Meta’s next VR AR headset Cambria: all you need to know
This year, Meta is launching a new VR headset with a high-quality AR mode. Its codename is Cambria. In this article, we summarize all official information and leaks known so far.
The official announcement at Connect 2021 was preceded by a host of rumors and leaks. Head of Reality Labs and Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth, as well as Mark Zuckerberg himself, talked about working on a technically advanced “Quest Pro” as early as spring 2021.
After a series of leaks that gave a good look at the tech and form factor, Meta officially announced the new device on October 28, 2021. The following video from the Connect keynote shows the reveal.
What is the name of Meta’s new VR glasses?
Meta has so far only revealed the codename under which the VR glasses are being developed: Project Cambria. It is unlikely that the product name will be revealed until the full unveiling.
Is Cambria the successor to Meta Quest 2?
No. With Cambria, Meta is looking to build an entirely new VR product line with a high-end focus that is backward compatible with the Quest ecosystem but goes beyond it for technical features.
Who and what does Meta want to reach with Cambria?
With Cambria, Meta wants to test more advanced VR technologies from its research labs in the market. Once these are mature and cheaper to manufacture, they could find their way into the next Meta Quest.
The cost-optimized and aggressively priced Quest product line is aimed at the masses and intended to grow Meta’s VR ecosystem as quickly as possible.
Cambria’s goal is different: The considerably more expensive high-end product line is aimed at VR hobbyists and professional users and is an experimental field for new, particularly advanced VR technologies.
In April and May 2022, Zuckerberg fleshed out the usefulness of Cambria: the focus is on work and productivity. Cambria is the first in a series of devices that Meta wants to sell to enterprises and knowledge workers. The headset is expected to one day replace Chromebooks and laptops, allowing users to take their office with them wherever they go. By the end of the decade, headsets of this type should become the primary work device, according to Meta’s long-term vision.
With the Cambria product line, Meta is pursuing the project of “work glasses” that will sooner or later conquer and revolutionize the workplace. For this reason, too, Meta is working flat out on a virtual office and a new multitasking interface.
To what extent Cambria will also appeal to gamers remains to be seen.
What’s new about Cambria?
At the announcement, Zuckerberg and Meta’s head of product for VR devices Angela Chang confirmed three new technical features and improvements.
Eye and face tracking
New sensors will allow for natural eye contact between avatars and real-time transmission of facial expressions into VR. This is said to make emotions easier to read and social interactions more realistic.
High-quality video based augmented reality
Already with Meta Quest 1 and 2, you can view the physical environment via passthrough mode and apps can augment it with digital objects. However, the video image of the world is only black and white and so grainy that it is hardly possible to make out details.
Cambria aims to take passthrough to the next level. Thanks to high-resolution RGB cameras, the physical environment is rendered in color and razor-sharp, so you can take notes with a ballpoint pen or play sports with a virtual personal trainer in your living room (see announcement).
According to Chang, we still have a long way to go to achieve a match for the way our eyes see the physical world, but Meta is encouraged by the extent to which it has already been able to improve the pass-through experience.
Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that the cameras have three times the resolution of the Quest 2.
Improved displays and form factor
There are also advances in display technology. Cambria is the first Metas VR headset to use pancake lenses. These can be placed close to the display and thus enable a narrower form factor that goes in the direction of ski headset. Thanks to the new lenses, Cambria is said to offer a high-quality, artifact-free display and the best optics of any Meta-branded VR device to date.
Which display does Cambria use?
Meta did not provide any concrete details so far.
According to supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Cambria uses two 2.48-inch mini LED displays from JDI and Sharp with a resolution of 2,160 by 2,160 pixels per eye.
This would give Cambria only a slightly higher resolution than the Meta Quest 2, whose LC display is 1,832 by 1,920 pixels per eye.
On the other hand, Cambria could excel in black levels. Mini-LED displays are a further developed form of LC displays, whose backlight consists of tiny LEDs. These can be switched off and thus enable local dimming, which goes hand in hand with a more natural black.
Mini-LED displays do not come close in terms of black level and color fidelity to OLED microdisplays, which are being touted as the VR display technology of the next few years. The next Cambria model should almost certainly rely on higher-resolution OLED microdisplays.
What are the specifications of Cambria?
Meta has so far kept a low profile regarding the specifications.
Mark Zuckerberg confirmed to the website Protocol that Cambria’s cameras have three times the resolution of the Quest 2 and that the device will be equipped with a dedicated depth sensor, or more precisely, an infrared projector for active depth detection, which might work similarly to Apple’s LIDAR scanner.
Not much else is confirmed about the technical features, at least from the official side.
In March 2022, XR leaker Brad Lynch, citing a “trusted source,” reported that Cambria’s specifications had been finalized. They are listed below.
Technical features that have already been confirmed by official sources are not listed. The specifications should be taken with a grain of salt, as they are not confirmed by Meta.
According to Lynch’s source, Cambria offers the following specifications:
- two mini-LED displays with local dimming and a resolution of 2,160 by 2,160 pixels per eye at 90 hertz refresh rate,
- no significant difference in field of view compared to Quest 2,
- a continuously variable hardware lens distance control,
- a similar audio solution as Quest 2, but better microphones with echo cancellation,
- a Snapdragon XR2 chip with better cooling solution than Quest 2, which could result in less CPU throttling and more processing power,
- a USB-C port like in Quest 2, and
- new VR controllers (codenamed Starlet) that come with inside-out tracking and force feedback triggers. Due to the high power consumption, Meta will forgo replaceable batteries. Instead, the controllers and the headset are charged via the included docking station, as earlier leaks suggest.
Import logs indicate that current Cambria prototypes support Wi-Fi 6E and are equipped with 256 gigabytes of storage and 12 gigabytes of working memory. That would be twice as much RAM as on the Quest 2. The additional RAM should be indispensable if Cambria is to actually become a workstation.
With the help of data engineers who scoured the Quest firmware, Lynch found more concrete clues about Cambria’s new sensor technology.
According to the report, Cambria uses three sensors for video AR mode: two low-resolution cameras that capture motion and depth of space and enable stereoscopy, and a third, high-resolution camera in the center of the chassis that is responsible for faithful color reproduction of the environment. The finished video image of the physical environment is thus created from a fusion of these three sensor data.
More possible details about the hardware can be found in a supposed hands-on report, but its authenticity cannot be confirmed.
What does Cambria look like?
The official render video shows a black VR headset with a halo head mount and a slim visor.
Leaked video tutorials and firmware snippets confirm the comparatively slim form factor, which could also come with a significantly lighter weight and better weight distribution, as the battery is recently housed in the back of the head mount.
In May 2022, Mark Zuckerberg published the first photo of Cambria, but it shows only the outline and no details.
A day later, a video followed with Cambria subsequently made unrecognizable.
Brad Lynch claimed to have seen an image of the final device in April. Together with an industrial designer, he reconstructed a 3D phantom rendering of the presumed video AR headset from memory.
What kind of VR controllers does Cambria use?
In the rendered video of the VR headset that accompanies the announcement, it can be seen that Cambria comes with new VR controllers without tracking rings. Meta did not comment on the VR controllers so far, but according to leaks, the devices use a new tracking system.
Cambria could use integrated laser projectors to cast an invisible infrared pattern into the environment, which would be detected by infrared cameras in the VR controllers. This would allow the devices to locate themselves spatially even when they are behind the VR headset.
According to a video tutorial leak, the VR controllers will get their own charging station. The reason could be high-energy consumption due to the new tracking system.
Will Cambria bring better hand tracking?
The hand tracking of the Meta Quest 2 is getting better thanks to software optimizations, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. One limiting factor is that the VR headsets’ cameras are not designed for optical hand and finger tracking.
In an interview with the website Protocol, Mark Zuckerberg said that Cambria will have a new sensor that could also benefit hand tracking. The Quest’s hand tracking using cameras is a hack, while Cambria has a true depth sensor, he said.
The Meta Quest’s hand tracking has exceeded the company’s expectations, so Meta plans to improve hand tracking in future headsets.
Zuckerberg said that with Cambria and future devices, Meta now has access to a sensor architecture that will be optimized for better hand tracking.
Do the VR glasses support foveated rendering and artificial focus shifting?
Both technologies are hugely important for virtual reality but are unlikely to be used until future generations of Cambria.
With foveated rendering, the VR glasses determine which area of the field of view the eye is focusing on and then compute only that area in full detail. This saves a lot of computing power, which can be used for higher resolution and better graphics.
If the system works fast enough and accurately enough, then foveated rendering is invisible to the eye. At least in theory.
In practice, rendering is a hard technical problem to crack. It starts with capturing anatomical differences in pupils and ends with the graphics render pipeline, which has to be rewritten for foveated rendering.
According to Andrew Bosworth, foveated rendering doesn’t currently bring much to the table, making the chance of Cambria supporting the rendering technique minimal.
The same goes for artificial focus shifting. Meta has been researching appropriate displays for many years, which should solve a fundamental optical problem of VR headset and provide a more realistic and enjoyable viewing experience. However, as things stand, there is still a lot of work to be done in this area as well.
What is Cambria’s most important feature?
Arguably the most significant feature of the new VR glasses is the video-based mixed reality mode. Classic AR headset with transparent optics (Hololens, Magic Leap, Nreal Light) haven’t evolved much in the last decade when it comes to the display. An extremely narrow field of view, low brightness, or poor image quality hold the technology back.
VR glasses with passthrough mode don’t have these problems and will be the best way to experience mixed reality in the coming years. That’s probably why Apple’s first VR glasses will rely on passthrough. This Video-based mixed reality bridges the gap until more advanced AR displays are tangible, allowing for similarly good image quality in the form factor of thin, transparent everyday glasses.
What apps are available for Cambria?
Cambria should run all apps available for Quest 2, and no Cambria-exclusive apps have been announced yet. The biggest difference will be that augmented reality apps on Cambria will be able to display the physical environment in color and sharper.
Meta plans to showcase the strengths of Cambria with The World Beyond augmented reality demo. The AR experience demonstrates the benefits of the Presence Platform, a group of interfaces for Meta Quest and Project Cambria that enables more natural interactions and augmented reality.
How much will Cambria cost?
Meta has not yet named a price.
Sources close to the company claimed in May 2022 that Cambria will cost $799. Meta denied this and let it be known that the price will be significantly higher. Accordingly, a price beyond $1,000 is quite conceivable. A Chinese supply chain analyst claimed that the components of the device alone cost 780 US dollars.
In April 2021, John Carmack estimated that the device will only find a tenth of the Quest buyers due to the higher price.
When will Cambria be released?
When announcing the device, Zuckerberg said that Cambria will be released in 2022. According to a roadmap leak, the video AR headset will launch around September 2022. If this information is correct, Meta should launch the device at Connect 2022 in the fall or shortly thereafter.
What comes after Cambria?
According to the same leak, the market launch of the next Cambria model, codenamed Funston, is set for 2024. The launch of two new Quest devices, codenamed Stinson and Cardiff, is also planned for 2023 and 2024, respectively.
Anything can change in the plans between now and then, say the sources close to the company.
Will there be alternatives to Cambria?
Video AR headsets like Cambria will dominate the market in the upcoming years. It is likely that there will be alternatives.
- TikTok parent Bytedance plans to beat Meta to the punch by launching a Pico-branded Cambria competitor soon.
- Paris-based startup Lynx has been working on a video AR headset called Lynx-R1 for some time, which is expected to be released later this year.
- According to persistent rumors, Apple will also enter the market with video AR glasses at the end of the year or early 2023.
- Google (Project Iris) and Microsoft (Project Bondi) are also reportedly developing video AR headsets, but they are not expected until 2024.