These pixel-dense OLED displays could solve VR's big headache

When it comes to virtual reality displays, the screen door effect is a very real concern for manufacturers. The screen door effect gives certain displays a mesh-like appearance that's particularly noticeable when lower resolution displays are viewed up close, so while it can happen with any display, it's most prevalent in the world of VR. Stanford researchers have announced new tech that could result in OLED displays with pixel densities as high as 10,000 pixels per inch, thereby eliminating the screen door effect even when the display is viewed up close.

At first blush, it almost sounds too good to be true, but Stanford explains that researchers working in a collaboration with the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and Hanyang University in Korea have potentially found a way to make OLED displays that are more pixel-dense, brighter, and more color accurate than the OLED displays we have today. Not only that, but these OLED displays could be less expensive and easier to produce too.

These OLED displays actually borrow from ultrathin solar cells and, as Stanford describes them, feature a "base layer of reflective metal with nanoscale (smaller than microscopic) corrugations, called an optical metasurface." Stanford says these metasurfaces can "manipulate the reflective properties of light and thereby allow the different colors to resonate in the pixels."

At pixel densities Stanford is talking about here – as much as 10,000 pixels per inch – these OLEDs would essentially eliminate the screen door effect in virtual reality displays. The screen door effect can be particularly jarring in virtual reality because it breaks immersion and hampers visuals, so having a display where that isn't a concern in the least would be a big win for VR consumers and manufacturers alike.

Including an optical metasurface could make OLED production easier because those corrugations would allow emitters to be laid at the same height, rather than the uneven heights we see in other current OLEDs. It sounds like the optical metasurface Stanford and SAIT researchers have created could help create OLED displays that are better in every way than what we currently have, but of course, it'll probably be some time before we see these displays in commercial devices since we're still very much in the research stage.

Things are promising on that front, however, with Stanford saying that researchers have successfully produced "miniature proof-of-concept pixels." From here, Samsung will attempt to integrate this technology into a full size display, so we'll see what happens from here. In addition to the Stanford article linked above, you can read more about these metasurface-based OLEDs in a paper published to Science titled "Metasurface-driven OLED displays beyond 10,000 pixels per inch."