Overcoming Optical Distortion

In a previous post, we discussed what optical distortion is and why it is important. In this post, we will discuss ways to correct or overcome distortion.

jenny downing via Compfight cc

There are four main options:

1. Do nothing and let users live with the distortion. In our experience, geometrical distortion of less than 5-7% is acceptable for mainstream professional applications. One of our competitors in the professional market made a nice living for several years by selling an HMD that had close to 15% distortion. However, some customers felt that it was good enough and that the HMD had other things going for it, such as low contrast and high power consumption. For gaming, it may be that larger distortion is also acceptable.
2. Improve the optical design. Lower distortion can certainly be a design goal. However, the TANSTAAFL principle holds (“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”, as popularized by Robert Heinlein) and to get lower distortion, you’d typically have to agree to relax other requirements such as weight, material selection, eye relief, number of elements, cost, transmissivity or others. Even for a standard eMagin SXGA display, my company has found that different customers seek different sets of requirements, which is why we offer two different OEM modules for this display, one design with lower weight and the other with lower distortion and generally higher performance.
3. Fix it in the GPU. The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) of a modern graphics card or the GPU embedded inside many ARM chips are capable of performing geometry remapping to accommodate the geometrical distortion in the optics in a process called texture mapping. The upside of this approach is that it does not increase the direct system cost. The downside is that it requires modifying the program generating the content. If the content comes from a source that you have less control of (such as a camera, or a game that you previously purchased), you are unable to correct for the distortion.
4. Correct it in the goggle electronics. One could construct high-speed electronics (such as these) that perform real-time distortion correction for a known distortion function. This adds cost and complexity to the system but can work with any content regardless of where it came from. Done correctly, it need not add significant latency to the video signal.

Additional options, often application-dependent, also exist. For instance, we have several customers that use the goggles to present visual stimuli to their subjects. If the stimuli are simple such as a moving dot on the screen, the program generating them can take into account the distortion function while generating the stimuli, thus correcting for the distortion without help from the GPU

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