Facebook’s Future VR Headsets Could Feature Holographic Optics

One of the big hindrances to widespread virtual reality (VR) adoption is the fact that headsets are bulky devices, so a lot of people simply don’t want them on their face. Companies like Facebook are spending enormous amounts trying to improve the form factor of headsets and recently the tech giant unveiled a new research project which uses holographic optics to create a ‘VR Glasses’ device.

Current VR technology uses small LCD or OLED displays alongside lenses to focus the light into your eyes. While this is a proven method, this does require them to be a certain distance away from each other to work, enabling the optics to actually fold the light properly. The knock-on effect is that a VR headset has to be deep to fit all of this inside.

Researchers Andrew Maimone and Junren Wang from Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) will be presenting their new research at SIGGRAPH’s virtual conference this August, a system which uses holographic optics to make a device far thinner and lighter than current models, aiming for that coveted sunglasses-like VR hardware.

Just a proof-of-concept research device at the moment, it uses polarization-based optical folding to mimic that conventional distance but in a form factor that’s less than 9mm in depth. At the same time, the team claim that the field of view (FoV) is comparable to existing VR devices.

Facebook Holographic-optics

This is achieved by using flat films as optics and laser illumination. “Holographic optics compel the use of laser light sources, which are more difficult to integrate but provide a much richer set of colours than the LEDs common in nearly all of today’s VR headsets,” FRL notes in a blog post. Presently the research device outputs in monochrome (as seen in the above-left image) but the team do have a larger full-colour benchtop prototype working (right image). The goal now is to bring full colour to the smaller unit.

Obviously this is still an early research project so there are plenty of other variables to solve such as a power source and processing, would these be on-board or in a separate device like the Nreal Light? Ideally, it would be an all-in-one form factor yet those products are still years away.

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