Virtual reality

Your connection between real and virtual world

Meta unveils three more prototypes of VR devices

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The target occasionally hosts an “Inside the Lab” roundtable showing early technology currently under development, usually in a very specific area of research. Today was Inside the Lab: Passing the Visual Turing Test with a focus on a very important piece of virtual reality (VR) hedset hardware: the display. Trying to tackle a host of challenges, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Reality Labs chief scientist, Michael Abrash and several others have unveiled three prototypes of hedsets currently under development.

Prototyping often relies on trying to solve an individual problem, whether it’s resolution, weight, size, durability, clarity, or any other problem. While Meta Quest 2 offers a good VR experience, it’s by no means perfect, with areas that can always be improved.


“Retinal” or “retina” is a term often used to describe an angular resolution that at least corresponds to that of the human eye. The generally accepted threshold is 60 pixels per degree. No consumer VR headset is even close to this yet. Quest 2 reaches about 20 pixels per degree, while Varjo Aero from $1990 reaches 35 pixels per degree. Varjov job-focused $5500 hedset exceeds the resolution of the retina, but only in a small area in the center of your view. Butterscotch is a research prototype that achieves 55 pixels per degree. It provides captivating clarity and high enough resolution that you can read the line of sight 20/20 on the eye map in VR. It’s a feat that Quest 2 and Rift can’t accomplish.

Butterscotch’s downside is that it has a very narrow field of view – only half as much as Quest 2. Meta says it’s also heavy and cumbersome. Butterscotch’s purpose is to show and explore the sense of retinal resolution rather than being a practical product.


Meta is also experimenting with HDR for VR. Zuckerberg says discovering HDR is one of the most important things he can do to increase realism in VR. To achieve this, Meta created Starburst, which she claims is the first HDR headset. This is the most obvious “prototype” of the pile, as it involves handles on both sides. The key to accurate HDR is peak and permanent brightness, and Starburst has no problem there: it can reach the reported 20,000 nits (luminance unit), which is far more than the highest-class HDR TVs available today. Quest 2 offers just 100 nits, so Starburst is generations ahead of current technology. Meta says HDR is the only technology most associated with additional realism and depth.

The goal of HDR is not to fry your eyes, but to give realistic brightness to things that are actually distinctly bright in real life. For example, a fire, explosion, fireworks or even bright reflections from windows in a cloudless day. All these things seem to ‘pop up’ in real life because they are much brighter than the world around them. The ability to replicate this brightness flow into VR is key to passing the visual Turing test.

Holocake 2

Holocake 2 is the company’s thinnest and lightest VR research prototype built with holographic displays. It is a fully functional hedset connected to a pc that can run any existing PC VR title. In most VR headphones, the lenses are quite thick and need to be placed a few inches from the screen so that they can properly focus and direct light directly into your eyes. In Holocake 2, the Target uses a flat, holographic lens to reduce mass, in addition to lasers.

“Varifocal technology is flat, like all holographic films used for Holocake, as well as prescription correction and eye tracking. And so it’s easy to keep adding thin, flat technologies. This means that the end product can pack more functionality into a smaller package than anything that exists today.”

The prototype expands the company’s 2020 holographic optics concept, which lacked critical components and resembled a pair of sunglasses. Meta says this is their first attempt to make fully functional headphones with holographic optics. The target is still working to produce a standalone light source to power the hedset, presumably lasers, instead of the OLEDs commonly used these days.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake is Meta’s first hedset to fully embrace mixed reality. It uses a new type of machine learning-based aisle to solve one of the most difficult problems of passing technology: that cameras do not match the position of the eyes.

Mirror Lake is not yet embedded in a functional device, it is still just a concept that is actively being worked on. Michael Abrash, chief scientist for Meta’s Reality Labs division, said Mirror Lake was showing what a complete next-generation display system might look like.

The concept is designed to achieve a “shape factor like ski goggles” with what Meta calls Holocake lenses, while incorporating advanced eye tracking, variable focus, reverse pass, and support for prescription lens accessories “to eliminate the need for glasses.”

All current VR headsets, outside of lab prototypes, have fixed focus lenses. Each eye gets a separate image, but the images are focused on a fixed distance. Your eyes will direct (converge or diverge) towards the virtual object you are looking at, but they cannot properly focus (adapt) to this distance. It’s called “vergence-accomodation” conflict. It causes eye strain and can make virtual objects look blurry up close. The goal of the Mirror Lake Hedset is to finally solve this problem. And before these concepts see the light of day, The Cambria Project awaits us.