What Is the “Screen Door Effect” in VR?


Virtual reality headset inside at night

The “screen door effect” often occurs when using modern virtual reality headsets. It looks like you’re viewing the world through a mesh screen, and is a result of the black, empty spaces between pixels when seen up close.

What Does the Screen Door Effect Look Like?

Close up of a window with a mesh wire screen over it

Screen doors have mesh screens, and it looks like you’re viewing the world through a grid when you look through them. That’s exactly what the screen door effect can look like in a virtual reality headset.

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

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

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What Causes the Screen Door Effect?

Pixels with a cursor on a computer screen

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 laid out on the panel. There’s a bit of space between each pixel. That space isn’t lit and is black, and it results in the black visual grid you sometimes see. That’s the screen door effect.

This effect isn’t new to VR headsets, and it can occur for other types of displays. It’s worse on VR headsets than other modern displays because our eyes are so close and are looking at the panel through lenses that magnify it. In other words, you’re looking at the display really close, so you can see the individual pixels and the spaces between them.

However, if you get your face right up against another display—assuming the display is low resolution enough—you may be able to see the individual pixels and the grid between them on that display, too.

How Can the Screen Door Effect Be Fixed?

Samsung HMD Odyssey+ advertisement demonstrating elimination of screen door effect

This problem is less noticeable on higher-resolution displays, which have higher pixels per square inch (PPI.) This means the pixels are packed more tightly together and there’s less space between them. As the space between pixels shrinks, the screen door effect becomes less noticeable and can practically be eliminated.

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