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Will Interface Incompatibilities Slow the Virtual Reality (VR) Market Rollout?

Will Interface Incompatibilities Slow the Virtual Reality (VR) Market Rollout?
Posted 07/07/2016 by Ying Chen

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The pieces are falling into place for the Virtual Reality (VR) market. As designers move to higher bandwidth designs, integrate higher resolution displays, reduce system latency, and improve gesture and head tracking, they are beginning to deliver truly immersive experiences to VR users. And as new technologies mature and more systems come to market, industry analysts are beginning to quote some compelling numbers. Deloitte Global predicts that sales of VR hardware and software will break the $1B mark this year, while Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2025 the VR market could range anywhere from $14B to $100B.

Even at this early stage it appears that users will have a wide variety of system configuration options. Hardcore game players, for instance, will likely migrate to PC-tethered systems such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive that feature higher performance processors and dual displays. But the large majority of users will likely explore VR possibilities in lower cost solutions based on their smartphones. Some solutions, such as the Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR, provide a simple Head Mounted Display (HMD) case to house the user’s smartphone. Built around the device’s processor and display, these mobile systems are performance limited, but with the right content they promise to deliver an attractive solution at a very low cost.

Mobile All-in-One (AIO) systems offer a compromise between high performance/high cost PC-based systems and lower cost/lower performance mobile configurations by using HMDs outfitted with typical components found in a smartphone. The DeePoon M2, features a Samsung Exynos 7420 processor and an active matrix (AM) OLED display at a price point somewhere between the PC-tethered and mobile-based options.

Not all mobile-based VR systems house their electronics in the HMD, however. Phone-tethered mobile systems like the LG 360, rely on an LG G5 phone and battery on the user’s belt and run power, data and video to the HMD via a USB Type-C cable. The headset includes two IPS displays offering dual 960 x 720-pixel resolution. This approach dramatically reduces the weight and improves the comfort of the headset. It also addresses safety concerns by processing Wi-Fi signals at the user’s waist instead of the head.

Finally, AIO-tethered VR systems, like Pico Neo, place a high-powered Snapdragon 820 processor and battery in an external controller. The system’s lightweight headset features two 3.8-inch AMOLED displays with 1K resolution. Data is transmitted from the controller to the headset via a USB Type-C connection.

Which system configurations users will adopt remains to be seen, but one issue that designers will have to resolve as the market evolves is how to address interface incompatibilities. What if the designer of an AIO mobile VR system wants to migrate to dual displays, but the existing system uses a legacy applications processor (AP) that only supports a single MIPI DSI interface? What if the developer of an AIO tethered system needs to drive two high resolution displays that require two ports per eye, but doesn’t want to resort to data compression/decompression techniques? And how does the designer of an existing VR system add USB Type-C connectivity without replacing the legacy AP?

Lattice offers a variety of connectivity solutions ideal for VR systems. In particular, Lattice Semiconductor’s new CrossLink bridges offer a simple solution. By supporting an array of popular legacy interfaces for cameras and displays along with the industry’s fastest MIPI D-PHY at 12 Gbps, Lattice’s CrossLink FPGA offers designers a path to higher bandwidth without major changes in system design. And by expanding the number of MIPI display ports, CrossLink enables designers to support the migration to dual displays without replacing the current AP. Find out more about CrossLink here.