PlayStation VR: why there's no screen-door effect

Screen-door effect: that dreaded grid between you and losing your life to virtual reality. OK, maybe that's a bit drastic, but anyone who has tried VR knows what we're talking about.

PlayStation VR is different — there's practically no screen-door effect even though the display's resolution is lower than Rift's and Vive's. How is that possible? Let's explore the screen-door effect and how Sony managed to remove it from their upcoming foray into virtual reality.

What is screen-door effect?

Screen-door effect on an HTC Vive

To put it simply, screen-door effect (SDE) is a grid of fine lines you sometimes see when you have your face in VR; it happens with all current versions of VR, incuding Vive, Rift, and Gear VR.

That grid is actually the space between pixels — that's how close your eyeballs are to the display. You can't see those lines if you, say, mash your phone against your face because your eyes go out of focus.

With VR optics, however, your eyes don't go out of focus and the pixels become apparent. It's actually pretty cool if you think about it, at least until it removes you from the immersive qualities of VR. That's a big no-no for every VR Head.

Why should you care about screen-door effect?

Imagine walking around every day wearing a beekeeper's hat and mask. While it wouldn't be a nuisance for only a few minutes and would be quite welcome if you were actually working with bees, going about daily activities, like working in an office, would become quite tiresome.

This is essentially why you should worry about SDE. Gamers know how long they can extend their gaming sessions — why would they want to look through a grid of lines while they play? Not to mention how working on a computer within VR, using apps like BigScreen or Virtual Desktop, becomes quite tiresome after awhile.

Right now spending long periods of time in VR is novel, thus people put up with SDE. In the future, however, there will need to be a complete removal of SDE if VR is to be adopted by the masses.

Screen-door effect has already been reduced drastically — anyone who used the Oculus Rift DK1 knows what I'm talking about. It was hard to see much else for the screen door, but, again, it was so cool it didn't really matter.

Reducing SDE has apparently come even further, as is evident in PlayStation's first foray into VR.

Why does PlayStation VR have no screen door?

PSVR spec sheet

Reading PSVR's spec sheet really doesn't do it justice. Its head-mounted display (HMD) has a single horizontal screen at 1080p, whereas the Rift and Vive both have two vertical screens at 1200p. You might think, "Clearly PSVR is inferior." Not exactly. While the resolution is definitely lower, PSVR has almost no screen-door effect.

It wasn't just my eyes, either. Most people who are lucky enough to have tried PSVR agree: you have to actively try to see the screen-door effect, rather than actively try not to see it. That's a huge deal when it comes to VR immersion, and could end up becoming PSVR's main selling point.

So how does a lower resolution screen have less screen-door effect? Each pixel in PSVR's display actually has three subpixels, one for red, one for green, and one for blue. If we do some math, it becomes apparent that the PSVR actually has a higher subpixel resolution than Rift and Vive, resulting in less screen door effect.

  • Rift and Vive: 2 displays x 2 subpixels x 1080 x 1200 = 5,184,000 subpixels
  • PSVR: 1 display x 3 subpixels x 1920 x 1080 = 6,220,800 subpixels

As you can see, PSVR has quite a few more subpixels than Rift and Vive. While this definitely isn't a crowning achievement, removal of the screen-door effect is definitely appreciated by everyone who has experienced it in VR.

Your screen-door experience

Have you had the chance to try PSVR? What did you think about the almost complete lack of screen-door effect? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!