At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, 22,000 square feet was dedicated to gaming and VR—an increase of 68 percent compared to 2015. In addition, the show featured, for the first time, 5,000 square feet of space dedicated to augmented reality (AR) offerings. While VR is immersive, shutting out one’s surroundings, AR provides a virtual overlay to what the viewer is seeing in the real world.
Some pundits view VR as the hare in this space, casting AR as the tortoise that will ultimately win the race. They point to a wave of emerging AR startups that tout enterprise applications, broadening the opportunities for business growth. To become more widely adopted, AR displays must be small, comfortable, and easy to use, while offering superior graphics and an authentic visual experience.
It is important to note that VR typically requires fully occluded headsets with high-image quality, while AR headsets are see-through, meant primarily for data, and require displays with different performances. Displays for VR applications are typically larger, with very high resolution, color gamut, contrast, and low to moderate brightness. On the other hand, displays for AR applications are smaller and require very high brightness, but their color gamut and contrast requirements are moderate. In this sense, one can conclude that the holy grail of microdisplays is one that will satisfy both the VR and AR requirements.To this end, the display is focusing on some key areas. One is continuing to enable a reduced form factor in the optical combiner technology (which is what enables the virtual image overlay), while maintaining an image’s high quality. Another aspect is image brightness—important in AR since the image is seen on top of the real world using see-through optics. Image quality is dictated by the amount of ambient light in the wearer’s environment so contrast is important. The display must also enable the wearer to experience excellent image tracking with very low latency as he or she moves about. Microdisplay makers are working closely with customers and partners throughout the industry ecosystem to achieve these goals.