A common question I get is "Why is VR quality not on par with still renders"?

Eli here. I love VR and I wish every developer would adopt the technology today, not only because that’s my business, but I think it’s genuinely a huge leap in terms of sales and marketing.

A VR recent rendition of Centro

A VR recent rendition of Centro

A common question I get is:

"Why is VR quality not on par with still renders"?

My answer is a comparison of how VR and still renders are both produced and used. In summary, consumption time is the biggest reason for the difference in quality.

Still renders are designed, rendered and produced before the user sees them. The time it takes to render the still is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether it takes one second or two days to render and deliver the final product (although generally the higher the quality, the longer the time to render). The amount of time spent rendering doesn’t affect the user experience.

Virtual reality, on the other hand, must be rendered in real time as it’s being consumed by the user. And by VR, I’m talking true VR with ability to walk around the virtual space and interact with it (sorry, 360 photos). So with that being said, because VR needs to be rendered as it’s produced, time to render becomes a definite factor in the overall experience.

So, how quick does the render need to be for an enjoyable VR experience for the user? To give you some context, your typical movie plays at 23 frames/second, where your typical video game is 60 frames/second. In the VR industry, that a frame rate of at least 90 frames/second is needed to avoid motion sickness and nausea. Add to that each eye needs to have a slightly different view rendered (try closing one eye at a time and note the slightly different perspective, the same needs to be produced in VR). Without taking into account the output that is also appearing on the computer that is powering the experience itself, that’s 180 frames/second – all produced on a single (but high-end) computer – my set-up is a laptop and the whole package fits in carry-on luggage. 

So, with the amount of real time images that need rendering every second plus the interactive elements that need to be processed, it’s understandable that there is a bit of a drop off in visual quality.

A very early render of Centro

A very early render of Centro

I hear you say “who cares, I want high quality VR”. Here are some of the advancements that will help to improve the quality of visuals in VR.

Maturing industry

VR is still very young, there aren’t a lot of people out there who are experts in the tech. There are new techniques being developed every day that improve the efficiency of VR.

Eye tracking 

By being able to track where the user is looking, the graphics can be improved in the immediate focus of the users’ vision and dropped in other areas, requiring less processing power and a better user experience.

Engine upgrades

VR is generally developed using one of two game engines, Unity or Unreal. Improvements in techniques for VR within these engines will also boost performance and visuals. For example, Unity has recently announced integration with Octane Render, which will provide another boost to visuals.

Hardware upgrade

New architecture in computer hardware (especially the graphics card) is being designed with VR in mind, making it more efficient to handle these tasks. Support for different rendering techniques via the software is boosting performance, too.

There are many more developments happening, but the above should be a solid base on which to build your understanding of VR. It’s important to note that improvements aren’t just happening in one area, but multiple, which will see exponential improvements. The tech is advancing surprisingly quick and the differences in what we see today compared to even just six months’ time will be stellar.

Jump in, enjoy VR. It’s getting better every day.

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