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What is foveated rendering and what does it mean for VR?

VR Expert - What is Foveated Rendering

Foveated rendering is a process used in virtual reality to improve performance and graphical experience. It works by only rendering the portions of a scene that the user is currently looking at while surrounding areas are blurred. Since Sony announced that PlayStation VR2 will feature dynamic foveated rendering, the topic has been ablaze within the industry. 

In this article, we will cover:

  • What is foveated rendering?
  • How does foveated rendering work?
  • What does foveated rendering mean for virtual reality?
  • Conclusion

What is foveated rendering?

Let’s start with the name. Foveated rendering comes from the tiny area of your eye where resolution is at its peak. This area is called the fovea, and it means that everywhere else you look is either less clear, outright blurred, or in black and white. 

In other words, dynamic foveated rendering means that only one-tenth of the total resolution is rendered. Off-loading a substantial amount of processing and allows for much better virtual reality visual experiences. Some estimate it to result in ten times better graphics than we see today!

What is Foveated Rendering - VR Expert
Courtesy Tobii

How does foveated rendering work?

For foveated rendering to be reliable you need sophisticated eye tracking technology that not only covers pupils’ movements and size differences but also people’s different kinds of pupils. 

Additionally, to ensure that the real-time rendering works, eye tracking must be able to predict where your eyes are likely to be. In fact, if the eye tracking fails with foveated rendering, the visual experience is ruined and immersion is removed.

Types of foveated rendering?

Foveated rendering can be categorized into two types: fixed and dynamic foveated rendering.

What is Foveated Rendering - VR Expert
Courtesy Tobii

What is fixed foveated rendering?

In virtual reality headsets that don’t feature eye tracking, fixed foveated rendering is an option. Essentially, the headset pre-determines a fixed point that needs to be in full resolution and the circle of blurring expands outward from there. For example, Oculus/Meta Quest 2 has fixed foveated rendering.

What is dynamic foveated rendering?

In VR headsets where eye tracking is featured, most have the dynamic foveated rendering and is what we covered above under “What is foveated rendering?” Headsets with dynamic foveated rendering can be seen in Varjo’s premium HMDs VR-3 and XR-3, as well as the upcoming PlayStation VR2.

What does foveated rendering mean for virtual reality?

Foveated rendering in virtual reality enables game developers to focus and allocate resources to what is important and lessen what is not. This means that visual and immersive fidelity will be able to improve dramatically in the coming years.

In other words, it lowers the minimum hardware requirements for virtual reality gaming to work and it even enables standalone headsets to feature high-fidelity VR gaming.

Lastly, Sony’s commitment to foveated rendering and eye tracking for commercial VR headsets will push the technology within the industry to new levels. Soon we will see other headsets also offer foveated rendering and eye tracking, and more VR content to take advantage of the technologies.

Conclusion

Foveated rendering is a technique that has the potential to improve virtual reality graphics tenfold. By reducing the number of pixels rendered, foveated rendering makes it possible for even low-end hardware to power high-quality VR experiences. With Sony’s commitment to foveated rendering, we can expect other players to also feature this innovative technology, providing even better VR visuals soon.

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