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Asynchronous TimeWarp (ATW) transforms stereoscopic images based on the latest head-tracking information to significantly reduce the motion-to-photon delay, reducing latency and judder in VR applications.
In a basic VR game loop, the following occurs:
The following shows a basic example of a game loop:
Basic Game Loop
When frame rate is maintained, the experience feels real and is enjoyable. When it doesn’t happen in time, the previous frame is shown which can be disorienting. The following graphic shows an example of judder during the basic game loop:
Basic Game Loop with Judder
When you move your head and the world doesn’t keep up, this can be jarring and break immersion.
ATW is a technique that shifts the rendered image slightly to adjust for changes in head movement. Although the image is modified, your head does not move much, so the change is slight.
Additionally, to smooth issues with the user’s computer, game design, or the operating system, ATW can help fix “potholes” or moments when the frame rate unexpectedly drops.
The following graphic shows an example of frame drops when ATW is applied:
Game Loop with ATW
At the refresh interval, the Compositor applies TimeWarp to the last rendered frame. As a result, a TimeWarped frame will always be shown to the user, regardless of frame rate. If the frame rate is very bad, flicker will be noticeable at the periphery of the display. But, the image will still be stable.
ATW is automatically applied by the Oculus Compositor; you do not need to enable or tune it. Although ATW reduces latency, make sure that your application or experience makes frame rate.
Stereoscopic eye views are rendered to textures, which are then warped onto the display to correct for the distortion caused by the wide angle lenses in the headset.
To reduce the motion-to-photon delay, updated orientation information is retrieved for the headset just before drawing the time warp, and a transformation matrix is calculated that warps eye textures from where they were at the time they were rendered to where they should be at the time they are displayed.
Many people are skeptical on first hearing about this, but for attitude changes, the warped pixels are almost exactly correct. A sharp rotation will leave some pixels black at the edges, but this turns out to be minimally distracting.
The time warp is taken a step farther by making it an “interpolated time warp.” Because the video is scanned out at a rate of about 120 scan lines a millisecond, scan lines farther to the right have a greater latency than lines to the left. On a sluggish LCD this doesn’t really matter, but on a crisp switching OLED, users may feel like the world is subtly stretching or shearing when they turn quickly. This is corrected by predicting the head attitude at the beginning of each eye, a prediction of < 8 milliseconds, and the end of each eye, < 16 milliseconds. These predictions are used to calculate time warp transformations, and the warp is interpolated between these two values for each scan line drawn.
The time warp may be implemented on the GPU by rendering a full screen quad with a fragment program that calculates warped texture coordinates to sample the eye textures. However, for improved performance the time warp renders a uniformly tessellated grid of triangles over the whole screen where the texture coordinates are setup to sample the eye textures. Rendering a grid of triangles with warped texture coordinates basically results in a piecewise linear approximation of the time warp.
If the time warp runs asynchronous to the stereoscopic rendering, then it may also be used to increase the perceived frame rate and to smooth out inconsistent frame rates. By default, the time warp currently runs asynchronously for both native and Unity applications.
If the viewpoint is far away from all geometry, nothing is animating, and the rate of head rotation is low, there will be no visual difference. When any of these conditions are not present, there will be greater or lesser artifacts to balance.
If the head rotation rate is high, black at the edges of the screen will be visibly pulled in by a variable amount depending on how long it has been since an eye buffer was submitted. This still happens at 60 FPS, but because the total time is small and constant from frame to frame, it is almost impossible to notice. At lower frame rates, you can see it snapping at the edges of the screen.
There are two mitigations for this:
1) Instead of using either “now” or the time when the frame will start being displayed as the point where the head tracking model is queried, use a time that is at the midpoint of all the frames that the eye buffers will be shown on. This distributes the “unrendered area” on both sides of the screen, rather than piling up on one.
2) Coupled with that, increasing the field of view used for the eye buffers gives it more cushion off the edges to pull from. For native applications, we currently add 10 degrees to the FOV when the frame rate is below 60. If the resolution of the eye buffers is not increased, this effectively lowers the resolution in the center of the screen. There may be value in scaling the FOV dynamically based on the head rotation rates, but you would still see an initial pop at the edges, and changing the FOV continuously results in more visible edge artifacts when mostly stable.
TimeWarp does not currently attempt to compensate for changes in position, only attitude. We don’t have real position tracking in mobile yet, but we do use a head / neck model that provides some eye movement based on rotation, and apps that allow the user to navigate around explicitly move the eye origin. These values will not change at all between eye updates, so at 30 eye FPS, TimeWarp would be smoothly updating attitude each frame, but movement would only change every other frame.
Walking straight ahead with nothing really close by works rather better than might be expected, but sidestepping next to a wall makes it fairly obvious. Even just moving your head when very close to objects makes the effect visible.
There is no magic solution for this. We do not have the performance headroom on mobile to have TimeWarp do a depth buffer informed reprojection, and doing so would create new visual artifacts in any case. There is a simplified approach that we may adopt that treats the entire scene as a single depth, but work on it is not currently scheduled.
It is safe to say that if your application has a significant graphical element nearly stuck to the view, like an FPS weapon, that it is not a candidate for 30 FPS.
Turning your viewpoint with a controller is among the most nauseating things you can do in VR, but some games still require it. When handled entirely by the app, this winds up being like a position change, so a low-frame-rate app would have smooth “rotation” when the user’s head was moving, but chunky rotation when they use the controller. To address this, TimeWarp has an “ExternalVelocity” matrix parameter that can allow controller yaw to be smoothly extrapolated on every rendered frame. We do not currently have a Unity interface for this.
In-world animation will be noticeably chunkier at lower frame rates, but in-place doesn’t wind up being very distracting. Objects on trajectories are more problematic, because they appear to be stuttering back and forth as they move, when you track them with your head.
For many apps, monoscopic rendering may still be a better experience than 30 FPS rendering. The savings are not as large, but it is a clear tradeoff without as many variables.
If you go below 60 FPS, Unity apps may be better off without the multi-threaded renderer, which adds a frame of latency. 30 FPS with GPU pipeline and multi-threaded renderer is getting to be a lot of latency, and while TimeWarp will remove all of it for attitude, position changes including the head model, will feel very lagged.
Note that this is all bleeding edge, and some of this guidance is speculative.