VR headsets have not been much slimmer since the first models, and the chunky, relatively heavy design is not very comfortable to wear in the long run, which also narrows the range of potential uses. Facebook and its subsidiary Oculus have been working on possible solutions to the problem for some time, and now the company has flashed one of its experimental devices, a promising step on the road to slimmer VR goggles.
the optics that focus the image of the display panels according to the wearer's eyes are responsible for the large size of the devices: not only are the lenses themselves relatively thick, they must also be at the right distance from the displays. A Facebook solution would replace full-length lenses with holographic optics. These are similar to the three-dimensional hologram images seen in museums or even on bank cards, in that they involve the interaction of laser light with a particular object, although here it captures not a spatial scene but a lens. Holographic optics, like a traditional lens, direct light toward it, although it uses a thin film instead of chunky glass or plastic.
However, this film layer must still be placed at a sufficient distance from the display to focus the image as desired. Facebook would carve out this distance with so-called polarization-based optical deflection – this allows the direction of the light to be changed several times, so that the area between the display and the film layer can be traversed several times, leaving much less space to achieve proper focus.
The company's Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) team has already put together a proof-of-concept device based on technology that uses ultra-thin, flat film layers as optics – keeping the total thickness of the display below 9 millimeters, while the device provides a 92-degree horizontal and 69-degree vertical field of view similar to the VR headsets available today. By combining holographic optics with polarization-based optical deflection, the company’s researchers say VR goggles similar in size to sunglasses can arrive – in addition to providing much more comfortable wear, the devices can also pave the way for new uses. While a traditional VR goggle can weigh more than half a kilogram, the prototype made by FRL weighs just 10 grams – true, it only has a display above one eye.
In addition, the laser illumination used in the device can be further estimated by the manufacturer with a much wider range of colors, and the company is trying to scale the resolution to the “limit of human vision”. The latter, of course, are still relatively distant plans, as the prototype operates with a monochrome, black-and-green display with a resolution of 1600×1200 pixels – which, by the way, is similar to the VR headsets already on the market.
The research is therefore particularly promising, although it is clear that the market for technology-based devices is still a long way off – in the meantime, there is room for improvement in the content side of the VR segment. Facebook has already laid down for this and is swallowing up the game studios in the field in series.
Gellert is Technology Editor at Counting News Media and contributor at other major tech publications. Her interests includes testing new gadgets and reading.