Meta, the company, is formerly known as Facebook, has been hard at work on the future of VR and recently unveiled its plan for the future of virtual reality at a roundtable discussion with major tech publications.
The roundtable, titled “Inside the Lab: Passing the Visual Turing Test,” featured Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Reality Labs Chief Scientist Michael Abrash discussing what it would take to create more realistic virtual reality experiences through a series of prototypes.
Three of the prototypes on display for us by Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg were designed to improve specific aspects of the virtual reality experience — brightness, clarity, and color saturation — with one experimental design combining all three into a single solution.
They represent the future of virtual reality and provide a good preview of what Meta’s Reality Labs team has in store for the future.
A sneak peek at the future of virtual reality
Sunburst, his first prototype, was intended to replicate 20/20 human vision (or a 6/6 line on an eye chart) with increased resolution at the expense of field-of-view. However, the headset’s design is bulkier than the current Quest 2, and it would be uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
Meta then demonstrated Starburst, the first HDR VR headset produced by any company. According to Zuckerberg, the current VR headset lineup is limited to around 100 nits of brightness — far too low to accurately display bright highlights and vibrant colors. Starburst aims to address this issue by placing a lamp behind the headset’s LCD screen, which can currently output around 20,000 nits of brightness, which is higher than even the best 4K TVs.
The design of Starburst, like Sunburst, is uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time and would be prohibitively expensive for Meta to produce at scale. Read more; Augmented Reality vs Virtual Reality
The final of the three prototypes revealed by Meta was the Holocake 2, a strange-sounding headset named after the ‘pancake’ optics it uses to condense the amount of space required for a VR headset’s display.
According to Meta, Holocake uses “polarization-based optical folding (or pancake optics) to reduce the space between the display panel and the lens” and reduces the thickness of the lens itself by replacing a conventional curved lens with a thin, flat holographic one to reduce the weight of the headset.
Holocake is the company’s smallest headset to date, and while it must be tethered to a PC, it is capable of running any existing PC VR game. Read also; PSVR 2: Specs, And Everything We Know So Far
Mirror Lake is where it all comes together
Finally, Meta demonstrated the Mirror Lake headset, which combines all of the benefits of the previous prototype headsets into a single device.
Mirror Lake accomplishes this by combining Holocake’s pancake optics with varifocal lenses from an even earlier prototype, Half Dome Zero, developed by Meta in 2015. Because the lenses are mechanical, they can change their focal length, allowing you to see objects both far away and close to your eyes.
All of this is held together by a lightweight “ski-goggle” design that wraps around the head, making it lighter than current-generation headsets.
The only issue? Mirror Lake is merely a design concept, not a functioning headset.
Mirror Lake, according to Meta, is one possible path the company could take to move forward with its VR headsets, but it is not the only one. Read more; What is Virtual Reality? [Definition Examples and Cost]
What comes next? Project Cambria
While it was exciting to see what Meta’s Reality Labs had in store for us in the future, Zuckerberg was quick to point out that all of the prototypes he showed us were just that: prototypes. Meta’s next real headset will be Project Cambria, a VR headset that will outperform the rumored Oculus Quest 3.
We don’t know much about either of the two headsets yet, and Zuckerberg refused to reveal any more details at the roundtable event. However, Meta’s CEO did say that Cambria is the next big release, and it will be announced sooner rather than later.
Knowing that newer and better technology is just around the corner may dampen the excitement for another VR headset, especially if it only offers a fraction of what we’ve seen in these prototypes, but it’s clear that Meta’s intention is to continue pioneering new virtual reality roads, and it’s got the research team to do it.
Can’t wait for virtual reality’s future to arrive? Check out the Oculus Quest 2, one of the best VR headsets on the market that has recently returned to stock.