This story is partCNET’s research on the next stage in the evolution of the Internet.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined new technology, including improved resolution, that could appear in his company’s virtual reality headphones in the future.
Why it matters
Headphones are a key component of Meta’s vision for the metaverse, the evolution of the internet that is more impressive than today’s version.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds a bulky virtual reality headset called Butterscotch. It is a prototype, used only for research. But that’s part of the conundrum Meta is trying to solve to turn her plans for the metaverse into reality.
The image resolution in Butterscotch is about two and a half times better than Quest 2, VR headset Meta sells to consumers and is key to making virtual worlds look more realistic. At a video conference, Zuckerberg said the resolution is good enough for people to see objects clearly from a distance of 20 feet.
Creating more realistic VR images, Zuckerberg said, will help people feel like they are physically there with another person, even if they are not in the same room. However, a more realistic sense of presence will require more than just improving the resolution in VR headphones, he said.
“Being able to express yourself in the most realistic way possible is a very powerful thing,” he said. “Right now we’re in the middle of a big step forward towards realism.”
Meta has big plans for a metaverse, virtual spaces for work, play and socializing. But the company, formerly known as Facebook, has a long and daunting list of commitments that need to be checked before achieving that goal. The headphones must follow the movement properly and be more comfortable if Meta wants more people to buy these devices.
Meta has not said how much the handset has sold, but it is not making a profit from its metaverse business and is not expecting it for long. In the first three months of this year, Meta’s metaverse business Reality Labs lost $ 2.96 billion, Meta said in a earnings report. The company is betting on what comes after the mobile internet in the long run, tying its future to the metaverse. Zuckerberg has been trying to get people interested in VR for years after the company bought the manufacturer of VR headphones Oculus for more than $ 2 billion in 2014.
Zuckerberg’s ambitious vision of the metaverse sounds like science fiction. He wants the people who tie his headphones to feel like they are in the physical presence of a loved one or colleague. In the future, he says, people may not even have to buy TVs.
“If you have good mixed reality headphones or augmented reality glasses, then the screen or TV that was on your wall could just be a hologram,” he said.
That vision is far away. Although Meta has improved its VR headphones, their use takes you to virtual spaces similar to cartoons that look more like video games than the real world. The company tried to clear its list of projects – wearable devices and AR glasses consumers. He still has to deal with harassment and privacy in virtual worlds, problems that Meta struggles with on its social media pages.and postponed the issuance of AR glasses – to reduce costs. He’s still planning to kick his wrist
However, improving the display in VR headsets could encourage people to try out more virtual spaces.
Glasses for mixed reality
During the video conference, Zuckerberg and Meta employees presented an illustration of Mirror Lake, one of the company’s most ambitious projects. The headphones are reminiscent of a pair of ski goggles and connect the physical and digital worlds, a technique known as mixed reality.
Mixed reality glasses, like Mirror Lake, are also in the early stages. Mirror Lake is just a concept and Meta hasn’t made these glasses yet, so they don’t know if their idea works.
It could be a step towards AR headphones like sunglasses, which cover digital information in real world scenes. Meta wants to eventually launch these AR products, but they still have plenty of hardware to carry anywhere outside the home.
Meta hopes that Mirror Lake will have a screen at the level of retina with HDR, eye tracking, a method for creating multiple focal points on the eye, prescription lenses and holographic lenses that use lasers to create 3D visuals.
The headphones could possibly include displays on the outside to show the expression of the user’s eyes and face while wearing glasses, a research idea previously presented by Meta and Apple reportedly working on it.
New visual technology in a series of experimental headphones
Meta also showed Holocake 2, its thinnest and lightest VR headset capable of playing PC VR games. A prototype could help the company make smaller VR headsets in the future. And reducing the weight of the headphones will allow people to be in virtual worlds for longer.
Similar to the design of Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, the device uses holographic lenses, which simulate ordinary lens optics, but are flatter than curved lenses used in VR devices such as Quest 2. Most VR headphones have thick lenses, which makes the front of the device look so difficult, Zuckerberg said. Instead of sending light through a thick lens, Holocake 2 sends light through a hologram lens. The target also reduced the distance between the eye and the VR screen to reduce most headphones.
Holocake 2, however, requires lasers to make its holographic optics lens work, and finding lasers that are ready for consumers to work in headphones is still difficult. The use of holographic optics can reduce the bulky design of VR headphones so Meta can add other technologies, such as more cameras, eye tracking and the type of lens that could make VR more comfortable.
To improve VR, Meta is applying a test that assesses whether what is shown in VR headphones may differ from the real world, said Meta Reality Labs Research head Michael Abrash. The company calls this the Visual Turing Test, a reference to English mathematician Alan Turing, who developed another test in the 1950s to determine if a computer could think like a human being.
No VR technology has passed the visual Turing test, Abrash said. While VR creates a sense of presence, people know that what they are watching is virtual, not real.
Meta listed four barriers to creating better displays: resolution, focus, distortion, and high dynamic range, which are used to improve image brightness and contrast.
One problem is that VR headphones have a significantly smaller range of colors, brightness and contrast than TVs, laptops and cell phones, Abrash said.
Holding a prototype VR headset called Starburst, Zuckerberg noticed that the device includes a bright lamp. He called Starburst “wildly impractical”, but said that researchers are using heavy headphones to improve future devices.
Meta has also developed another prototype called the Half Dome that includes a varifocal lens that can help people’s eyes focus better in VR, making nearby objects look sharper. People who have used this type of lens have experienced less fatigue and blurred vision. They also found it easier to identify smaller objects, read VR text, and react faster to the environment.
Even after years of development, Half Dome is not ready for users because Meta tries to ensure that eye tracking and other parts of the device work properly. The technology needed for varifocal operation is still difficult to get into consumer headphones.
“As difficult as it is to make the first version of something, it can often be even harder to put it into a transport product,” Zuckerberg said, adding that “optimistic” consumer units will “come soon.”
Later this year, Meta is expected to release new, more expensive VR headphones called Project Cambria, which will be the company’s first VR headset. After that, it is unclear when or whether any of these next-generation screen technologies will enter any handset. What has been noted is that Zuckerberg and Abrash acknowledge that current VR displays still do not match the quality of 2D screens on a TV or smartphone.
If they want VR to be more than a novelty, that’s a problem they’ll have to solve.