Metaverse: A dilemma between comfort, immersion, and value (part 4)
In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this article series, we introduced the mechanics behind the metaverse. We also discussed the framework for how and when a given display format can replace an existing medium. Now we’ll put that framework into action. We will compare different display solutions–headsets, cell phones, and flat displays–side by side along their comfort (GVCS), immersion (VIMS), and accessibility dimensions and estimate a score for each dimension. Finally, we’ll add potential headset-free solutions, such as Brelyon’s display, to the mix. The score for each dimension is a weighted average of the different parameters explained previously (Part 3). More precisely, the comfort dimension comprises accommodation comfort, retinal comfort, vergence comfort, fidelity comfort, perceptual comfort, posture ergonomics, and intrusiveness factor. The immersion dimension comprises field-of-view span, intensity span, color depth, frame rate, spatial resolution, and interactivity. Finally, the access dimension comprises population reach, portability, price sensitivity, and content friction. The score for each parameter is estimated from academic research. Figure 6 shows the result of such evaluation in one cohesive graph. There is a lot to unpack here so let’s dive in.
The results are quite revealing: cell phones and headsets have lopsided scores. As expected, the more immersive headsets fall drastically short on the access and comfort axes. In contrast, today’s cell phones provide an unparalleled access score. This isn’t only because of a cell phone’s portability, but also because of its wide population reach, low price, and lack of friction in content. Headsets fundamentally can’t have such strong breadth or reach, so only their high immersion score would justify them as a viable format to at least coexist with cell phones. Unfortunately, however, head-mounted wearables also suffer from an extremely low comfort score. This is due to many factors [39, 52–54], ranging from posture ergonomics  and eye comfort [52,53] to perceptual comfort [54,56]. Surprisingly, cell phones exhibit a similarly low comfort score, but they are just so accessible: all you need to do to access a cell phone is look at it, and carrying it is as simple as having a wallet in your pocket. You don’t need to wear it, and you don’t need to touch things in midair or rotate your neck.
Flat displays, on the other hand, score very well in comfort and access, and the only thing they lack is a tad of immersion. Improvement in this category requires less work compared to headsets, and this is where new technologies, like Brelyon’s Ultra Reality or new immersive technologies for flat displays, could really nudge the landscape and become a new viable format. Which display format is best? Today, headsets may provide the most immersive experience, but the numbers show that the most successful formats of human-computer experience are not the most immersive ones but, rather, the ones that prioritize access and comfort. Additionally, new headset-free technologies are emerging to close the immersion gap for existing display formats. So, the answer to the question, “Will headsets become the next dominant format of the human-computer experience?” is most likely: no. Phones will rule the world for decades to come. This doesn’t mean that headsets will cease to exist or that they will have no place in the market, but it does mean that they will become an accessory category, like smartwatches or hands-free headphones. Another interesting insight from this analysis is that the monitors and cell phones of the future might be just so much more like today’s headsets in terms of immersion, without suffering from comfort and content issues. The next generation of displays must consider all this information to be successful.
We appreciate you reading this far. We’d love to hear from you: what you think about this analysis, and how do you see display technology unfolding in the world? Leave a comment below! For previous parts please see: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
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