Microsoft Adds Peripheral Vision to VR

Microsoft Adds Peripheral Vision to VR

This one is sort of ironic when you consider the field of view (FOV) issues Microsoft faces with its HoloLens mixed reality headset. But the software giant says it can fix virtual reality nausea by basically adding peripheral vision capabilities to VR headsets.

I’m not a vision expert, but peripheral vision is really a combination of non-focused vision and our brains filling in the missing pieces. That is, if you see a ball bouncing in front of you and then turn to the left, you can still sort of see that the ball is still bouncing over on the right. But you don’t really “see” it normally when viewed peripherally. There’s a lot of processing power going on in your head to keep that thing in context.

With VR, Microsoft says, your peripheral horizontal vision is limited to about 100 degrees, which is far less than the 180 degrees of peripheral vision we experience normally. For this reason, Microsoft says, VR is more akin to looking through binoculars. (And I’ll say it for them: Using HoloLens is like looking through a mail slot.)

VR headsets partially compensate for this loss of peripheral vision the same way Microsoft does with HoloLens: They use positional sound when possible to present contextual information to the user. That’s how the Oculus Rift I just tested works, certainly.

But that doesn’t help with the central problem of lost peripheral vision. So Microsoft has come up with something called a sparse peripheral display, which emulates true peripheral vision using rings of peripheral LEDs around each lens in the VR headset. These, Microsoft says, create a 170 degree horizontal peripheral view, augmenting the normal VR display.

If this sounds familiar conceptually, you’ve been paying attention: This is exactly what the Illumiroom feature for Xbox One would have done had Microsoft not canceled it shortly before the console launched. Illumiroom would have projected an extended game display onto the wall to the left and right of your HDTV, providing a peripheral-style extension to what you see onscreen. It would have been blurrier and unfocused, just like real peripheral vision.

One of the benefits of this technology is that it limits the nausea effects some people experience when using VR.

And as it turns out, Microsoft has also implemented an augmented reality version of this technology which could one day help fix HoloLens. This creates a 190 degree horizontal view, so it will be a super wide mail slot. (It doesn’t help with the most limiting part of the HoloLens FOV, which is vertical.)

You can check out the video describing these technologies on YouTube. It’s interesting stuff, and a hint that maybe Microsoft won’t always be the no-show they are now in VR.

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