The Metaverse Gets a Future
A standards organization and a suite of high concept headset prototypes
Whatever the metaverse ends up being, many hope that it will be an open place where companies products can interoperate with each other, rather than a series of siloed lands tied to certain manufacturer's hardware. To further the end of openness, several companies have joined up to form the Metaverse Standards Forum. Among the founding members are Nvidia, Microsoft, Wayfair, IKEA, Adobe, Alibaba, Epic Games, Huawei, Qualcomm, Sony and Meta. The organization is open to any member at no cost. Hear that Apple and Google?
One company that is racing to make the metaverse real is of course Meta. Hence the name. It continues to sign up big brands to open virtual spaces in Horizon Worlds. Joining Coach and others is Fender Musical Instruments, with a guitar shaped island called the Fender Stratoverse and the BMW Group with its Mini-Cooper oriented MINIverse. But Meta also wants to focus you on the hardware that will access the metaverse in the future.
At a virtual round table last week, Meta showed off several VR headset prototypes and talked about their goal of developing one that will pass a "visual Turing test." That's one where the virtual display is indistinguishable from the real world.
Meta has four basic concepts to achieve that.
1. High resolution. You should be able to experience 20/20 vision without your glasses.
2. Variable focal depth and eye tracking so as you focus on near and far away objects they come into focus naturally. Something shown off in its Half Dome prototypes.
3. Fix optical distortions caused by lenses.
4. Implement HDR for realistic brightness, shadows and color depth.
The first of its prototypes on the way to achieving these goals is the Holocake 2. It's the thinnest VR headset Meta has made and uses thin holographic lenses. It uses optical folding to polarize light so that a nearly flat panel replaces a thick lens. If Meta can develop a self-contained laser light source it can be as flat as a pair of sunglasses.
Butterscotch cuts the field of view roughly in half (from 110 degrees), in order to achieve near retinal resolution at 1832 x 1920 pixels per eyes. That puts it at 55 pixels per field-of-view degree. Meta defines retina as 60 and Varjo ships one with 64. Still Butterscotch has enough to let the user read the bottom line of an eye test in VR.
The Starburst HDR prototype can produce up to 20,000 nits of brightness. Compare that to the Quest 2's 100 nits. Right now the amount of fans and wires it needs to operate mean you can't wear it, just hold it up to your eyes with handles.
The Mirror Lake just a concept at this point, but it pulls in all the tricks of the other prototypes. It combines holographic lenses, HDR, mechanical varifocal lens and eye tracking. It would use high-res LCD displays with laser backlights. And they're toying with the idea of external displays to show your eyes and facial expressions.
Meta Reality Labs chief scientist Michael Abrash says the key is that all the new tech is thin and flat making it east to pack in more functions without adding weight and thickness.
Meanwhile Meta still plans to ship Project Cambria but the end of the year that will offer eye tracking and use high-resolution pass-through cameras to offer VR and AR. After Cambria come out, Meta plans to develop two lines of headsets. One that stays affordable for consumers like the Quest 2, and a high end professional grade line.