The «screen door effect» often occurs when using modern virtual reality headsets. It looks like you are viewing the world through a reticulated screen, and this is the result of black empty space between pixels when viewed up close.

What does the Screen Door effect look like?

Close up window with screen grid over it
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Screen doors have mesh screens and you see the world through the mesh when you view them. This is what a screen door effect might look like in a VR headset.

The screen door effect doesn’t always look the same. The visual effect depends on the specific headset you are wearing and the content you are viewing. The eyes and brains of different people may perceive the screen door effect differently. And even if two people see the same visual effect, it can annoy some people more than others.

Heck, one person on Reddit even claims that the screen door effect is less noticeable when using the VR headset while intoxicated — perhaps due to a bit of blurring than with normal vision.

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What causes the screen door effect?

Pixels with cursor on computer screen
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The Screen Door Effect (SDE) is a visual artifact caused by the display inside the headset. Modern flat panel displays use pixels, which are tiny individual elements located on a panel. There is some space between each pixel. This space is not lit and is black, and this results in the black visual grid you sometimes see. This is the screen door effect.

This effect is not new to VR headsets and may occur on other types of displays. This is worse on VR headsets than on other modern displays because our eyes are so close and look at the panel through lenses that magnify it. In other words, you look at the display very close to see the individual pixels and the gaps between them.

However, if you raise your face to another display (assuming the display is low enough resolution), you will also be able to see the individual pixels and the grid between them on that display.

How can I fix the screen door effect?

Advertisement for a Samsung HMD Odyssey+ demonstrating the elimination of the screen door effect

This issue is less noticeable on higher resolution displays that have higher pixels per square inch (PPI). This means that the pixels are packed more tightly and there is less space between them. By reducing the pixel spacing, the screen door effect becomes less noticeable and can be virtually eliminated.

In other words, VR headsets need higher resolution panels, and this problem will disappear as technology advances. Future VR headsets will solve this problem.

The problem is worse on early consumer VR headsets. For example, the first consumer Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have 2160×1200 panels. The more expensive HTC Vive Pro bumps it up to a 2880×1600 panel. This makes the pixels much denser. Some reviewers have announced that the Vive Pro eliminates the screen door effect, while PCWorld says it’s a «noticeable improvement» that makes the effect much less noticeable.

Headsets may use other tricks. The Samsung HMD Odyssey+ is a $500 Windows Mixed Reality headset with an «anti-SDE AMOLED display». Samsung says it “solves SDE by applying a grid that diffuses the light coming from each pixel and replicates the image in the area around each pixel. This makes the spaces between pixels almost invisible.”

Other possible enhancements may include visual filter effects that make the screen door effect less noticeable, and headset lenses that use lower magnification.

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How to Reduce the Screen Door Effect Today

Man wearing HTC Vive Pro headset

The screen door effect is just one part of using the current generation VR headset. No trick will fix this, but here are a few tips:

Don’t dwell on it. Seriously, this is a visual effect, and it will be more noticeable if you pay attention to it and actively look for it. Pay attention to the game you’re playing or your experience, and try to get visual artifacts out of your mind. People trying VR for the first time may not even notice this problem unless it is pointed out. This is the most important tip.

You can also try playing games with higher graphical detail. The screen door effect is most noticeable when you look at a wall of one color, as you can see how the black mesh breaks up the flat color. In contrast, a detailed image with more colors, including black, may have a less noticeable screen door effect. In some cases, the screen door effect will be more noticeable than in others. If it’s especially noticeable in one game, rest assured it won’t be that noticeable in all of them.

If that bothers you a lot, you can always upgrade your headset to something with a higher resolution panel. For example, this could mean trading a $500 HTC Vive for a $1,400 HTC Vive Pro. The screen door effect will only be solved by improved hardware. Future headsets should bring higher resolution panels at a lower price and improve the experience for everyone.

While this won’t eliminate the screen door effect, it’s also a good idea to properly calibrate your headset to ensure the best picture quality. This means you have to move the headset up and down your face and adjust the distance between the lenses to suit your eyes. At least the image won’t look blurry. Read the documentation for your VR headset for more information.

But in fact, we recommend that you forget about the screen door effect and other visual flaws. Immerse yourself in the virtual reality experience and focus on it. VR headsets are still a new consumer product, and given the technology, it’s amazing that they work the way they do. Impressively, the screen door effect doesn’t look even worse!

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