Virtual Reality has come a long way - From merely being a technology for the future, to actually experiencing it at your disposal.
Until recent years, the concept was said to be way out of reach for the kind of graphical capabilities required for it. Of course, there were high end computers optimized for it, but they were very costly, so everyone couldn’t get their hands on it. But with the popularization of VR headsets, the dream of living in virtual reality didn’t seem so far fetched. One such console was the Playstation VR. When Sony took a leap into this domain, they had a lot of expectations to meet. Oculus and HTC/Valve were already at the top of their game with their products Rift and Vive dominating the market. But thankfully, Sony came through. The company put together an impressive piece of equipment that not only aggregated well with its gaming console, but was also easy on the pocket.
Sony’s platform offered a comfortable, easy-to-adjust head-mounting mechanism. The headset also became the preferred option for people who wear glasses, considering how comfortably it wrapped around the head. But despite the brilliance, even a great console can only do so much, if the technology it’s built for is still fundamentally weak.
While research on head mounted VR for gaming can be traced back to the 1990s, its capacity for mass usability has only been realized recently. Now with so many eyes getting to experience what virtual reality is, the next task would be to fix everything the consumer felt is wrong with it. Issues have started to come forward in relation to VR sickness in head-mounted gaming devices. Virtual Reality sickness occurs when you’re under the influence of a virtual environment, and you start to experience symptoms similar to that of motion sickness. Of course the difference remains, that VR sickness is caused by the visually-induced perception of self motion and not real self motion.
It obviously becomes a matter of concern, when something built to make you feel amazing, is actually doing the opposite. Well the good news here is that Sony actually took responsibility and is doing something about it. The company filed a patent back in 2017 to help alleviate the VR sickness, but has only recently been published. Before looking at how Sony intends to implement this, let’s try to understand the factors that may be responsible for the trouble in the first place. As of now, there is no concrete proof of what may be the root cause of this complication, but experts have come up with theories as to why virtual reality sickness occurs in particular.
SLOW REFRESH RATE OF ON-SCREEN IMAGES - The images that are projected from virtual reality seem to have a major impact on the sickness.The slow refresh rate (repeated drawings of identical frames) of on-screen images could be one reason for the sickness . As the refresh rate is slower than what the brain processes, it causes disharmony between the processing rate and the refresh rate, causing the user to perceive glitches on the screen. Poor animation could also lead to disharmony between what is expected and what is happening on the screen.
DISCORD BETWEEN EYES AND EARS - In virtual reality, the eyes could transmit a person running through a jungle, or moving in a roller coaster, but the ears transmit no such signs of actual movement occuring. This gives rise to a discrepancy between the apparent motion between the visual and vestibular stimuli, and is the underlying reason for both simulator and motion sickness. A possible solution for this could be making the headset wireless, and freeing the body’s reflex actions to reduce the discrepancy.
POSTURAL INSTABILITY - This theory suggests that the related sickness occurs due to poor postural adaptations in response to unusual coupling between visual stimuli and motor coordination. This can be an explanation for situations in which the sickness did not occur due to sensory conflict.
If we take a technical viewpoint, there are numerous aspects that could induce the sickness, such as mismatched motion, field of view, motion parallax and viewing angle. The magnitude of VR sickness is also relative to the time spent on the console.
Mismatched motion can be defined as the discrepancy between the motion of the simulation and the motion that the user expects. It is possible for VR sickness to occur if the frequencies of mismatched motion become equal to that of motion sickness in reality
( such as seasickness).
Field of view is the extent of observable area through his/ her eyes, and on increasing it, the symptoms for motion sickness also become stronger.
Altering motion parallax distances to those less than the distance between the human eyes in large multiple-screen simulation setups can induce oculomotor distress, such as headaches, eye strain, and blurred vision.
Viewing angle has been shown to increase a user's sickness symptoms, especially at extreme angles.
It’ll be interesting to see how Sony goes about fixing the problem, taking into consideration that there’s still no concrete proof about how valid the above mentioned possibilities are.
The new Sony patent describes a head mounted system with a range of biometric sensors such as gyroscope, heart rate/ pulse sensor, blood pressure sensor etc. These sensors will be used to keep a check on the wearer’s health, taking note of factors such as pupil dilation, body temperature, muscle activity and breathing rate. The given headset would make use of this information to decide upon a “health threshold value” with the help of which it’ll be able to make out when the VR experience is becoming too intense for the user and calibrate accordingly. There would also be a microphone designed to target negative words that will signify that the user’s in discomfort.
Another interesting aspect understood from the patent is that Sony is focusing more on the cure than preventing the illness from occuring in the first place. This means that instead of working on a system to diminish the effects of motion sickness, they will let people get ill in VR and then help them when they start getting nauseous. So it seems that Sony doesn’t plan to downgrade the console’s performance in any way, and is rather focusing more on a foolproof system that would alert the wearer if he shows symptoms of distress.
Some of the features mentioned such as eye tracking, is considered essential for the next generation VR. Foveated rendering, which only fully renders the parts of display you’re directly looking at is a good example of how a feature like eye tracking could be beneficial.
Furthermore, this headset is also fitted with a battery, which could be mean the possibility of an autonomous system. If the PSVR 2 has wireless connectivity, it could help ease the effect of motion sickness, by reducing the discrepancy between the visual and vestibular stimuli.
Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida seems confident that there will be significant improvement related to the VR’s comfort, and believes this patent would play an important role in it.