Daily Authority: 🥽 Meta’s VR prototypes

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Zuck has VR prototypes

Meta Starburst HDR prototype

Meta has a bunch of new VR prototypes shown off in a video courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg himself.

What it all means, what’s coming, and why.

Brief details:

  • In short, Zuck shows off what engineers are working on in the lab, with designs codenamed Butterscotch, Starburst, and Mirror Lake.
  • Each looks like a University project: strips of chips, PCBs, fans, cabling, and so on.
  • But that’s all because it’s about road-testing the hardware, which Zuck details, explaining the processes to make small, light, bright headsets with fine detail and better focusing.

More details:

  • Meta’s Chief Scientist Michael Abrash said in a video briefing alongside the Meta CEO that he wants VR headsets at a level where people can’t tell “whether what they’re looking at is real or virtual,” as a kind of “Visual Turing Test.”
  • So, just to focus on two prototypes shown off, first the Butterscotch prototype focuses on “retinal resolution.”
  • Zuck points out that the sort of general threshold for the eye is agreed at around 60 pixels per degree. The Quest 2, for example, is about 20 pixels per degree. No consumer VR headset yet comes close, though some enterprise-grade ones do, with limitations. Butterscotch achieves 55 pixels per degree.
  • One other prototype is Starburst, which is aiming for ultra-bright HDR. Zuckerberg says “nature is often 10 or 100 times brighter than modern HD TVs and monitors,” and colors need to be that bright to be realistic.
  • Again back to the Quest 2: it reaches 100 nits.
  • The detail of Starburst is that it reaches 20,000 nits and is “one of the brightest HDR displays yet built.”
  • That kind of brightness requires truly a lot of energy. Starburst is accordingly a tethered prototype, and not practical without changes to tech, and Meta is working on more like a 10,000 nits objective.
  • But Zuckerberg said in an interview with Adam Savage’s Tested YouTube channel that they’d implement different ideas to get there. That channel got to have a deeper dive into some of this, too, though it’s an hour-long so I couldn’t get through it all before deadline.

But why?

  • The real question is: why?
  • Why would Meta show these off; why is Mark Zuckerberg showing them off?
  • Well, highly-coordinated and managed PR always has the objective of showing leadership and brand-building and securing an image.
  • That goes internally too: the many, many thousands of Meta employees not working on VR in the company might be wondering why so much investment is going away from what Facebook does well (ads), and into VR, AR, XR and so on, and the Metaverse.
  • And the competition is coming: Apple is very much expected to release some kind of headset within the next year or two, and Microsoft has been working at the HoloLens project for some time now, with devices in the real world but targeted at businesses.
  • So, there’s some hint that Meta expects others to release something, and it’s getting ahead of the game.


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Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor.

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