Earlier this week, Adam Savage’s Tested had a chance to sit down with Mark Zuckerberg for an interview to discuss what they’re working on. The in-depth interview showcased Meta’s prototype headsets, demonstrating how far along they are to building a VR headset that can produce visual realism. Meta’s end goal is to build a headset that can pass the Visual Turing Test, a subjective test where the user, can’t distinguish reality from virtual.
Let’s have a look at what’s on the horizon (see what we did there?) for Meta’s hardware by taking a look at the prototypes they’re working on.
Butterscotch is Meta’s prototype aimed at tackling Retinal Resolution. Basically, the goal is to achieve a resolution that’s on par with the human eye. If we want things to be as sharp as we perceive reality, resolution undoubtedly needs to get better. 60 pixels per degree is about on par with your eye. Butterscotch has an impressive 55 pixels per degree. To put that into perspective, the Quest 2 only has about 20 pixels per degree.
Butterscotch gives us an idea of just how clear text will look in VR one day as well. It will require better resolution displays of course, but the technology will also need to get lighter and more efficient. To give you an idea of just how clear it is, Meta compared the displayed side by side on a chart.
The Half Dome prototypes are addressing the Varifocal Depth challenge. You know how things in the background get blurry when you focus on something up close, and vice versa? That’s focal depth. Your eyes work in a multitude of different ways to adjust to what you are focusing on. VR headsets are going to need to be able to replicate this if it’s going to stand a chance at being convincing. At first, Meta thought this might be solved by a mechanical lense that moves back and forth adjusting the distance between the display and lenses. However, Meta realized they could achieve the same results by stacking lenses on top of one another and using an electronic varifocal module, adjusting the focal depth on the fly using eye-tracking.
All VR headsets on the market right now currently have a fixed Focal Depth of about 5-6 feet in front of you. This is why everything in VR is clearest at this distance, and why things up close are blurry. If you want to get a good sense of this, try and focus on one of your VR controllers when it’s right in front of your headset versus when you’re holding it straight out. Focal Depth will be a game-changer and will let your eyes act a bit more naturally when you look around.
Meta claims their next prototype, Starburst, is the first-ever HDR headset. High Dynamic Range or HDR, brings realistic brightness and colors to a display which in turn makes the visuals more realistic. Think of how a traffic light or street lamp stands out in the middle of the night. Those things stand out more than things in the background because of how your eyes register light. Meta also believes that HDR adds a layer of depth to VR that’s required to trick your brain into believing what you’re seeing is real.
Meta states that Starburst can achieve up to 20,000 nits. Nit is a metric used for measuring luminance, which is how much light any given object emits. That’s quite the light show compared to the Quest 2 which only gives off about 100 nits.
The Holocake 2 shows off what future form factors might look like. It also looks eerily similar to Project Cambria. By using pancake optics and holographic lenses, Meta has built a working headset that can play PCVR games, in a small package. Pancake optics let you bring the display closer to the lenses by bouncing light back and forth and holographic lenses are thinner than traditional lenses. Together, the solution cuts down the bulk at the front of the headset dramatically.
The goal here is to demonstrate what future consumer headsets might look like. The Holocake 2 is currently a wired headset that needs to be tethered to a PC, so it’s still a long way away from being standalone. Still, it looks pretty comfortable.
The entire interview is fascinating, to say the least. We highly recommend you give it a watch. Meta continues to prove that they’re not messing about. The tech is clearly groundbreaking. Of course, these might all be prototypes for now, and probably won’t be ready for years to come but it’s exciting to see what the future holds.
Watch the entire Hands-On video here: