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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