How natural is this huge FOV headset?StarVR reviewStarVR, then named as InfinitEye was first shown to the public in 2013 and it took them 7 years to bring the product to market. StarVR is intended only for enterprise use and costs 3200 USD. In order to get one, you need to go via request form to introduce yourself, what you do and why you want it and also make sure you have a compatible setup. For that StarVR promises a huge 210 degrees horizontal and 130 degrees vertical field of view. Does it deliver on that promise? Are there distortions? Is this the limit the human eye can see? Keep reading!
You know that we used to say that putting on VR is like transporting people to another world. It feels certainly more true for StarVR, as you put it on and the picture is actually everywhere. There are no distortions around the periphery, which leads the brain to accept the picture (unlike Pimax or XTAL) and leading to a new level of immersion. Before going into technical details, I’ll pause here, as it’s quite a big deal. It allows the brain to see more context of the environment we’re in, noticing never before seen details and empowers understanding the “big picture”. WIth traditional headsets, as the FOV is narrow, we pay attention only to the center and when we turn our head, we’re looking for something specific usually. It plays a role with immersion as well, as the brain is taking the image more seriously. We're a company of seasoned with VR veterans, so you ask us to jump off a cliff in VR, we have no problem doing so. Yet in StarVR dizziness appears once again. In our quest of combining virtual reality and neuroscience, this is good news for us.
We've measured the FOV to be 170deg horizontal and 80-100deg vertical, depending on shape of wearer head. This brings up the question on what the human eye can actually see - and it turns out to be still more. The vertical FOV is a more limiting factor, as the human eye can still a bit more. When it comes to horizontal FOV, there the picture manages to stretch from end to end, when looking straight. However, as the human eye can move without moving our head, we can actually see a bit more behind us. And there we can see the edge of the StarVR screen. The FOV was measured by our internal tool, which we will be open-sourcing and releasing soon.
When it comes to optics, I’ve already mentioned that there are no distortions. WIth one exception, we had a person with IPD of just 58mm trying the headset and he actually claimed there are distortions. The sweet spot is also quite large and even imagines on the side of the field of view can be seen sharply. They’re fresnel lenses, but there is not much of a glare effect, at least in the center of the screen. It is quite visible in the peripheral vision, sometimes even causing light mirroring, but not something noticeable unless you pay attention to it.
There is however one big catch when it comes to optics - the focal distance is set in infinity. Our eye is constantly refocusing to keep what we are looking at sharp - it's a process we don’t really notice, but when we look at a closer object, our eyes automatically refocus to keep it sharp. The closer object is, the harder it is for our eye to focus there. However for people who are shortsighted, they can’t focus beyond a certain distance. However if you need something like -0.5 correction, you can usually get away without glasses, as only distant objects are blurry. As most headsets set the focal distance of the imagine between 1.3m and 2m, this is not a problem. But for StarVR it is and unless you can see perfectly to the distance, the StarVR image will be blurred. The case with StarVR is, that most people who tried the headset in our VR lab complained about the image being blurry, which says something. This can be corrected by using glasses or contact lenses.
When it comes to resolution - 1830 x 1464 per eye is quite unorthodox and might seem quite low for this Field of View. As both XTAL and Pimax recently debuted their native “8K” (3840x2160 per eye) version, StarVR lacks on paper. However, when looking at the clarity, the result is not that bad - the clarity being somewhere between Vive Pro and Oculus Rift CV1.
The last thing I'm going to mention here is the color calibration. As all content appears dark in the StarVR HMD and far darker in any other HMD. The is also slight red tint. You can see the comparison in the above picture, where left is StarVR thru-the-lens footage, the right is capture on monitor at same time. We've contacted StarVR support about this and after a couple of emails we were told it's not hardware issue and that all HMD looks differently - which is true, but StarVR is certainly an outlier here. Their suggestion was to detect HMD type in the app and adjust brightness and color balance for each one using post-processing. This is not the type of support you'd expect from enterprise-grade headset.
Software compatibilityStarVR works with SteamVR, there is no native runtime and all apps have to use SteamVR. Does it mean that all SteamVR apps will work with StarVR? Not really. As StarVR uses canted displays and they’re actually far more canted than other headsets on market. This can present problems with older applications or applications that are not built for it. For instance, Unreal Engine added support for canted displays in 4.18 released Oct 2017. Any Unreal apps that are older than or have not updated engine will simply not work - the images for each eye will be misaligned. Several Unity apps have issues with it, including Beat Saber, The Lab, SteamVR Home or Windlands 2. Objects disappears when close to the edge of screen, something producing even bigger rendering artefacts. I believe this is the main reason why StarVR doesn’t sell to consumers, as the software support is limited and it’s outside their control.
ComfortStarVR is very light, lighter than pretty much anything on market, including Index or Rift CV1. The head strap is rigid and quite comfortable, definitely inspired by Vive Pro. The only thing that is missing is some sort of integrated audio. There is an audio jack to plug in your headphones, but struggling to fit on headphones after headset is always inconvenient. There is no IPD slider and the IPD can be calibrated by software. Unlike headsets like Rift S that doesn't work for people who have too big or too small headset, StarVR with it's gigantic Field of View works nicely. I personally have IPD of 72mm and have no problem using StarVR (unlikely RiftS, which I can't tolerate after 10mins of usage). Even better, the software calibrates the IPD automatically using eye tracking once you put on the headset. The headset cable is rather thick, with 2 5meter long USB-C cables running that are heavily shielded. It has a control box that breaks out the USB-C cables into 2 Display Ports, 2 USBs and a power supply.
VerdictGiving a verdict on StarVR is a quite difficult thing - the FOV is huge and the fact it's properly calibrated is quite a big deal, making the headset more immersive and certainly useful in settings where immersion is critical factor. I can think of many psychological apps where this plays a role, as well as many training scenarios where situation awareness plays a critical role . There is no other headset on market that can provide this. However, the blurriness and lack of resolution on the the side is a serious issue too - and it cannot be used for applications where this play a role. Any training scenarios where reading text or looking in distance means that StarVR cannot be used. However, since the basis of the headset is solid, I can imagine making a "StarVR 8K" with different panels might not be that hard, so we will see what the future will bring. As always, if you're one of our clients, StarVR is available in our lab for evaluation and if the app is a good fit, it's also available as part of our rental program.
So what's next? Last week we received Pimax 8KX, after 3 years of waiting. We will publish our review of 8KX next Monday, so be sure to check back in. To not miss any update from us, like iNFINITE Production on Facebook. Or you can follow me personally on Twitter. We've also noticed that when measuring FOV, the results largely depends on wearer and we will be exploring that fuhrer.