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The Neuroscience of Why Virtual Reality Still Sucks

Neuroscience of Why Virtual Reality Still Sucks


A weird thing happens in VR: You can look at the far-off horizon of a virtual beach but still feel like you're in a room. This could be partly the result of subtle feedback from the muscles surrounding your eyes. At its worst, it can cause painful eyestrain and headaches.

Here's what happens. Put a finger in front of your face and gradually move it to your nose; your eyes will naturally move closer together to track your finger. This is vergence, where our eyes converge and diverge to look at close and distant objects, respectively. At the same time, the lenses in your eyes focus so the image of your finger remains clear while the background is fuzzy. This is called accommodation.

In VR, however, vergence and accommodation no longer integrate seamlessly. The screen of a typical head-mounted display sits three inches or so in front of your eyes. A set of lenses bends the light, so the image on the screen looks about one to three meters away. However, any objects further or closer than that can look blurry. And the entire screen is always in focus, no matter where your eyes are looking. This can make spending an extended period of time in VR pretty uncomfortable.

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Basically, your brain overcompensates. 

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