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What is the "screen door effect" in VR?

  Headset for Virtual Reality at Night
leungchopan / Shutterstock.com

When using modern virtual reality headsets, the "screen door effect" often occurs. It looks like you're looking at the world through a mesh display, and it's the result of black, empty spaces between pixels when you look up close.

What is the effect of the screen door?

  Close up of a window with a wire mesh grid over it
thd_fon / Shutterstock.com

Screen doors have mesh screens, and it looks like you're looking through the grid at the world when you look through them. This is exactly how the screen door effect can look in a virtual reality headset.

The screen door effect does not always look the same. The visual effect depends on the headset and content displayed. The eyes and brains of different people can also perceive the effect of the screen door differently. And even if two people can see the same visual effect, it may annoy some more than others. Heck, a person at Reddit even claims the effect of the screen door is less noticeable when a VR headset is used while he is intoxicated – perhaps due to something more blurry than normal vision.

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What causes the screen door effect?

  Pixel with a cursor on a computer screen
CobraCZ / Shutterstock.com

The Screen Effect (SDE) is a visual artifact caused by the display in the headset. Modern flat screens use pixels, tiny elements arranged on the screen. There is some space between each pixel. This area is not lit and black, and it creates a black screen that you sometimes see. This is the effect of the screen door.

This effect is not new for VR headsets and can occur with other types of displays. For VR headsets, it's worse than other modern displays because our eyes are so close and look at the panel through the lenses that magnify them. In other words, you're watching the ad close up, so you can see the individual pixels and the spaces between them.

However, if you put your face on a different ad, it is assumed that the ad is sufficiently low – you may also see the individual pixels and the grid between them on this display.

How can the effect of the screen door be remedied?

  Samsung HMD Odyssey + display demonstrating the removal of the screen door effect

This problem is less noticeable with higher resolution displays that have higher pixels per square inch (PPI). This means that the pixels are packed closer together and there is less space between them. As the distance between the pixels becomes smaller, the effect of the screen door becomes less noticeable and can be practically eliminated.

In other words, VR headsets require higher resolution panels, and this problem will disappear as technology advances. Future VR headsets will solve this problem.

The problem is even worse with the first consumer VR headsets. For example, the first Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have a panel with a resolution of 2160 × 1200. The more expensive the HTC Vive Pro, the higher the 2880 × 1600 panel. That makes pixels much denser. Some critics proclaimed that the Vive Pro has eliminated the screen door effect, while PCWorld is a "notable improvement" that makes the effect less visible.

Headsets could use other tricks. Samsung's HMD Odyssey + is a $ 500 Windows Mixed Reality Headset with an "Anti-SDE AMOLED Display". Samsung says it solves "SDE" by using a grid that scatters the light from each pixel and reproduces the image in areas around each pixel. As a result, the distances between pixels are almost invisible.

Other possible enhancements could be visual filter effects that make the screen door effect less conspicuous, and low magnification objective lenses.

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How to reduce the screen effect today

  Man wearing a HTC Vive Pro headset

The screen door effect is only part of having a VR headset of the current generation. No trick will fix it, but here's some advice:

Do not focus on it. Seriously, it's a visual effect and it gets more noticeable if you pay attention and actively look for it. Look for the game you are playing or the experience you have and try to remove the visual artifacts from your head. People who try VR for the first time may not even notice this problem if they are not told. This is the most important tip.

You can also try to play games with higher graphical details. The effect of the screen door is most noticeable when you stare at a solid wall, as the black mesh can break the flat color. In contrast, a detailed image with many colors, including black, may have a less noticeable effect on the screen door. The effect of the screen door becomes clearer in some experiences than in others. If this is particularly noticeable in a game, you can be sure that this will not be noticeable to all.

If it annoys you, you can always upgrade your headset with a higher resolution panel. That could mean that a HTC Vive for $ 500 for a HTC Vive Pro for $ 1400 must be traded. The screen door effect is only solved by an improved hardware. Future headsets should offer higher resolution panels at a lower price and improve the experience for all.

Although the screen door effect will not be repaired, it is worth calibrating the headset properly to get the best possible look. This means you can move the headset up and down on your face and adjust the lens distance to your eyes. At least the picture does not look fuzzy. For more information, see the documentation for your VR headset.

However, we recommend that you remove the effect of the screen door and other visual imperfections from your head. Immerse yourself in the VR experience and focus on it. VR headsets are still a new consumer product, and given the technology used, it's amazing that they work just as well as they do. It is impressive that the effect of the screen door does not look even worse!

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