Virtual Retinal Displays – why they’re great

We’ve seen from the last article that Virtual Retinal Displays (VRDs) consist of images formed directly on the retina, via modulating and then rasterizing a coherent beam of light from a photon source (such as an LED). In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the advantages to developing VRDs and deploying them commercially. Next time, we’ll suggest a few ways they might come in to play.


Because a VRD consists of so few components – and ones that can be increasingly miniaturised – they’re incredibly portable. That’s pretty handy, since they’ll work best when in close proximity to your eye. Glasses-mounted displays, or helmet-mounted HUDs (Heads-Up Displays) are becoming increasingly widespread as genuine commercial offerings.

The image itself

Because the light is shone directly in to the retina, there’s little chance for it to be interfered with on the way – for example, by ambient light. That’s right – a VRD is pretty much ambient-independent. Because the brightness of the display can offer such a wide gamut of intensities, the VRD is deeply adaptable to a range of bright environments.

What is more – because the beam is not readily interfered with, colour is maximally faithful to the original signal. If you’ve used a computer monitor in bright daylight, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Blues fade and reds shift to pink. It’s this effect – the interference of internal components and ambient light – that led to the creation of, for example, the standardised Pantone colouring system for graphic designers. Using an absolute colour reference system, anything sent to a printer was certain to remain true to what was seen on the screen. That’s independent of whether a wired printer or numerous wireless printers are being used. A VRD avoids all these issues – the colour the beam is rasterized with is the colour the user sees.

Finally, the resolution can be pretty sizeable, with little effort. Because the resolution of the image is only dependent on the speed of the scanning system, and that scanning system is tiny (on the nano-scale, suggestedly), it can cover a lot of pixels per rasterized frame. We’re talking resolutions approaching the human eye – a ‘Retina’ display in even the marketing sense of the word.


3D has never really taken off to the extent that manufacturers (and the movie industry) hoped that it would. The reason? Bulky glasses and mediocre products. 3D still gives me a headache – and I can’t stand the lower frame-rates and intensity tradeoffs.

But two VRDs in tandem, serving a different stereoscopic image to each eye? That’s got me thinking. No lower-intensity beam, no loss of frame-rate – VRDs would be a natural fit for stereoscopic cameras, too (which could film bifocally, the lens distance simulating the gap between the eyes). VRDs could be perfect for 3D – if that truly is the direction of modern cinema.

So, in this article we’ve seen that VRDs offer a range of benefits above and beyond the capabilities of modern displays. Next time, we’ll look at some ways that VRDs could come to market – as well as some exciting possibilities about where it’s already well underway.

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