Facebook's new prototype offers a look at a lighter VR future
If virtual reality headgear is going to start gaining more mass appeal, making these wearables as light and as unobtrusive as possible is really going to help. To this end Facebook just unveiled some VR specs it's busy working on, which look similar to a regular pair of glasses.
The compact look of these glasses is made possible by a new "optical architecture" that Facebook has been developing. It combines holographics with a special optical folding technique that, in simple terms, bends and reflects light back on itself – and that saves a lot of space when it comes to lenses.
With a lens thickness of just 9 mm (0.35 in), a field of view more than 90 degrees horizontally (similar to current VR headsets), and a resolution for each eye of 1,600 by 1,200 pixels, the prototype specs promise a much more compact VR future.
These are very much still prototypes though. They don't include any kind of battery or light projecting component at the moment, and they can only produce images in shades of green and black. What you're seeing in these pictures are just the lenses and the frame.
Most current VR headsets make use of LED optics, so switching to holographic optics in this way will require a rethink of other parts of the VR hardware setup too, but the end result could be a richer range of colors as well as less bulky devices.
Even with the limitations we've mentioned, it's a sign of where virtual reality hardware is hopefully headed. Devices like the Oculus Quest are already significantly less bulky than the predecessors that emerged in the early days of VR, and Facebook's research promises more improvements in the years to come.
"Lightweight, high resolution and sunglasses-like VR displays may be the key to enabling the next generation of demanding virtual reality applications that can be taken advantage of anywhere and for extended periods of time," write the researchers in their paper, due to be presented at the virtual SIGGRAPH 2020 conference in August.
At the time of writing, Facebook-owned Oculus sells the computer-connected Oculus Rift S, and the less powerful but completely standalone Oculus Quest. We've already seen other prototypes of virtual and augmented reality glasses that can slim these form factors right down, but they're very much at the prototype stage – miniaturizing this kind of technology takes time, effort, and money, so don't expect a commercial model like this for a couple of years or so.
One device that would certainly liven up the market is the long-rumored Apple AR glasses headset. While nothing has been made official yet, news on the development of the tech continues to leak out, with a launch mooted for 2022. Unlike Facebook, Apple is likely to want to have everything perfect and ready to go before revealing its hand.