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Avegant's prototype display projects images directly onto users' retinas

October 16, 2013 | Telepresence Options

avegant oculus rift

Story and images by Sarah Tew / CNET

NEW YORK -- It's a jumbled tangle of wires sitting on the table, seemingly enough HDMI cables to wire up the home entertainment section of a Best Buy. A few splitter boxes and other miscellaneous attachments are arrayed in line. One end of this mess leads to a MacBook Air. On the other, something rather rarer: an oversized pair of prototype glasses with exposed circuitry and some delicate 3D-printed components.

Somewhere within the tangled mass, hurriedly yet skillfully wiring this contraption together, is Ed Tang, CEO of a company called Avegant. Avegant has produced this device, a wearable prototype he simply calls the Virtual Retinal Display for now. It could be most closely compared to the�Oculus Rift, a full-field wearable display that presents a 3D image to the wearer. However, where the Rift cunningly relies on a single LCD panel and some simple optics to work its magic, Avegant's product actually projects two discrete images directly onto the retinas of the wearer -- as is not-so-subtly implied by the name.

Everything connected, Tang hands over the device and helps get it adjusted. Retinal projection requires precise alignment and optical focusing, a major engineering challenge that has pushed other companies toward simpler technologies when creating wearable displays. (Including Google, which considered retinal projection for�Glass.) Avegant seems to have solved that problem in two ways: a frame that expands to accommodate different face widths and high-quality optical elements that can be individually adjusted. Where most wearable displays have crude, fixed optics, Avegant's eyepieces wouldn't look out of place at an ophthalmologist's.

Once properly aligned, the resulting image is compelling. The device offers a separate WXGA (1,280x768-pixel resolution) image for each eye, basically twice the effective resolution of current Oculus Rift developer kits. This means a crisp, clear image and, because of the nature of the projection's micromirror array, there's no screen door effect. Pixels seem to blend together seamlessly, creating an incredibly bright and vibrant image.

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