The company that was previously called Facebook will spend $ 10 billion this year on research and development on virtual reality and augmented reality technology, including computerized glasses or headsets.
On Monday, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed how much progress the company has made towards that goal by revealing many of the unfinished headset prototypes that the company has built in its labs.
Zuckerberg has invested in the future of the social networking company he founded on virtual reality, which deepens users in a computer-generated world, and augmented reality, which places computer-generated objects over the real world. Last year, the company changed its name to Meta to highlight the company’s new emphasis on metaverse, a virtual world where Zuckerberg imagines that people will spend more and more time – preferably through advanced computerized glasses.
If Zuckerberg manages to make mainframe computers mainstream, then Meta would get a new revenue stream from hardware sales, and it would control its own hardware platform, which would make it less susceptible to platform changes from other companies. For example, in its most recent revenue call, Meta said that recent privacy changes made by Apple on the iPhone could it cost $ 10 billion in lost revenue this yearbecause it hampers the company’s ability to target ads to specific audiences.
The VR market is currently small and there are questions about how big it can become. Meta currently dominates headset sales, with its current $ 299 Quest 2 accounting for 78% of all headset sales in 2021, according to an IDC estimate. But there was only 11.2 million VR headsets sold in total during the year – a much smaller number than smartphones or computers.
At the same time, investors are skeptical of Meta’s pivot away from its core business of ads and apps. The stock has fallen over 53% so far in 2022 due to fears of growing expenseseasy growth forecasts, increased competition from TikTok and effects from Apple’s iPhone privacy change that hampered mobile ads.
Monday’s demonstration did little to allay fears – Meta’s share closed down more than 4% on Tuesday, despite a broader rally in technology stocks. (US markets were closed on Monday for the eighteenth holiday.)
Meta develops the next generation of virtual reality screens designed to provide a sufficiently realistic experience for users to feel in the same room with other virtual people, Zuckerberg said during his demonstration. Current screens have low resolution, image distortion artifacts and can not be worn for long periods.
“It will not be long before we can create scenes in perfect fidelity,” Zuckerberg said in a media interview about the company’s virtual reality efforts. “Just instead of watching them on a screen, you will feel like you are there.”
“The question today is that the liveliness of the screens that we have now compared to what your eye sees in the physical world is off in an order of magnitude or more,” Zuckerberg said.
In recent years, Meta has regularly demonstrated its progress in working with virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses for partners and the press, to encourage investors to consider the project worthwhile, and to help recruit well-paid developers and executives with experience of VR and AR.
In these roundtable presentations, Meta regularly presents unfinished prototypes for use in research, which is unusual in consumer electronics. Gadget companies like to complete products and find out how they will be manufactured before talking about them with the press. For example, Apple, which works with its own headsets, never shows prototypes.
“These prototypes, they are tailor-made and tailor-made models that we built in our lab, so they are not products that are ready to be shipped,” said Zuckerberg.
Here were the prototypes he showed:
Butterscotch. Butterscotch is designed to test higher resolution screens that have small enough pixels that the human eye cannot distinguish them. Butterscotch has a new Meta lens developed that limits the field of view of the headset, which makes it possible to present fine text and show increased realism.
But Meta says the prototype was “nowhere near shipping” because of how heavy and bulky it is – plus the prototype still has exposed circuit boards.
Half Dome 3. Meta has been working with Half Dome headsets since at least 2017 to test a type of display that can move how far away the focus point of the headset’s optics is. With Half Dome’s technology, says Meta, the resolution and image quality can be improved enough for users to create giant computer screens inside a headset to work with. The latest version, 3, replaces mechanical parts with lenses with liquid crystals.
Holocake 2. Meta says that this is the thinnest and lightest VR headset it has made and that it is fully capable of running any VR software if it is connected to a PC. However, it requires specialized lasers that are too expensive for consumer use and require additional safety measures.
“In most VR headsets, the lenses are quite thick and need to be placed a few inches from the screen so that they can focus and direct light directly into your eyes,” Zuckerberg said. In Holocake 2, Meta uses a flat holographic lens to reduce bulk (in addition to the lasers.)
Starburst. Starburst is a research prototype that focuses on highly dynamic screens that are brighter and show a wider color spectrum. Meta says that HDR is the only technology that is most connected to additional realism and depth.
“The goal of all this work is to identify the technological avenues that will allow us to meaningfully improve in ways that are beginning to approach the visual realism we need,” Zuckerberg said.
Spegelsjö. Meta also showed off a concept design called Mirror Lake for a ski goggle style headset. Mirror Lake is designed to combine all the different Meta-headset technologies it develops into a single next-generation display.
“The Mirror Lake concept is promising, but right now it’s just a concept that has no fully functional headset yet built to definitively prove the architecture,” said Meta Reality Labs chief researcher Michael Abrash. “But if it goes out, it’s going to be a game changer for the visual VR experience.”
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