Putting on a VR headset and immersing ourselves in a virtual world is an exciting concept. But what about using it as a replacement for our trusty physical monitors? Is it something that can truly be achieved? Well, according to Karl Guttag, a seasoned expert in the field, it might not be as feasible as we think.
In his comprehensive writeup, Karl delves into the technical challenges and limitations that such devices face. Although he primarily focuses on the recent high-resolution Apple Vision Pro, his insights transcend any particular product. For those intrigued by these issues, his article is a must-read. But fear not, for here we will summarize the main takeaways.
The Importance of Text Display
One of the primary functions of a monitor is to display text. In fact, text is considered so crucial that it requires special handling. Font hinting, the process of rendering fine details and lines of text onto pixel grids, has been a cornerstone of computer displays for over four decades. Almost all font rendering relies on this technique, especially to optimize readability on lower-resolution displays.
However, the challenge arises when trying to apply normal grid fitting to a virtual monitor. Unlike physical monitors, virtual displays can be rendered in any orientation, making traditional grid fitting ineffective. This means that text displayed on a virtual monitor will always appear worse because the usual tricks of font rendering don’t work. While increasing the resolution of virtual monitors can alleviate this issue, so far, virtual monitors tend to have fewer pixels to work with compared to their physical counterparts. The little screens inside VR headsets need to share their pixels with the rest of the VR scene.
Balancing Size and Comfort
Increasing the size of virtual monitors can provide them with more pixels, but it comes at a cost. As virtual monitors grow larger, they become less comfortable to use. Once we have to constantly move our heads to read what’s displayed, the experience quickly becomes tiresome. While movie theatre-sized virtual monitors may seem ideal for serious desktop computer work, they are far from practical.
Karl presents strong arguments against VR headsets replacing traditional monitors. However, there are other individuals and organizations who are determined to make it work. For instance, the SimulaVR team is developing an open-source Linux headset that primarily functions as a monitor replacement. Their proposed solution to increase resolution involves using lenses that concentrate pixels toward the center of the field of view. Additionally, other companies disenchanted with existing headsets’ ability to render virtual monitors have stepped up to develop their own solutions. Although these products are not currently available for purchase, it’s clear that Karl’s concerns are shared by innovators seeking to overcome these challenges.
To VR or Not to VR?
Now the question remains: would you be willing to use a VR headset as a monitor replacement? Regardless of your stance, it’s worth considering that such a headset could serve as an excellent foundation for a cyberdeck build. The possibilities are certainly intriguing.
In conclusion, while the concept of using a VR headset as a monitor replacement may appear enticing, it presents numerous technical hurdles. As technology continues to evolve, we may witness breakthroughs that address these challenges. For now, however, it seems that our physical monitors still reign supreme in terms of text rendering and comfort. But who knows what the future holds? Only time will tell.