Facebook VR research division Reality Labs is prepped to showcase a new headset that's not much bigger than sunglasses. The device, currently in prototype form, effectively eliminates the need for a large space between display and lens. That's accomplished using holographic lens technology to reflect and redirect light instead of refracting it. The result is a reduction in the space from around 1 to 3 inches to just 9mm.
Another benefit here is the weight reduction that comes with the size. The latest upcoming VR headsets can weigh as little as 450 grams. But these weigh just 17.8 grams. That's without the battery pack and other components snapped into place, of course. But even with the heaviest components weighing upwards of 200 grams, the weight should be much lower with these.
There are optical advantages too if Facebook can scale down the technology in color — which we'll cover in a moment. Namely, the company says that holographic optics utilize laser light sources. That delivers a much 'richer' color set than LEDs, allowing for more accurate bright tones, for example. The company provides examples such as the faithful recreation of a neon sign's glow or iridescence seen on a butterfly's wings.
There are still problems to work out with Facebook Reality Labs' new VR
Now, these new VR sunglasses also make use of foveal blur. That means central content is well-focused and high-resolution. But, like the natural view from a human eye, things get more blurry and lower-resolution moving out in a circle from that central point. That will keep processing requirements down and deliver improvements on framerates. It will also make things more natural in terms of feel, helping prevent motion sickness, and fixing other common problems.
But there are some drawbacks to the new VR tech as it currently stands. To begin with, the current iteration does not feature a natural field-of-view. In fact, it's down below what other headsets offer at just 90-degrees of the visual field. But a far bigger problem is that everything is green in the working model. Or at least the working model that's wearable. A full-color version is being worked on. But Facebook describes that prototype as a "benchtop prototype."
That means it's oversized and not something that could ever be worn on a face.
…and plenty of time for Facebook to work out the quirks
As hinted above, Facebook Reality Labs isn't quite ready to show off the new VR technology in full. Instead, it's holding off until the SIGGRAPH 2020 annual computer graphics and technology trade show. Due to ongoing global health concerns, perhaps fittingly, that's taking place in a virtual environment this year.
The event also doesn't kick off until August 17. That gives Facebook's VR team plenty of time to work on at least a few of the quirks still seen with the glasses. And the time to figure out how to arrange internal components to keep the weight down and balance well-aligned. It's exceptionally unlikely a full-color configuration will be ready by then. That iteration is nowhere near ready, reportedly still well beyond the size of existing VR tech.
Regardless, if the researchers can work out how to make that work, these VR sunglasses — or something similar — could easily step in and take the place of traditional VR technology in the market.
As of this writing, there's no indication as to exactly how much a finished product might cost. Or how interactions would be controlled since the hardware for hand tracking is arguably not ready for head-borne devices that are this small. But this is progress nonetheless, stepping further away from past products and toward a much more accessible VR future.