Meta wants to make it clear that it is not giving up on the high-end VR experiences just yet. So, in a rare move, the company is throwing the beans on several VR headset prototypes at once. The goal, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is to eventually create something that can pass the “visual Turing test,” or the point at which virtual reality is practically indistinguishable from the real world. That’s the holy grail for VR enthusiasts, but for Meta’s critics, it’s another disturbing sign that the company wants to own reality (even if Zuckerberg says he doesn’t want to fully own the metaverse†
As explained by Zuckerberg and Michael Abrash, chief scientist of Meta’s Reality Labs, creating the perfect VR headset involves perfecting four basic concepts. First, they need to achieve high resolution so you can have 20/20 VR vision (without prescription glasses). In addition, headsets require variable depth of field and eye tracking, so you can easily focus on near and far objects; and restore optical distortions inherent in current lenses. Finally, Meta should bring HDR or high dynamic range into headsets to deliver more realistic brightness, shadows and color depth. (More than resolution, HDR is a major reason modern TVs and computer monitors look better than LCDs from a decade ago.)
And of course, the company needs to pack all of these concepts into a headset that’s lightweight and easy to wear. In 2020, Facebook Reality Labs showed a few concept VR glasses with holographic lenses , which looked like oversized sunglasses. Building on that original concept, the company today unveiled Holocake 2 (above), its thinnest VR headset yet. It looks more traditional than the original pair, but Zuckerberg, in particular, says it’s a fully functional prototype that can play any VR game while tethered to a PC.
“Displays that match the full capacity of human vision will unlock some really important things,” Zuckerberg said in a media briefing. “The first is a realistic sense of presence, which is the feeling of being with someone or somewhere as if you were physically there. And given our focus on helping people connect, you understand why this is so important.” He described testing photorealistic avatars in a mixed reality environment, where his VR companion looked like he was standing next to him. While “presence” may seem like an esoteric term these days, it’s easier to understand when headsets can realistically connect you with friends, family, and remote colleagues.
Metas upcoming Cambria headset appears to be a small step towards achieving true VR presence, the brief glimpses we’ve seen of the tech make it a minor upgrade over the Oculus Quest 2. While admitting the perfect headset is a long way off , Zuckerberg showed prototypes demonstrating how much progress Meta’s Reality Labs has made so far.
There’s “Butterscotch” (above), which can display near retinal resolution so you can read the bottom line of an eye test in VR. (Unfortunately, Reality Labs engineers also had to cut the Quest 2’s field of view in half to achieve that.) The Starburst HDR prototype looks even wilder: It’s a bundle of wires, fans, and other electronics that can produce up to 20,000 nits of brightness . That’s a huge jump from the Quest 2’s 100 nits, and it’s even ahead of the super-bright Mini-LED displays we see today. (My eyes water at the thought of getting so much light close to my face.) Starburst is too big and awkward to mount on your head, so researchers have to look into it like binoculars.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Engadget†