What are high definition lenses? Are they worth the cost?
Recently, you may have heard a few unfamiliar terms during your search for a new pair of glasses: terms like “HD eyeglasses”, “digital lenses”, “high def eyewear”, even the seemingly unrelated “free-form lenses”.
These all refer to the same concept: high definition lenses. Many eyeglass wearers looking to update their prescriptions or take advantage of the latest tech with their existing prescription are finding the list of optional features looking much longer than before. Few of these options get more questions than high definition lenses. To help clear things up — with an eye towards dispelling marketing hype — here is a breakdown of what high definition lenses are, and which types of eyeglass wearers might most benefit from this new approach to lens customization.
HD Glasses: Technological Marvel or a New Way to Nickel & Dime?
For someone with a great pair of prescription lenses already helping them see the world clearly, this might understandably come off as a vacuous marketing term.
Sometimes, the way these lenses are described only serves to bolster this impression, however true they may be. Common examples are:
Digital lenses help you see more clearly than ever before
High def lenses provide the same leap in clarity as going from standard definition to HDTV
Why stop at 20/20 vision if your glasses can be even better?
And many more similar phrases that seem more oriented towards selling than truly describing. For modern consumers, often much more savvy than in the past, these types of comments come off as sales copy. But even if they do the research, even direct feedback from knowledgeable sources is somewhat inconclusive. Generally, the response is that people notice an improvement in various settings, just not what they were hoping for. Yet each one of these statements is essentially truthful. High definition lenses are, for most patients, a notable improvement. As the following sections will explore, this depends on a number of factors. And while going from SDTV to HDTV resolutions is something of an overstatement for the many eyeglass wearers who upgrade to HD lenses — going from 480p to 1080p TV resolutions was a pretty big leap — that’s more of an exaggeration than outright misdirection.
What Does “High Definition Lenses” Actually Mean?
So, if those marketing catchphrases amount to minor spin at worst, what actually makes HD lenses different from standard lenses? One of the alternative terms, “digital lenses,” is actually slightly closer to being an accurate descriptor than the more common term “HD lenses”. The new HD process eschews the older machine cut technology, which is a more blunt method based applying a handful of measurements documented in your eyeglass prescription to the final cut of your lenses. HD lenses use a completely digital process from start to finish to produce your new pair of prescription glasses.
The Digital Difference
Lens technology has always continually developed at a breakneck pace behind the scenes. But many of these innovations take a great deal of time to appear on the mass market, ready for wide consumer use. The digital processes behind HD lenses are the culmination of decades of research & development in large part because the standard heavy-duty lens grinding process was already fast, dependable, and relatively accurate.
By using a new all-digital approach, starting with the instruments used to take far more exact measurements during each patient’s exam and ending with a high-detail cutting process, the final result is lenses that perform better under far more varied conditions. This is where the alternate term “free-form lenses” comes from. HD lenses are not pre-designed cuts being reshaped to match a prescription; the process is an entirely free-form approach to designing the shape of the entire lens. And yet again, we run into a vague term: “perform better.” So let’s get into how that works, and what that actually means:
HD Lenses Solve the Problems Created by New Frame Designs
This digital process solves a consumer-end issue that has quietly affected eyeglasses wearers for decades: balancing prescription needs with the shape of the frame. This problem is increasingly exacerbated due to the sheer number of new frame designs that release every single season. Some of these shapes pose no problem to one prescription, while causing refraction issues and other unintended problems for another patient.
Most people understandably assume that when they select their frame and present their prescription, they’ll get lenses that function exactly as intended regardless of the shape. But lens grinding, based on the standard relatively low data prescriptions from traditional eye exams, simply can’t account for every frame style against every prescription. This issue has a lot of eyeglass wearers out there who will pass a driving eye test with flying colors, yet might have notable declines in vision when passing headlights reflect off their current glasses at night. Or they may have dips below 20/20 when they look to the left or right of their current lenses.
Digital exams and lens cutting are far more granular — they take into account a much richer level of data than traditional lens grinding. That drastically limits or even eliminates these inconsistencies that come from the shape of the frame, which explains why so many patients react to HD lenses by saying things like, “I’m seeing better but I don’t know exactly why or how.”
They were already seeing well, but often with several minor caveats. Digital lenses seek to remove those caveats by providing edge-to-edge clarity across any and all frame designs.
How HD Lenses Solve Higher-Order Eyesight Aberrations
The most familiar eyesight aberrations are terms like astigmatism, farsightedness, and nearsightedness. However, many patients have what’s known as higher-order eyesight aberrations. This is an incredibly broad reference category, that includes such varied aspects of the eye like the shape of the cornea, or the presence of minor cataracts. It even includes patients that suffer from intermittent eye dryness, which directly affects the ability to see properly.
An exam that accounts for HD lenses can address these extremely minor peculiarities, giving a patient who already benefits from eyeglasses a further boost in their day-to-day sight.
Which Patients Benefit Most From HD Lenses?
Outside of eyeglass wearers with non-standard frame choices and those with multiple higher-order eyesight aberrations, any patient with a progressive lens prescription is among those who would most obviously benefit from high definition lenses. Progressive lenses are a lot for traditional lens techniques to handle, and it’s to the credit of the engineering behind lens grinding that they existed at all before digital processes emerged.
The digital version of progressive lenses provides a 40% wider field of vision, right off the bat. While this article has mostly addressed minor improvements, or highly specific patient needs, this is a simple objective measure of exactly how much a major group of eyeglass wearers can benefit from HD lenses. The transition between zones — such as from reading to distance viewing — is also improved, creating a more natural and smooth visual experience. Another patient type are those who need lighter glasses. This common issue is often related to nasal passage and general breathing issues. Because digital lenses can be cut to much thinner sizes, it makes wearing glasses on a daily basis much more accessible.
Why Anti-Reflective Coating is a Must
There’s another aspect of HD lenses that often has customers raising an eyebrow: they are almost always paired with a charge for an anti-reflective coating. It’s another bullet point on your bill. But is it really necessary? And the answer is: absolutely. Because of the smoother, incredibly precise digital lens cutting process, almost every lens produced this way will be naturally highly reflective compared to the more abrasive process of traditional grinding.
The benefits of the precise design would be quickly negated by the issues caused by leaving these lenses without some kind of anti-reflective treatment. While future advancements in materials and digital lens cutting methods may reduce this requirement, currently it is not an arbitrary additional fee — it’s crucially needed.
Improvements in Anti-Reflective Coating
There are worries many eyeglasses patients associate with anti-reflective coating. Many experienced issues like increased smudging, difficulty cleaning, and fogging up frequently. With HD lenses quickly becoming the standard, anti-reflective coatings have improved in kind. Newer formulations of anti-reflective coatings look and feel like glasses without them, only becoming noticeable when in situations like driving at night where they heavily limit reflection.
For even those without HD lenses, the current form of anti-reflective coating is a must for heavy computer users and for improving general low-light visibility.
Summing Up the Truth About High Definition Lenses
High definition lenses are not:
Going to provide a literal leap for every single patient similar to going from SDTV to HDTV
Equipped with any kind of digital technology (just made with it!)
A requirement for any new eyeglasses patient
High definition lenses are:
Able to address multiple high-level eyesight aberrations
Perfect for progressive lens users, who will see an immediate major upgrade
Capable of providing even, natural eyesight enhancement regardless of the frames the lenses are set in
If you think you may benefit from upgrading your prescription and lenses to high definition standards, contact us at Eye Consultants of Atlanta today.