Virtual reality (VR) provides an immersive experience for the viewer, including new ways to perceive the world. None of it would be possible without optics for VR.

Thinking beyond conventional displays like computers and televisions, VR enhances the world by facilitating interactions between the viewer, the display screen, and the environment to bring together computer generated (CG) images integrated into the real world.

VR technology isn’t new – it’s been around since the 1960s. The supporting technology wasn’t up to speed, however. VR couldn’t reach its full potential without 21st century image rendering capabilities, wireless data transfer, sensors, and optical components.1

Fortunately, the advance of optics for VR, high-resolution displays, and improved information technology is allowing VR to flourish and provide opportunities for not only consumer use but applications in manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, and more.

Optics for VR

The appeal of VR is its ability to provide clear images that can simulate the real world and offer a compelling experience for the viewer. This must be done without causing discomfort for the viewer, however, meaning that the parameters of the VR system have to match the requirements of the human visual system based on eye-to-brain imaging processes.2 Without this, the viewer can’t enjoy the VR experience due to dizziness, nausea, or a lack of clarity.

The human field of vision is about 60 degrees (nasally) by greater than 90 degrees (temporally) horizontally and 135 degrees vertically for monocular vision. The horizontal field for binocular vision is about 120 degrees. This allows humans to focus on objects and blur other aspects of an image.

Optics for virtual reality must provide an optimal field of vision to allow the viewer visual comfort. The optics must accommodate three-dimensional images with the appropriate resolution and depth, contrast, brightness, and other aspects to mimic natural vision and allow visual comfort.

The viewer’s comfort is more than just visual comfort as well. The VR headset must be comfortable to wear to encourage long viewing periods, so the optics and components must be compact and lightweight.

Standard Optical Components for Virtual Reality

Here are some typical optical parts for VR:

  • Prisms: These optics bend and redirect light while beam splitters send light in two directions, projecting the reflected light directly into the eye of the viewer.
  • Mirrors: These optics are used to redirect and focus light, sending it from one direction and reflecting it from another. For high-demand VR headsets, precision-grade mirrors may be coated with aluminum or another metal to provide a better user experience.
  • Lenses: These optics are vital to the function of the VR headset. The lenses allow viewers to focus on the displayed image at a comfortable distance and provide the best consistency of focus. Lenses must be ultra-lightweight and thin to accommodate the visual and wearing comfort of the viewer.

Applications for VR


VR is revolutionizing the way engineers and designers work on concept vehicles. VR is incorporated early in the design process to provide proof-of-concept and evaluate the design before it progresses to the expensive prototyping phase.


Healthcare is one of the most valuable potential use cases for VR. Medical professionals use virtual models to help them prepare for working on human patients. Simulation-based training is considered the “gold standard” for medical education and can help future medical professionals hone their skills without risk to patients.3

VR also has medical uses beyond training. Patients with mental health issues can use Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.


The tourism industry is leveraging VR to give customers a “sneak peek” of hotels, restaurants, landmarks, and destinations before they book the trip. With this technology, travelers can experience their trip in advance and make informed decisions on their details, leading to more satisfaction.

For people unable to travel, VR offers a chance to experience the world from the comfort of home. VR Expeditions 2.0 is one example of VR tourism that provides users an opportunity to explore far-off-the-beaten path destinations that they wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise, such as the Great Barrier Reef or the moon or Mars.

Real Estate

Real estate companies harness VR to offer virtual property tours for prospective home buyers. Users can view the house or apartment they are interested in without having to travel far. This helps narrow their options and schedule in-person showings at their top choices. This function is especially valuable for those moving long distances since traveling in person is costly or difficult due to pandemic or other restrictions.


Like real estate, the retail industry is leveraging VR technology to enhance online shopping. Fashion retail is an excellent example of how the industry can use VR technology to offer a better shopping experience. Users scan their bodies and “try on” clothing with VR before purchasing it. This is an improvement over buying multiple clothing sizes and sending items back.

Retail locations are also creating VR simulations of the store to offer in-store shopping experiences. Users can explore stores and shop as they would in person, without ever leaving the house.


VR has the potential to revolutionize the way architects design buildings. Using this technology, architects can see how a building will look and feel inside. Additionally, homeowners can experience a living space before construction begins. This process allows them to make changes while saving time and money.


Nonprofit groups are harnessing VR to evoke empathy in the public and increase awareness of a cause. With VR facilitation, people are more likely to care and take action when they relate to a problem. For example, UNICEF used VR to help the world connect to the tragedy of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The result? A doubling of donations.

Custom Optical Design for Virtual Reality by Apollo Optical Systems

While there are numerous challenges for optics for virtual reality, the potential applications and use cases are virtually limitless. VR headsets need smaller, lighter, and higher-quality optics to meet the demands of user experience and viewer comfort. For that, optical specialists like Apollo Optical Systems are required.

We work with our customers through every phase of the development and design process, from prototyping to final assembly, to ensure a successful final product. Contact us today to discuss your custom optics project further.






About Dale Buralli

Dr. Dale Buralli has served as the Chief Scientist for Apollo Optical Systems since 2003. In this role, Dr. Buralli is responsible for the design and optical modeling of various optical systems. These systems include virtual or augmented reality, ophthalmic and other imaging or illumination systems. Additionally, he provides support for optical tooling of lens molds and prototypes, including the development of custom software for both production and metrology. Dr. Buralli got his Ph.D. in optics from the University of Rochester in 1991. Now he is an Adjunct Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics.