Eye-tracking company Tobii’s new foveated rendering technology can change the way we look at virtual reality forever.
LAS VEGAS—Though the modern iteration of virtual reality has been through a series of fits and starts over the past few years, one of the major barriers of entry has been the need to get headsets running at a fast enough speed to avoid motion sickness. In general, if a VR game or experience drops below around 75fps, the visual lag between the image and the speed of movement our eyes expect from real life causes a disconnect between the brain and inner ear. It often results in people getting sick and never wanting to try the technology again.
The way VR developers get past this hurdle is through one of two ways, depending on the headset. If it’s attached to a computer, it needs to have enough power to push quick frame rates. And if it’s a mobile headset, the graphics need to be rendered way down in order to keep the frame rate above that 75fps threshold.
Eye-tracking company Tobii claims it may have a solution that will give developers the ability to keep their high-resolution graphics while also increasing performance. It’s done through tech Tobii is calling foveated rendering. It leverages an eye tracking sensor in the headset, which allows graphics quality outside of the wearer’s angle of view to be rendered at reduced resolution, easing the processing requirements.
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We saw the technology at work on both an HTC Vive Pro Eye and a Neo 2 Eye. With foveated rendering off, the 55fps performance made me feel nauseous within a minute. With the it enabled, the frame rate jumped to just shy of 75fps and voila, my motion sickness was gone.
There’s a lot of potential here. We gave the Oculus Quest an Editors’ Choice award when we reviewed it last April, but we’ve been disappointed by the low number of big titles added to its game library since then. We imagine this is due in part to limitations of the Quest’s onboard GPU. If techniques like foveated rendering can increase performance by up to 30 percent, there might be a lot more games on the next generation of eye-tracking-enabled headsets in the coming decade.