The headset manufacturers are on a quest for more compact, lightweight, and visually immersive headsets. Pancake lens technology emerges as a propeller of this effort to improve visual clarity, reduce size and weight of the devices, and better the overall comfort and accessibility for users. In one of our articles we have previously discussed the difference between pancakes lenses and fresnel lenses in VR headsets. In this piece we will be looking at how pancake lenses are shaping the VR world, influence the market trends, and how it could potentially redefine the standards of immersive VR experiences.
In this article:
Contrasting traditional lenses with pancake lenses highlights the evolutionary leap in VR technology. Traditional lenses are bulkier and limited in their field of view, and despite having been a staple in VR headsets for years, they come with drawbacks that affect the overall user experience. They are characterized by curved design, which results in heavier and larger headsets, while pancake lenses have a slim, flat profile made of thin elements to focus light more efficiently.
Size, weight, ergonomy – The pancake lenses enable reduction in headset size, reducing the risk of “VR fatigue”, which is quite common with older headsets models. The lenses are compact, allowing designs to be lighter, balanced and ergonomic — important for user’s comfort, especially during prolonged use.
Visual clarity – They provide a clearer, more immersive visual experience, crucial for both realistic simulations and detailed virtual environments. The field of view gets a bit closer to natural human vision. The improvement in visual quality is particularly important in applications where detail and depth perception are critical, such as in educational, training, and entertainment scenarios.
Minimized distortions – The advancements in optical and ergonomic comfort reduce strain on the eyes and the lessened likelihood of motion sickness.
Energy efficiency – They contribute to increased energy efficiency in VR headsets, because they require less optical power to produce clear images. Since this reduces the overall energy consumption of the device, the improved energy efficiency leads to longer battery life.
User feedback is always crucial to determine the practical benefits and user satisfaction associated with any headset model. And it is especially useful if we are setting a new user experience standard reflected in more ergonomic and user-friendly hardware designs. Redefined standards of design and user experience have an immediate effect on the industry trends, which has become quite prominent with pancake lenses.
More and more manufacturers are leaning towards the integration of pancake lenses into their latest models, which is driven by the growing awareness of their advantages. This is signaling a notable trend in consumer preferences. Users are seeking VR experiences that are comfortable and convenient, leading to a higher demand for lighter and more compact headsets. This trend is further fueled by the expanding the range of applications of VR technology into fields such as education, training, healthcare, and remote collaboration, where the benefits of pancake lens technology are particularly pronounced.
The market projections indicate growth in popularity and adoption of pancake lens-based VR headsets. Industry analysts predict that this technology will play a central role in the next generation of VR devices, leading to a broader market penetration. And beyond entering various business sectors, the focus on user-friendly design will push for advancements within shorter time frames, which already signals shifting towards mass adoption.
A notable device in this category is the HTC Vive Flow. It’s a compact and lightweight headset known for its exceptional visual clarity and comfort, receiving high consumer ratings. Another prominent model is the Pico 4 Enterprise, which has been earning positive feedback from both experts and users.
When Meta upgraded to pancake lenses in Quest Pro and Quest 3 (Quest 2 featured fresnel lenses), they showed a substantial improvement in visual performance and ergonomic design. Higher consumer ratings for the modified models made a preferred choice for many buyers, which was due to their significant impact on user experience.
The headsets with pancake lens technology demonstrate higher versatility and its ability to cater to a wide range of VR applications. The consistent theme across consumer ratings and expert reviews is clear: pancake lens technology significantly elevates the VR experience, and sets a new standard for headset design and functionality.
Pancake lens technology has addressed some of the most pressing limitations of existing headset models. The reduction in size and weight, combined with enhanced visual clarity and a wider field of view, has not only improved the user experience but also expanded the accessibility of VR technology to a broader audience.
There is a continued trend towards more user-friendly headsets, with further advancements in lens technology and headset ergonomics. The further development will likely progress towards combining advanced features like eye-tracking and augmented reality with pancake lens technology, which will deepen the immersion and sharpen interactions.
Petra Palusova is writer for the VRX blog with an affinity for all-things-XR. Architect, systems scientist specialized in XR and synthetic environments, Petra is currently active as a product design lead, advisor and researcher delivering best practices, communications and business strategies to technology companies building XR products and platforms. A true jack of all trades!