New hints of Meta VR headset with Retina resolution
Dataminers have found new clues in Meta’s Quest firmware about a VR headset that could eliminate the screendoor effect.
For years, VR headset manufacturers have been tinkering with bringing the resolution closer to the perception of the human eye. To stop seeing individual pixels, a pixel density of 60 pixels per degree (PPD) would be about right, according to the consensus in much of the industry. The head of Meta’s research labs, Michael Abrash, even assumes 120 PPD.
As early as October 2021, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg posed with a VR prototype with “retina resolution” that he tried out in the Redmond research labs (see featured image).
Recently, new lines of code in the Meta Quest 2 operating system indicated that Meta is researching Retina devices. Data miners “Samulia” and “Basti564” came across the terms “Super Resolution” and “SuperResClient.cpp” in the graphics pipeline, which seem to appear frequently with a “T-REX” system.
Wiggle technology for retina resolution
VR analyst Brad Lynch reports on the findings of the two dataminers and theorizes that it could be the eponymous technology from waveguide manufacturer Digilens: Its “Transparent Resolution Expander” (TREx) doubles resolution using a technical trick called “wobulation.” The holographic material on a lens switches rapidly (50 μs) between two states, so that the eye always sees a second row under an image row.
Ideally, this closes the gaps between the pixels and makes the pixel grid invisible. Digilens’ own software works in the background. It calculates two versions of the desired image and superimposes them.
As early as 2020, Meta was tinkering with a mechanical implementation, Lynch reports. At that time, a mechanical actuator “wiggled” an OLED microdisplay around so that twice as many lines were displayed one below the other.
That’s where the term “wobulation” comes from, derived from “to wobble.” The technique is well known: It has been used in older rear-projection TVs and DLP projectors for decades.
Digital wobble versus the fly screen
Digilens, however, has developed a more modern, digital alternative to this method: “T-REx” largely manages without wear and mechanical problems. According to the manufacturer, there is neither “wobbling” nor unnecessary energy consumption or strong heat generation.
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Lynch speculates that Meta may have secured an exclusive deal for “T-REx.” Since August, he said, Digilens had finally deleted a section from its website that offered the technology to the public. And that’s even though it had already been touted for mass production at the time.
Moreover, Meta had an ideal prototype for “TREx” in its labs in the form of “Seabright.” This presumed variant of the upcoming VR/AR headset Cambria is rumored to offer two micro-OLED screens with 3K resolution per eye and around 100 degrees field of view.
So by doubling the lines, the designers would achieve the 60 PPD retina resolution described at the beginning of this article, according to Lynch. Of course, all of this is speculation for now.
However, if Meta were to include the technology in a future VR headset, it would be a clear plus point to be able to compete with high-quality headsets from the competition. Both Apple and Google with Iris are presumably working on VR headsets with an additional video AR function, i.e. similar to Meta Cambria.
Digilens serves the XR industry
There are signs of confidence in Digilens from the XR industry. On April 7, 2022, the waveguide manufacturer announced its seventh round of funding, amounting to $50 million. Since its founding in 2003, Digilens has raised a total of $160 million from investors. Much of the money comes from funding rounds between 2019 and today – showing the increasing relevance of its display technology.
Investors include “Gorilla Glass” manufacturer Corning as well as Goertek’s investment arm “Optimas Capital.” Goertek is one of the most important manufacturers of VR and AR headsets. Samsung is also one of the Digilens investors. At the beginning of March, Samsung confirmed a re-entry into the XR sector, but without giving details about possible hardware or a schedule.
If you are familiar with the switchable lenses for the “Wobulations” method: Meta is experimenting with a similar technique on its Varifocal lenses. At the 2019 Oculus Connect 6 event, the company showed off Half Dome 3, a VR headset that allows multiple superimposed lenses to be swapped out. In interaction, this created numerous focus planes.