saying it’s a gimped experience.

          • Buddydudeguy

            Similar as in….? certain select games designed around mobiles limitations. Ya, you win. Gimped graphics and lower frame rate. Ya, so similar, you win. You got me. Mobile is totally on the same level as a PC.

        • Smanny

          The 810 was only designed to render 2k displays max. The SD 835 can drive 4k displays at 60 fps.

      • Rex Thorne

        The higher resolution makes a huge difference for VR video. I have a Vive and an S6 Gear VR. The Vive is far superior for gaming, but the Gear VR is much better for video because the sub-pixels are less visible.

        • Buddydudeguy

          Right? I know this. All mobile is good for is videos which isn’t real VR, and is precisely my point.

    • greysphere

      FYI, anyone have always been use higher res eyebuffers when developing apps if they want to (at the cost of performance). We did in the Discovery VR app for the UI (though the movies themselves have their own resolution restrictions).

      My interpretation is if you knew your source position/layout (ie a cylidrical ui at a particular radius, or a cubemap ‘at inifinity’) you could use that + the knowledge of the lens distortion + math to get the source texels to the screen pixels w/ less distortion. The distortion profile for the headsets hasn’t really been exposed via APIs since the .4 era when apps were responsible for rendering the distortion mesh themselves (you could reverse engineer it probably w/o too much trouble), but this development might indicate a return to having access to that information.

    • Anders Hjemdahl

      Correct – but IIRC the 1536×1536 cubemaps were available only in the Samsung (formerly Milk) app, and not in Oculus Photos?

    • NooYawker

      My son has a galaxy phone and a gear. It’s nice but it’s far and away from a real VR experience. A 4K tv can’t compare to a IMAX and mobile vr can’t compare to a vive or oculus.

    • Thanks for clearing that up, do you think the S8+ will have significant benefits over the S8 when it comes to mobile VR headsets?

  • jimrp

    please hurry and update games with it. kinda takes the pain of not having 4k

  • Robin Hart-Jones

    I keep reading about the need for better resolution but if you try the ORBX viewer on the GearVR with the S7 you can see photorealistic videos. The downside is that they are huge downloads for mere seconds of video. From that I would say the bottleneck is not pixel count, it is bandwidth and processing power and memory.

  • Tenka

    Enter Zenimax claiming they own the code in 3….2….1…

  • jimrp

    step 2 get this to work on Oculus Video, then Hulu

  • Hugo King-Fretts

    Visual clarity is perhaps one of the initial aspects that breaks the UX on Gear at the moment, telling people you can focus using the dial only to hear ‘it’s a bit better but still blurry’ makes the whole journey into VR problematic from the start. I respect Carmack, for me he’s one of those unsung hero’s of our generation in visual and program computing.

  • BQSTUDIOS

    When is the new oculus home update being released?? is it out yet, is it coming, no ones saying anything.

  • oplix

    The new Gear VR update is rather impressive not only due to clarity but the sheer smoothness of which it now operates.