Meta’s latest VR headset prototypes will help it pass the ‘Visual Turing test’

by mcdix

Meta wants to clarify that it is not yet giving up on high-end VR experiences. So, in a rare move, the company throws the beans on several VR headset prototypes simultaneously. According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the goal is to eventually create something that can pass the “visual Turing test,” or the point at which virtual reality is practically indistinguishable from the real world. That’s the holy grail for VR enthusiasts. Still, for Meta’s critics, it’s another disturbing sign that the company wants to own reality (even if Zuckerberg says he doesn’t like to acknowledge the metaverse fully).

As explained by Zuckerberg and Michael Abrash, chief scientists of Meta’s Reality Labs, creating the perfect VR headset involves perfecting four basic concepts. First, they must achieve a high resolution to have 20/20 VR vision (without prescription glasses). In addition, headsets require a variable depth of field and eye tracking to focus on near and far objects easily; and correct optical distortions inherent in current lenses. Finally, Meta should bring HDR or high dynamic range into headsets to deliver more natural brightness, shadows, and color depth. (More than resolution, HDR is a major reason modern TVs and computer monitors look better than LCDs from a decade ago.)

VR headset


And, of course, the company needs to pack all of these concepts into a light and easy headset to wear. In 2020, Facebook Reality Labs showed concept VR glasses with holographic lenses, which looked like oversized sunglasses. Building on that original concept, the company unveiled Holocake 2 (above), its thinnest VR headset yet. It looks more traditional than the original pair, but Zuckerberg, in particular, says it’s a fully functional prototype that can play any VR game while tethered to a PC.

“Displays that match the full capacity of human vision will unlock some really important things,” Zuckerberg said in a media briefing. “The first is a realistic sense of presence, which is the feeling of being with someone or in a place as if you were physically there. While “presence” may seem vague, it’s easier to understand when headsets can realistically connect you with friends, family, and remote colleagues. And given our focus on helping people connect, you know why this is so important. He described testing photorealistic avatars in a mixed-reality environment, where his VR companion looked like he was standing next to him. Meta’s upcoming Cambria headset appears to be a small step toward achieving true VR presence; the brief glimpses of the tech make it a minor upgrade over the Oculus Quest 2. While the perfect headset is far from gone, Zuckerberg showed off prototypes showing how much progress Meta’s Reality Labs has made.


There’s “Butterscotch” (above), which can display near retinal resolution so you can read the bottom line of an eye test in VR. To do that, reality lab engineers had to cut Quest 2’s field of view in half, a compromise that wouldn’t work in a finished product. The Starburst HDR prototype looks even wilder: a bundle of wires, fans, and other electronics producing up to 20,000 nits of brightness. That’s a huge jump from the Quest 2’s 100 nits, even ahead of the super-bright Mini-LED screens we see today. (My eyes water at the thought of getting so much light close to my face.) The starburst is too big and awkward to mount on your head, so researchers must look into it like binoculars.


While the Holocake 2 appears to be Meta’s most polished prototype, it doesn’t include all the techs above. It looks like high-tech goggles, so it’s not as seamless as AR. That’s the goal of the upcoming Mirror Lake concept (above), which will offer holographic lenses, HDR, mechanical varifocals, and eye tracking. There isn’t a working model yet, but it’s a good glimpse of what Meta is pursuing several years later. Our editorial team, independent of our parent company, has selected all products recommended by Engadget. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. We may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through one of these links.

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