Meta Ramp’s Up Metaverse with Host of New Headsets
June 24, 2022
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by Stephen Kanyi

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Meta is slowly coming together with the recent announcement of a bunch of new VR headsets. Meta’s Reality Labs division labs has recently revealed new prototypes in a bid toward making lightweight, almost lifelike virtual reality graphics.

While these supposed ‘breakthroughs’ remain a bit far from consumer-ready, designs such as Starbust, Holocake 2, Butterscotch and Mirror Lake could be a significant upgrade on the current Quest 2 display.

Presenting their work at a virtual roundtable last week Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Reality Labs chief scientist Michael Abrash referred to the designs as “time machines.”

 “I don’t think it’s going to be that long until we can create scenes with basically perfect fidelity.” he added. While display tech isn’t the only unsolved piece of the metaverse vision it’s an area that Meta has intensively focused on.

Mark went on to reiterate plans to ship a state-of-the-art headset codenamed Project Cambria this year, especially following his initial announcement in late 2021. Equipped with high-resolution cameras that can also pass video feed to an internal screen, Cambria supports full VR plus mixed reality. The headset will also be shipped with eye tracking, an essential feature for any future Meta headset.

Afterwards, Meta has lined-up two lines of VR headsets; one that is pocket-friendly and consumer-focused just like the current Quest 2 and another that will integrate the company’s most recent technology.

The latter will be aimed at a “prosumer or professional-grade” market. This report is on track with an earlier one that stated Meta is already planning upgrades to Cambria and the Quest 2, although these weren’t discussed on the call.

Meta’s smart glasses are part of a new line of augmented products that project images onto the real world instead of blocking with a screen. More recently, the metaverse giant scaled back the launch of its first-generation AR glasses in favour of VR screens which have reached consumers faster than AR holograms.

Here is a brief overview of each prototype.

Butterscotch

This is Meta’s attempt at building a near-retina-quality display, a feature only found in high-end headsets from headset manufacturer Varjo but not currently part of Meta’s lineup. However, the design is nowhere close to ‘shippable’ as it requires approximately half Meta Quest’s 110 – field of view.

Butterscotch does however provide about 2.5 times of Quest’s 2 resolution letting users read 20/20 vision lines on an eye chart. CEO Zuckerberg also added that it offers about 55 pixels per field-of-view degree. This is however slightly short of Meta’s 60-pixel-per-degree retina standard and a bit lower than Varjo’s 64 pixels per degree.

Starbust

Although promising a similarly impressive upgrade, Stardust is, at this moment of writing, less shippable than even Butterscotch. Its bulky design utilizes a powerful lamp that requires strong handles to support its weight but produces high dynamic range (HDR) lighting with 20,000 nits of brightness.

This one is wildly impractical to consider as a product direction for the first generation, but we’re using it as a testbed for further research and studies. The goal of all this work is to help us identify which technical paths are going to allow us to make meaningful enough improvements that we can start approaching visual realism.” said Zuckerberg.

Holocake 2

With Holocake 2 Meta takes the opposite approach exploring the company’s options for making VR headsets thinner and lighter. Holocake 2 is the successor to a 2020 design built on holographic options, a new technique that uses a nearly flat panel instead of a thick refractive lens. The panel could be impressively as thin as sunglasses but Meta is still working on building a self-contained light source to power them.

We’ll need to do a lot of engineering to achieve a consumer-viable laser that meets our specs: that’s safe, low-cost, and efficient, and that can fit a slim VR headset. Honestly, as of today, the jury is still out on a suitable laser source.” says Zuckerberg.

The presentation also mentioned Half Dome, a long-running series of prototypes that can shift focal planes depending on where the user is looking. Meta described the prototype as “almost ready for prime time” back in 2020 but in the presentation, CEO Zuckerberg was a more measured saying; “This stuff is pretty far off. We’re working on it, we really want to get it into one of the upcoming headsets, I’m confident that we will at some point, but I’m not going to pre-announce anything today.”

Reality Labs said that they would discuss more of their research at August’s SIGGRAPH tradeshow.

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