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November 18, 2021

VR Video: What’s The Optimal Resolution To Film or Stream With? (1080p vs. 4k vs. 8k)

I wrote a blog post a while back detailing how you can safely film all of your YouTube videos in 1080p because roughly 0% of consumers own a 4k iPhone, iPad, laptop, or even television… Then Virtual Reality headsets came about and ruined everything!

What Resolution are Popular Virtual Reality Headsets Using?

The short answer is that for a Quest 2, optimal 2D content should be in 1080p, while optimal 180° and 360° content should be in 4k and 8k respectively.

Now let’s get into the long answer. Why is that the case?

Youtube Vr

An Oculus Quest 2 has a resolution of 1,832×1,920 pixels per eye (not capable of displaying 4k content). Facebook likes to double those number because you have two eyes and call it 4k, but that’s not how these screens work (you can’t just double the number of pixels because the screens overlap). Which means you can’t view a 4k 2D movie in 4k while using a Quest 2. It’s not physically possible.

That said, everything goes out the window when we start talking about producing 180° or 360° VR videos (See my 12 favorite VR YouTube videos here). You can think of 360° content as two 180° videos stitched together. So an optimal 360° video will have double the resolution as the optimal 180° video.

Also keep in mind that a 180° video takes up more than the entire viewport of a Quest 2. Because not all of the pixels are on the screen at the same time, it’s effectively a zoomed in image. Meaning that Quest 2 actually can benefit from 4k content in 180°. And because you have to double that number for 360° video, 8k is optimal in 360°.

Resolution Needed for Future VR Headsets

The Quest 2 was a very cheap introductory headset ($300) released in 2020. If you look at premium headsets scheduled for release in 2022 (Pimax 12k QLED, Varjo Aero, Meta’s Project Cambria), you’ll notice a clear trend of screen resolutions going up dramatically. Plus, other screen related improvements (more fps, better lenses, screen tech that doesn’t have a backlight, etc.).

The Pimax 12k QLED is capable of 5,760 x 3,240 pixels per eye. 4k content is only 2160×3840 pixels. Meaning in the near future it will be possible to enjoy 4k content on virtual big screens.

Even crazier is that with resolutions that high, an 8k 180° video would be noticeably better quality than a 4k video. And with 360° videos you have to double those numbers, a 16k video would be preferable to an 8k video on a screen that large.

The problem with this is that the most affordable 360 cameras on the market right now (like the Insta360 One X2) currently can’t film at anywhere close to those resolutions.

When you start trying to find cameras that can hit an 8k resolution (or higher), the price increases dramatically. For instance, the Insta 360 Pro 2 is currently retailing for a little less than $5,000. That’s not something you’re going to buy as a hobbyist in 2021.

That said, cameras get better and come down in price every year. It would not surprise me to learn that an 8k or 16k 360 camera has reached affordability in 2023 or 2025. At which time the amount of incredible VR content out there is set to explode!

And yes, that also includes VR porn. I didn’t want to say it but it’s true, Virtual Porn is about to get a massive bump in quality over the next few years as these cameras become more affordable.

Shaun Poore worked as a professional software developer for 15 years before transitioning into content creation and digital product businesses. Shaun's currently focused on providing as many people as possible with actionable advice and tools they can use to succeed online, without the fluff or BS that too often plagues this industry.