Advancements in display technology and the miniaturization of sensors have led virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs) to advance from being only used for research purposes to everyday user technology. The devices have the potential to expand our repertoire of everyday digital devices and are already used for entertainment, training, or remote collaboration.
As digital displays that cover a large part of users' field of view, VR HMDs inherently carry the risk of exposing users to digital eye strain (DES). DES occurs due to prolonged exposure to digital screens and causes an array of vision and eye problems that have long been recognized as pervasive health problems in today's digital society. While a large body of work has investigated DES in conventional digital displays, the problem has been severely overlooked in the context of VR HMDs. This is despite the fact that the technical properties of these devices (e.g., vergence-accommodation conflict) and the context in which they are used (e.g., immersive experiences may lead to prolonged exposure) carry risk factors that could intensify DES even more strongly than what is known from conventional displays.
This dissertation analyses the prevalence and severity of DES in VR HMDs and investigates alleviation approaches from two complementary perspectives. From the first perspective, this work looks into perceptual and human factors as an active influence on DES symptoms in VR HMDs. From the second perspective, the work investigates factors that passively contribute to DES in VR HMDs, such as user interface design and technical display properties. These two perspectives (active and passive) are applied to the three parts that constitute this dissertation.
In the first part, I provide a requirement analysis of the interactive system that is spanned by the VR HMD (passive) and its user (active) based on a morphological analysis. Grounded in these results, I analyse the prevalence, severity, and relevance of active and passive influences of DES in VR HMDs using a mixed-methods approach, including systematic literature reviews, quantitative user studies, and qualitative user surveys. Lastly, I analyse, implement, and empirically evaluate active and passive solutions to the problem, i.e., solutions that have to be performed actively by the users and solutions that can passively be integrated into device use. To complete the dissertation, based on my empirical contributions, I provide theoretical implications for researchers and designers of VR devices and experiences and give practical guidelines for measuring DES in VR HMDs and designing solutions thereof.
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