How to Design VR Headsets to Accommodate Glasses
February 16 2022
Virtual reality is rapidly becoming mainstream, but people with glasses continue to face challenges with VR headsets. If VR is ever going to gain widespread adoption like smartphones or the internet, headsets need to be designed in a way that is inclusive to the billions of people around the world who wear glasses. Even those who don’t need prescription glasses are picking up blue-light glasses to help prevent eye strain from looking at computer screens.
The reality is, there is strong consumer interest in headsets designed with glasses in mind. Accommodating glasses doesn’t have to mean making headsets bigger, though. There are some surprising and innovative methods that are making VR with glasses not only possible, but comfortable.
Focus on the Nose and Temples
VR headsets are typically designed with padding that’s meant to sit flush against the face (long gone are days from Google Cardboard comfort levels). In concept, this is ideal for comfort. Unfortunately, for people with glasses, this creates a few pressure points that make headsets incredibly uncomfortable to wear. Specifically, the nose and the temples, as well as the ears, tend to be the most common pain points. The headset squeezes the frames against the user’s face, interrupting an otherwise comfortable, flush fit.
There are a few ways to resolve this issue. On the user’s end, there’s always the option of trying different glasses frames. However, a few design tweaks might be able to make prototype VR headsets fit any frame much easier.
For example, comfort might be improved if there was an option for padding with a notch cut out for the arms of glasses frames. Adjustable nose padding would also be helpful for many users.
Some users have also suggested third-party headset "spacers", add-on padding that creates more space for glasses inside the headset. While these are not a perfect solution, they do help pull the screen and nosepiece away from the face, making glasses more comfortable. Glass spacers are an affordable solution as well, and one that could be included out of the box with next-gen headsets.
The weight distribution of the headset should be taken into consideration, too. A front-heavy wearable headset will drag down glasses and apply more pressure to common glasses pain points. More balanced headsets will not only feel lighter but also allow the glasses to fit more naturally underneath.
Allow Interchangeable Lenses
An increasingly popular solution for VR fans with glasses is a prescription headset lens. These arguably have the most potential to solve the glasses and VR compatibility problem. Prescription VR lenses are not contact lenses. They’re simply attachable lenses that pop into the headset, taking the place of a pair of glasses. There are non-prescription blue-light-blocking varieties of these lenses available, as well.
here are already several companies making these lenses for most of the leading VR headsets, including the popular standalone headsetOculus Quest 2. They’re an easy solution for many users, but price and weight can be an issue. Depending on the exact prescription and model, prescription VR lenses can cost around $80 to upwards of $100. This is in addition to the hundreds of dollars users have to spend on the headset itself, plus the cost of video games.
VR companies need to work to make these lenses more affordable and accessible if VR is going to achieve its full potential. Ideally, prescription lenses could be a cheap accessory or even a standard built-in feature of headsets. Perhaps headset designers could even implement some sort of adjustable prescription lenses that could go in every headset and be tweaked for any user’s vision needs.
Offer VR-Specific Glasses Frames
One unique solution to glasses-headset compatibility is specialty glasses frames made specifically for VR headsets. This concept is the result of the wave of new VR headsets released over the last few years. With a greater variety of headsets coming out and frequent new updates, buying model-specific lens inserts can get quite expensive. The advantage of VR-specific glasses frames is that they are universally compatible.
These frames are round, flexible, and lightweight. They feature a profile slim enough to easily fit inside any of the leading headsets comfortably. Even more unique is the lack of earpiece arms. Instead, the frames have an elastic fabric head strap that sits much more comfortably underneath the headset’s straps and padding.
These frames are likely to become more popular as whole households take to VR. Similarly, VR is finding valuable applications in manufacturing and other industry settings, making it likely for office VR headsets to become popular, as well. When a headset is being shared between multiple people, whether at home or in the office, swapping out prescription lenses becomes a hassle. Having personal VR frames is not only easier but also more sanitary. Notably, the VR frames are also much thinner than lens inserts, which may be a dealbreaker for some.
High-end, high-quality head mounted display (HMD) headsets have taken the design aspects seriously and counter those issues like motion sickness and comfort. The only drawback is the price. Speciality VR glasses frames start at around $90 and go up from there, depending on prescription, brand, and model. It would be nice to see headset companies embrace these frames more. More development might be able to bring the price down and make VR frames more accessible.
Design Customizable Straps
VR headset design has come a long way since first-generation consumer headsets like the HTC Vive, Sony’s Playstation VR and Oculus Rift or even Valve Index. Not only has performance gotten better, but headsets have also gotten lighter and more compact. This is generally a good thing. Most of us would agree that a lightweight fabric strap is much more comfortable than a bulky plastic frame.
The only downside of advancements in headset comfort is weight distribution. Ironically, bulkier headset straps sometimes balanced out the weight of the headset nicely. So, despite the overall weight of the headset, there was less pressure on the face. While many headsets have gotten much lighter along with their straps, weight distribution can still be a problem for those with glasses.
So, while it might seem counterintuitive, headset designers should consider making straps more customizable. An option for an add-on counterweight, for example, might help balance out headsets to make them more comfortable for glasses wearers.
Inclusive Virtual Reality
VR has incredible potential – in entertainment, the workplace, education, and beyond. As VR becomes increasingly popular, headset designers need to make sure no one is getting left behind. Glasses-inclusive headsets ensure that everyone can experience the incredible VR innovations shaping the technology of tomorrow. We are still waiting for some big players to enter the stage with their own creations - we’re looking at you, Apple. One thing is for sure - the user experience, accessibility is mandatory for a proper augmented reality or vr experience!