Hyped for decades, truly immersive VR is still stuck in the imagination

And of course some prototypes only try to increase the resolution of the screens; all current VR systems fall short of the level of detail required to achieve 20/20 vision on a standard eye test. The current prototype only covers part of our field of view and obviously needs to be connected to a powerful computer to generate sufficiently complex images.

A collection of Meta’s current prototype headsets.

“If we can make enough progress with retinal resolution, if we can build the right focal depth systems, and if we can reduce optical distortion and dramatically increase vibrancy, then we have a real opportunity to create displays that do justice. all the beauty and complexity of physical environments,” said Zuckerberg.

“And at the same time, we’re working on how to package all these different technologies into smaller, lighter, and ultimately affordable headsets.”

But while visual realism seems to be where the industry focuses much of its efforts, it’s only a small part of creating systems that can actually make you think you’ve been transported elsewhere.

“The real challenge lies in the fact that we humans integrate our senses together. Yes, your visual system is stimulated, but your other senses don’t match what you see,” said Professor Spike Barlow of UNSW Canberra.

An artistic rendering of a potential Apple headset.

An artistic rendering of a potential Apple headset.Credit:Ian Zelbo

In fact, having perfectly realistic images and not matching tactile sensory data could increase the so-called VR sickness, or the dislocation and nausea you can feel when there’s a mismatch between senses, which is exactly the kind of thing innovations make. like Meta’s varifocals try to get around.

“We can get a higher visual acuity, but it’s not enough. It will not convince you that you are there. Getting to a fully immersive virtual or simulated environment takes a much more invasive connection to the human body,” Barlow said.

In order for a mind to truly believe it is somewhere else, it would take stimulation of all five senses, plus internal faculties such as our visceral senses and our inner ear. This can be done with full body suits, invasive machines and rigs that move around a human body, or it can be done with brain implants. But all this is still a long way off, if it ever happens. For the time being, experiences depend on images and sounds.

“Today’s best VR applications pay attention to and create experiences where the other senses are not so important,” says Barlow. “So you might be floating in a balloon over a field of flowers, but you can’t get out to touch them or smell them.”


So what kind of new headsets do we expect to see in the future? Meta has been open about his work on a device it calls Project Cambria, which may be close to market. It’s reportedly a slimmer and lighter, but also more powerful version of its popular Quest 2, capable of withstanding a full-color, high-resolution display of the real world. This would mean it can handle all the VR tasks the current headset can, as well as augmented reality.

And Apple has long been rumored to be working on a “mixed reality” headset that, like Cambria, would enable both VR and AR. Recent copyrights and Apple software have referenced RealityOS, indicating that the headset and operating system may not be far away. When asked by the Chinese media last week what Apple thought about the future of AR and VR, CEO Tim Cook said, “I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities in space. Stay tuned and you’ll see what we have to offer. ”

But while next year could finally be a turning point for consumer VR and AR led by Apple and Meta, we can wait much later for the real promise of perfect virtual worlds.

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