Meta Reality Labs VR headset prototypes

Meta’s Latest VR Headset Prototypes Could Help Pass ‘Visual Turing Test’

Meta wants to make it clear that it is not giving up on 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 focus on near and far objects with ease; as well as correcting optical distortions inherent in current lenses. (We’ve seen this technology in the Half Dome Prototypes.) 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 why modern TVs and computer monitors look better than LCDs from a decade ago.

Meta Reality Labs VR Headset Prototypes

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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 in a place 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 its technology make it a minor upgrade over the Oculus Quest 2. While admitting that the perfect headset is a long way off Zuckerberg showed prototypes demonstrating how much progress Meta’s Reality Labs has made so far.

Meta Reality Labs VR Headset Prototypes

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There’s “Butterscotch” (above), which can display near retinal resolution so you can read the bottom line of an eye test in VR. To do that, Reality Labs engineers had to cut the Quest 2’s field of view in half, a compromise that certainly wouldn’t work in a finished product. The Starburst HDR prototype looks even wilder: it’s a bundle of wires, fans, and other electronics capable of producing 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 super-bright Mini-LED screens 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.

Meta Mirror Lake VR Concept

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While the Holocake 2 appears to be Meta’s most polished prototype yet, it doesn’t include all of the tech the company is currently testing. That’s the goal of the Mirror Lake concept (above), which will provide holographic lenses, HDR, mechanical varifocals, and eye tracking. There isn’t a working model yet, but it’s a good glimpse of what Meta is pursuing several years later. It looks like high-tech ski goggles and is powered by laser-backlit LCD screens. The company is also developing a way to show your eyes and facial expressions to remote observers with an external display on the front.

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