3 min read
Meta Quest 3 in the middle of 2021

Having previously released a next-generation Rift headset prototype called Half Dome, today at Oculus Connect 6, Facebook unveiled new prototypes called Half Dome 2 and Half Dome 3. The goal of each iteration is to have a broader field of view combination than current compact VR headsets, with variable focus matching the ability of the human eye to switch between seeing information in near and distant objects.

As revealed by Michael Abrash, chief scientist of Facebook Reality Lab, and further discussed in a thorough analysis blog post, the latest Half Domes are apparently being conceived as "work" resources that empower collaborative virtual workspaces. 

The company shows that, before deploying them to the public, it would develop internal headsets around their technologies, and assess their feasibility within its own offices.

Half Dome 2 has a smaller motorized varifocal system based on voice coil actuators and flexure hinge arrays, while Half Dome 3 has a new electronic varifocal system, which incorporates six liquid crystal lenses, replacing the motorized focus mechanism with 64 focal plane displays.

Both of the prototypes somewhat compromise the atypically wide 140-degree field of view of the original Half Dome, but are significantly smaller than before, allowing more convenient varifocal headsets. Half Dome 2 has a 20 percent wider FOV than Oculus Quest, thus reducing the weight by 200 grams compared to Half Dome 1, Facebook says. As the FOV of Quest is approximately 90 degrees horizontal, that would bring the horizontal FOV of Half Dome 2 to 108 degrees.

Using stacked, polarization-dependent lenses and switchable half-wave plates by Half Dome 3 allows the prototype to achieve a size that looks like modern ski goggles, although no exact size, weight or FOV specifications have released. Since this is just a prototype, and "still very much research today," before the company mass-produces units for its own testing, the size of the hardware could shrink further.

It is uncertain if any of these designs are likely to make it into the Rift branding marketplace, or instead become a higher Oculus hardware business-only tier. I once thought the original Half Dome prototype to reflect Rift hardware's future, but disputes about Rifts' future path allegedly prompted Oculus cofounder Brendan Iribe to quit the company unexpectedly last year, followed last month by Rift team leader Kate Mitchell.

Instead, the iterative $400 Rift S  released to very tepid feedback earlier this year. Many critics and users shared disappointment that rather than take bold steps forward, the platform was progressing laterally compared with its predecessor.

Facebook intensified the Rift by introducing inside-out tracking cameras and open-air speakers instead of dramatically improving resolution, adding eye tracking, or adding wireless tethering technology, all of which might have improved the app relative to rivals, to minimize the need for separate tracking hardware and headphones. Similarly, by eliminating user-adjustable lenses, a desire for greater uniform comfort offset, reducing its fit to just 70% of the faces of consumers, down from 90% of the first Rift.

Earlier, Oculus executives suggested that a quantum leap such as varifocal focusing would need to move the Rift platform forward in a significant, sequel-worthy way, making the Half Dome prototypes especially fascinating. Today's announcement, however, shows that the release timeline of the technology could well have lengthened, and ends up in testing over the next year rather than early adopter customer hands.

Fellow Amit Caesar Specialist in Virtual Reality, Augmented and Artificial Intelligence 2021, has written a book about his experience with virtual reality, augmented and artificial intelligence.

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