I used to think you could safely film all of your YouTube videos in 1080p because very few 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 1080p, while optimal 180° and 360° content should be 4k and 8k, respectively.
Now the long answer. Why is that the case?
An Oculus Quest 2 has a resolution of 1,832×1,920 pixels per eye (not capable of displaying 4k content). Facebook likes to call it 4k (because you have two eyes). But, due to screen overlap between the two eyes, you’re not able to appreciate 4k images on the device. This means 1080p remains optimal for 2D content like movies or YouTube videos.
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 simultaneously, 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 cheap introductory headset ($300) released in 2020. Suppose you look at premium headsets scheduled for release in 2022 (Pimax 12k QLED, Varjo Aero, Meta’s Project Cambria). In that case, you’ll notice a clear trend of screen resolutions going up dramatically. Plus, other screen-related improvements are coming (more fps, better lenses, no backlight, etc.).
The Pimax 12k QLED is capable of 5,760 x 3,240 pixels per eye. 4k content is only 3840×2160 pixels. Meaning it will soon be possible to appreciate 4k content on virtual big screens.
Even crazier is that with high resolution headsets, an 8k 180° video would become noticeably better quality than a 4k video. And with 360° videos, you have to double those numbers; a 16k video would be an improvement on a high-resolution screen.
That said, 8k and 16k 360° cameras are prohibitively expensive for most people. We’re talking like $20,000 expensive. Cheaper hobbyist cameras (like the $400 Insta360 One X2) only shoots at 5k. So don’t expect a ton of 8K content released for a few years still.
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 new excellent VR content is set to explode!
And yes, that includes adult content. I didn’t want to say it but it’s true. Adult content is about to get a massive bump in quality over the next few years as these cameras become more affordable.