Latency perception

The direct perception of latency varies wildly among people. Even when it is not perceptible, it has been one of the main contributors to VR sickness [171]. Adaptation causes great difficulty because people can adjust to a constant amount of latency through long exposure; returning to the real world might be difficult in this case. For a period of time, most of real world may not appear to be stationary!

In my own efforts at Oculus VR, I could detect latency down to about $ 40$ ms when I started working with the prototype Oculus Rift in 2012. By 2014, I was able to detect latency down to as little as $ 2$ ms by the following procedure. The first step is to face a vertical edge, such as a door frame, in the virtual world. The evaluator should keep a comfortable distance, such as two meters. While fixated on the edge, a canonical yaw motion should be performed with very low amplitude, such a few degrees, and a frequency of about $ 2$ Hz. The amplitude and frequency of motions are important. If the amplitude is too large, then optical distortions may interfere. If the speed is too high, then the headset might start to flop around with respect to the head. If the speed is too low, then the latency might not be easily noticeable. When performing this motion, the edge should appear to be moving out of phase with the head if there is significant latency.

Recall that many VR systems today achieve zero effective latency, as mentioned in Section 7.4; nevertheless, perceptible latency may occur on many systems due to the particular combination of hardware, software, and VR content. By using prediction, it is even possible to obtain negative effective latency. Using arrow keys that increment or decrement the prediction interval, I was able to tune the effective latency down to $ 2$ ms by applying the method above. The method is closely related to the psychophysical method of adjustment, which is covered later in Section 12.4. I was later able to immediately spot latencies down to $ 10$ ms without any other adjustments or comparisons. Although this is not a scientific conclusion (see Section 12.4), it seems that I experienced a form of perceptual learning after spending nearly two years debugging tracking and rendering systems at Oculus VR to bring the effective latency down to zero.

Steven M LaValle 2016-12-31