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  • Kyle Chua

Mark Zuckerberg Unveils Prototypes of High-End VR Headsets

Meta clearly wants to be at the forefront of innovations in the virtual reality (VR) space. The company’s Reality Labs division together with CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a recent roundtable unveiled a number of prototypes of high-end VR headsets, giving the public a glimpse at what’s in the works.

Credit: Meta

According to The Verge, Zuckerberg said the goal is to come out with a headset that passes the "visual Turing Test", which is the point where realities become indistinguishable from each other.

To do that, the tech executive said headsets need to be able to reach a high resolution with crisp and clear visuals. They also need variable focal depth and eye-tracking to give wearers the ability to perceive distance and depth between objects. Lastly, they need to support high dynamic range (HDR) to supposedly deliver more realistic brightness and colour depth.

"I think we’re in the middle right now of a big step forward towards realism," said Zuckerberg. "I don’t think it’s going to be that long until we can create scenes with basically perfect fidelity."

The challenge is in packing all the technical specifications into a functional and wearable headset. And it seems Meta is very serious about making this vision of an ideal headset a reality, as evidenced by the number of prototypes the company has been playing around with, which are noted to be far from market-ready.

Credit: Meta

Zuckerberg, for instance, revealed Meta’s thinnest headset yet, the Holocake 2. It’s the successor of the sunglasses-looking proof-of-concept that the company showcased in 2020. The design uses a light-bending technique to accommodate an almost-flat panel for the optics. Meta, however, said that it has yet to find a self-contained light source to power the panel, so until then, this design remains a prototype.

Butterscotch. Credit: Meta

Meanwhile, Butterscotch is a headset which features a near-retina-quality display, allowing you to clearly read the 20/20 line on an eye chart. Zuckerberg added that it has about 55 pixels per field-of-view degree, which is just slightly shy of Meta’s own 60-pixel-per-degree retina standard. Like the other designs, however, this headset is said to be "nowhere near shippable".

Starburst. Credit: Meta

Starburst, in comparison to the previous two, looks even less ready for the public, with it having a bulky design underlined by two metal handles on either side to support its weight along with fans on top for cooling. The headset, however, offers high dynamic range (HDR) lighting with up to 20,000 nits of brightness. "This one is wildly impractical to consider as a product direction for the first generation, but we’re using it as a testbed for further research and studies," commented Zuckerberg on the prototype.

He additionally mentioned Half Dome, a design of prototypes that feature varifocal optics. These are lenses that enhance how depth is perceived in VR. The tech behind the headset was said to be "almost ready for prime time" in 2020, but the Meta chief is now backtracking on that statement, noting that it’s still in development.

Zuckerberg also talked about another prototype design, one that hasn’t been built yet, called Mirror Lake. It’s essentially a next-gen system that takes the best parts out of all the aforementioned prototypes and puts them into a single headset: the Holocake 2’s optics, Starburst’s HDR capabilities and Butterscotch’s resolution. What’s more, it’ll come equipped with an outward-facing display that projects images of your eye, so it looks like you’re simply wearing a pair of goggles for people outside.

Meta wants to have two lines of VR headsets in the future: a consumer-facing line like its current Quest ecosystem and a professional-grade line where new breakthroughs will debut. But as previously mentioned, these prototypes are far from being market-ready, so they likely won’t be seen out in the wild anytime soon.

  • The company’s Reality Labs division together with CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a recent roundtable unveiled a number of prototypes of high-end VR headsets, giving the public a glimpse at what’s in the works.

  • Some of the prototype designs that were revealed include Holocake 2, Butterscotch, Starburst and the still-unbuilt Mirror Lake.

  • All the prototypes in this stage are far from being market-ready, however.

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