Meta Reality Labs has revealed new prototypes in its roadmap towards ultra-realistic, lightweight virtual reality graphics. The hacks are still a long way from consumer-ready, but the designs — codenamed Butterscotch, Starburst, Holocake 2, and Mirror Lake — can add up to a thin, brightly lit headset that supports finer detail than the current Quest 2’s screen.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Reality Labs chief scientist Michael Abrash, along with other Reality Labs members, presented their work at a virtual roundtable last week. The event focused on designs that Meta refers to as “time machines”: massive proofs of concept intended to test one specific feature, such as an ultra-bright backlight or an ultra-high-resolution display. “I think we are now in the middle of a big step forward toward realism,” Zuckerberg told reporters. “I don’t think it will take that long until we can basically create scenes with perfect accuracy.” Display technology isn’t the only unsolved piece of this puzzle, but it’s an area given Meta’s extensive research for virtual reality hardware.
Zuckerberg reiterated his plans to ship a high-quality headphone Codenamed Project Cambria In 2022, after the start Last year’s announcement. Cambria supports full virtual reality as well as mixed reality, thanks to the high-resolution cameras that can pass video feeds to the indoor screen. It will also ship with eye tracking, a key feature of future Meta headphones. From there, Zuckerberg says Meta is planning two lines of VR headsets: one that will remain inexpensive and consumer-focused, like today’s Quest 2, and one that will incorporate the company’s latest technology, targeting a “consumer or professional” market. Tracks it with reports that the company Already planning updates To the Cambria and Quest 2, although these prototypes weren’t discussed on the call.
Meta VR headsets are side by side A selection of smart augmented reality glasses, which aims to project images onto the real world rather than blocking them with a screen. dead Recently downsizing From the first generation of augmented reality glasses, and in general, virtual reality screens reached consumers much faster than augmented reality holograms. But Meta prototypes show just how far the company thinks it has left.
Butterscotch is an attempt to showcase headphones with near-retina quality — something you can find in high-end headphones from companies like Varjo, but not the current Meta lineup. The design is “nowhere close to charging” and requires the Meta Quest 2’s 110-degree field of view to be roughly halved. But it offers about 2.5 times the resolution of the Quest 2 (Somewhat) 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye, allowing users to read a 20/20 line-of-sight on an eye chart. Zuckerberg says it provides about 55 pixels per degree of field of view, which is just below the retina’s standard of 60 pixels per degree in the Meta and just under the 64 pixels in Fargo per degree.
The Starburst is less shippable than the Butterscotch but experiences a similarly great upgrade. The massive design uses a powerful bulb—it requires handles to support its weight—and produces High Dynamic Range (HDR) illumination with a brightness of 20,000 nits. “This is highly impractical as a first-generation product direction, but we’re using it as a test bed for further research and studies,” Zuckerberg says. “The point of all of this work is to help us identify technical pathways that will allow us to make enough meaningful improvements that we can start getting closer to visual realism.”
Holocake 2 is moving in the opposite direction, exploring Meta options to make VR headsets thinner and lighter. It’s the successor to 2020 design based on 3D optics, a light-bending technology that allows an almost flat screen to stand up to a thick refractive lens. The result may be as thin as sunglasses, but Meta is still working on developing a stand-alone light source that would power it – almost certainly lasers, not the OLEDs commonly used today. “We’ll need to do a lot of engineering to achieve a consumer-friendly laser that meets our specifications: it’s safe, it’s low cost, it’s efficient, and it can fit into a thin VR headset,” Zuckerberg says. “Honestly, even today, the jury is still out on finding a suitable laser source.”
The half-dome show also discussed, Long series of prototypes Focal planes can shift depending on where users are looking. These varifocal optics started as a heavy mechanical system in 2017 and later morphed into a range of liquid crystal lenses, and according to Meta’s in-house research, they can create a more convincing (and physically comfortable) illusion of depth in VR.
Meta described Half Dome’s technology as “almost ready for prime time” in 2020, but today, Zuckerberg is much more measured. “These things are way too far,” he said in response to a question about the Prime Time comment. “We’re working on it, and we really want to get it into one of our upcoming headphones, and I’m sure we’ll do that at some point, but I won’t pre-announce anything today.”
Reality Labs will discuss more research, including how to capture more accurate real-time footage of mixed reality, at the August SIGGRAPH trade show.
The designs above exist as actual hardware that Zuckerberg briefly showed off during the event. But Meta has also revealed one prototype, called Mirror Lake, which is basically ambitious and was never built. The design looks more like a pair of ski goggles than the massive Meta Quest, and will include Holocake 2’s thin optics, Starburst’s HDR capabilities, and Butterscotch resolution. “It shows what a next-generation full-display system could look like,” Abrash said.
On top of these features, Mirror Lake will include an external display that displays an image of the user’s eyes, reducing the feeling of physical separation for people outside the headset. Meta showed off this slightly weird feature In a prototype last yearAnd it may not be the only company interested in this concept: Apple is said to have considered a similar feature For the rumored headphone. The idea is designed for a mixed reality world where Meta . is located He bet a lot of his future But today, the company is emphasizing incremental steps along the way.
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