Meta’s VR headset prototypes are fun, and that’s all we know

Last week, during a virtual “Inside the Lab” presentation for tech reporters, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other executives showed off a slew of prototype virtual reality headsets developed by the company’s Reality Labs Research group.

This experimental hardware included several versions of the company’s “Half Dome” headsets, which use varifocal lenses to keep items in focus wherever they are in your virtual view. Then there was the “Butterscotch” headset, with a high-resolution screen so bright you can read the bottom line of a virtual eye chart. And “Starburst”, which makes VR feel more real with a screen brightness of 20,000 nits compared to the 100 nits of the Quest 2 headset. And “Holocake 2”, whose thin holographic lenses make for a much slimmer headset than designs currently on the market.

In any case, it was clear that the headset in question would not reach consumers in its current form. For example, the Half Dome varifocal displays rely on eye-tracking technology that is not yet reliable enough for commercial application. The Butterscotch unit increases screen resolution by halving the field of view, resulting in an unnaturally narrow image. Starburst is too gigantic a piece of gear to wear strapped to your head; instead, hold it in front of your eyes with handles. And Holocake 2 needs to be plugged into a PC rather than providing a standalone VR experience.

The “Butterscotch” prototype has an extra sharp screen, but only half the field of view of the current Quest 2 headset. [Photo: Meta]

Zuckerberg, Reality Labs chief scientist Michael Abrash, and other executives were excited about these jokes. In fact, they were part of the point of the whole event. In the long run, Meta aims to build a metaverse that is as realistic as old-fashioned reality — a bar that the company refers to as a “visual Turing test.” By unveiling its prototypes, the company showed that it is making progress, but also emphasized how immense the company is.

It’s rare for a major tech company to share as much about work in progress as Meta does.

Now it’s possible that Zuckerberg’s eagerness to showcase Meta’s progress is a response to recent developments that have left outsiders wondering if the company’s hardware efforts were confused. Last week, The informations Sylvia Varnham O’Regan reported that the company had decided not to ship “Project Nazare”, a set of AR glasses it had planned to release in 2024, pushing the introduction of a commercial product even further into the future. Her story also said that the first generation of a planned Meta smartwatch was canceled and followed a earlier report by Katie Paul of Reuters that the company cut back on a number of hardware projects to focus on its most strategic work.

But whatever Meta’s motivations — and however long it takes to ship products — it’s rare for a major tech company to share as much about work in progress as it does. Apple develops, as it always is, its mixed reality headset in secret; last month, Mark Gurman from Bloomberg reported that it is far enough to have been demonstrated at a meeting of the company’s board of directors. Google, meanwhile, recently showed real-time translation through AR glassestease its product under development in a limited way.

“Holocake 2” uses holographic lenses to reduce the volume of the headset. [Photo: Meta]

As someone curious about this stuff, I’m thankful that Meta took a less inconspicuous path. Wouldn’t it have been nice if Apple had made the iPhone public and kept us all informed about its activities from the moment it decided to build a smartphone? From Class it would be! With the efforts of Meta in VR and ARwe get a chance to see some of his research and think long and hard before they result in something shippable.

But it would be a mistake to get excited prematurely about everything Zuckerberg and his company have revealed. For starters, we’ll have to rely on Meta’s own reviews of its prototypes – the company held its “Inside the Lab” presentation via Zoom webinar, so it was impossible for those of us in attendance to gauge the quality of the technology being used. being watched. And we only know what Meta wants to tell us: While presenters pointed out some of the hurdles they haven’t yet overcome, some more were left unaddressed, such as the impact all this cutting-edge technology has on headset battery life. .

Some of Meta’s many headset prototypes, each a different response to the many technical challenges of making VR feel real. [Photo: Meta]

More importantly, isolated examples of technical progress don’t have much to do with whether Meta can create a metaverse that people actually want to inhabit. The company’s desire for its display hardware to pass a self-assigned “visual Turing test” is a terribly long term goal. If it can’t get many other things right in the meantime — and the widespread cynicism about the whole idea of inhabiting a virtual world created by Mark Zuckerberg– it might give up before it gets there. Or it can send something that is in some ways a technological marvel, but still compromised and unappealing. Or someone else’s less visually stunning virtual world may be already too deeply entrenched for Meta’s superior hardware to matter much.

One day we’ll know how Zuckerberg’s decision to bet his company on the metaverse played out. That’s when the impact – or lack thereof – of current prototypes will be apparent. For now, it’s fine to enjoy the glimpse we get without considering the long-term implications.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.