Rain Technology to revolutionize AR/VR displays with brightness and FOV breakthroughs

Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Photo: Robert Ramsey, CEO of Rain Technology. Credit: Rain Technology.

US-based Rain Technology has accumulated more than two decades of experience in consumer display technologies, with ventures into LCD, OLED, e-privacy, and automotive fields. The company's latest addition to its portfolio, the Anamorphic-XR (AR/VR), is promoting wider adoption of AR/VR by addressing some of the most notable issues in contemporary devices, such as their display brightness, field of view, and color fidelity.

In an interview with DIGITIMES Asia, CEO Robert Ramsey and Head of Sales and Marketing Paul Treichler shared insights into Rain's journey from 3D cinema displays to consumer applications, including partnerships with major tech companies such as Lenovo for e-privacy solutions. The company is now in talks with industry leaders such as Magic Leap, Apple, and Meta to integrate its technologies into their AR/VR devices.

Rain Technology's roots trace back to RealD, where the team developed display technologies for 3D cinema. In 2017, they spun off as RealD ME, focusing on consumer applications and advanced directional displays. The company rebranded as Rain Technology in 2021 and now operates globally with offices in Taiwan, Colorado, and the UK.

Pioneering e-privacy through display technology

One of the first consumer applications of Rain technology is its e-privacy solution, achieved through its displays. They developed a technology that goes inside the backlight system of LCDs capable of directing very small light beams precisely to a user's eye.

In practice, it allows users to activate a privacy mode if they don't wish the content on their displays to be seen by bystanders. "… you drive it at a particular voltage, and it blocks all the higher angles and axis angles where people cannot see it, so only the head-on user can see it," said Ramsey. It can also turn back to a standard LCD once privacy mode is turned off, which Rain calls "share mode". This technology and its subsequent iterations were licensed to Lenovo and HP and utilized in their laptops.

Entering the AR/VR market

The transition to AR and VR was a natural progression for Rain Technology. Drawing from their experience in auto-stereoscopic 3D displays, which allows users to see 3D without glasses by controlling a light field display to toggle images to the user's left and right eyes, the team recognized that this technology can be utilized in AR/VR applications. "We started noticing in the market that there were a couple of things that really bogged down the AR sector, such as brightness, color fidelity, and field of view," Ramsey noted.

As consumers of AR/VR, both Ramsey and Treichler mentioned that their experience is often hindered by comfort and the content not being compelling enough. Ramsey believed that a major part of the issue was the display drop-off. "Companies like Apple have made displays so good, and then you put on an AR headset and see this 8-bit dinosaur walking across you … it's a step backward," he explained.

Rain Technology has already spent several years working on a technology that could lend itself to AR/VR applications. After identifying the market, they went into development mode for about three and a half years and published their Anamorphic-XR technology about a year ago. Ramsey believes that their technology can help address current issues with AR/VR and even achieve the "holy grail" of the AR landscape, where a displayed image can be seamlessly placed into the real world.

Technological Innovations for AR/VR

The advantages of Rain's Anamorphic-XR technology are twofold. On one hand, the imaging system doesn't magnify the image, which means there's no image distortion, and brightness is conserved. On the other hand, it doesn't compress the image due to the way the technology extracts the image, similarly avoiding distortion.

They also mentioned that Anamorphic-XR fits particularly well with the same form factor of glasses, thus making it perfect for devices such as AR glasses. A standard pair of glasses has lens frames and side frames that go over the wearer's ears. Typically, a projector is tucked into the side frame to inject imagery into the lenses, by which the image is extracted to the user's eyes. However, because the image source is directed from a single point (the frame), it has to be expanded in both x and y dimensions, leading to distorted images.

Rain's solution involves filling the entire top side of the frame with a display and injecting it down into the lenses. By doing so, the display only has to extend the imagery in one (downward) direction rather than downwards and sideways.

While the major improvements in brightness and color aren't yet causing waves, the display impressively avoids the need to magnify light and alter the fundamental physics. Furthermore, the downward dimension is highly related to the field of view. By having a horizontal display across the entire frame, it is in a perfect position to offer users a much wider field of view compared to existing devices.

Treichler highlighted that for consumers, the increased brightness and reduced need to refocus (since there's only one dimension to consider) will improve AR/VR comfort, enhance highlight visibility, and achieve a broader dynamic range, resulting in a better overall experience. On the manufacturing side, this solution "doesn't use any exotic materials or processes," thus simplifying production.

Future directions

Besides AR/VR, Rain Technology is also excited to explore several new sectors. In particular, Rain is developing its technology to work on micro LED and even nano LED displays, in line with its vision to add to the displays from major display manufacturers such as BOE and AUO.

Treichler added that he is particularly excited about bringing their e-privacy solutions to OLED and consequently, smartphones. Smartphone privacy is currently achieved by adding a piece of glass or plastic on top of the display, even on $1,500 "premium" models. Moreover, once the piece is added on, the device is permanently stuck in privacy mode.

Rain Technology's solution allows users to be able to freely switch between private or share mode, without having to stick an extra piece of material on their phone's display. Last but not least, automotive displays are also a field of interest, with applications such as preventing driver distractions.