How New Display Technology Could Make Your VR and TV More Realistic

More pixels make better images

  • Virtual reality devices could soon get a lift from pixel-boosting technology. 
  • MIT scientists say they can change how RGB LEDs are manufactured for better results. 
  • Experts say improved displays are key if virtual reality is to go mainstream.
Someone wearing a VR headset outdoors with the displayed overlayed on the screen.

sarote pruksachat / Getty Images

Virtual reality might soon look more like real life. 

MIT researchers have developed a new way to make sharper, defect-free displays. The technique could produce screens with much higher pixel density and impact various gadgets, including televisions. 

"Because VR displays are near-eye displays, they require very high pixel densities, estimated as more than 2300 PPI (pixel-per-inch), to make them realistic and fully immersive because of how sensitive our eyes are," Jiho Shin, one of the authors of the paper told Lifewire in an email interview. "So far, there hasn't been a micro-LED display that could achieve this high pixel density."

Seeing More Clearly

The MIT team set out to make displays that get around a looming problem in the field of displays. Manufacturers have found that LEDs are reaching a limit to how small they can be while also being practical.

Manufacturers currently put red, green, and blue light-emitting diodes side by side in a horizontal patchwork. Instead, the MIT team has invented a way to stack the diodes to create vertical, multicolored pixels, according to a recently published paper in the journal Nature.

Shin said that Samsung and other companies have commercialized their micro-LED televisions in recent years. Still, their technology needs to improvements because of existing manufacturing processes which means sets that can cost about $100,000. 

"Our technology can help improve the pixel densities of micro-LED displays by vertically stacking RGB LEDs (instead of laterally arranging), and also it could help the problems in mass transfer-based manufacturing processes by allowing the transfer of stacked LEDs instead of RGB LEDs separately, which can help improve the yield," Shin added. 

The MIT group is working on making ultrathin, high-performance membranes that could be used in thinner, more flexible electronics. They discovered a way to grow and peel away two-dimensional, single-crystalline material from silicon wafers and other surfaces. They used the same method to grow ultrathin membranes of red, green, and blue LEDs.

"For now, we have shown to the community that we can grow, peel, and stack ultrathin LEDs," Jeehwan Kim, one of the paper's authors, said in the news release. "This is the ultimate solution for small displays like smartwatches and virtual reality devices, where you would want highly densified pixels to make lively, vivid images."

The Need for Better Displays

Better display technologies are essential if virtual reality ever becomes mainstream, Tech analyst Bob Bilbruck, the CEO of the consulting firm Captjur told Lifewire via email. Eye Tracking is a highly-touted feature of these new displays, and it's intended to make VR more realistic. 

The MIT stacked red, green, and blue pixels designed by researchers at MIT.


"Many companies have built this into their current product—HTC Vive Pro Eye, Varjo Aero, Varjo VR-3, and Varjo XR-3 headsets all have built-in eye tracking and are supported by the iMotions VR Eye Tracking Module," Bilbruck said. "Eye tracking provides reference points within the VR atmosphere which in turn give it a real-life feel and experience."

One problem for users trying to pick a new VR headset is that display quality varies significantly between manufacturers, Bilbruck added. His company Captjur has formed the Connected Life Alliance (CLC) to help chart a course where these companies work better together to improve the user experience. 

"This needs to happen as we build out the Metaverse, so people can seamlessly go from one area of the Metaverse to the other without one company controlling the whole thing," he added. 

Despite recent advances in display technology, the future of VR may turn out to be a device you don't need to strap to your face. The hardware company Brelyon is working on a new ultra-immersive display so big that it does away with the need for a headset. The display surrounds your field of view using light field technology

"This kind of new light-field expansion innovation really allows us to think of light as pieces of LEGO blocks that can computationally be built to create a more immersive screen," Barmak Heshmat, the CEO of Brelyon, said in the news release.

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