Meta’s Reality Labs division has revealed new prototypes in its roadmap toward lightweight, hyper-realistic virtual reality graphics. The breakthroughs remain far from consumer-ready, but the designs — codenamed Butterscotch, Starburst, Holocake 2, and Mirror Lake — could add up to a slender, brightly lit headset that supports finer detail than its current Quest 2 display.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Reality Labs chief scientist Michael Abrash, along with other Reality Labs members, presented their work at a virtual roundtable last week. The event focused on designs that Meta refers to as “time machines”: bulky proofs of concept meant for testing one specific feature, like a super-bright backlight or super-high-resolution screen. “I think we’re in the middle right now of a big step forward towards realism,” Zuckerberg told reporters. “I don’t think it’s going to be that long until we can create scenes with basically perfect fidelity.” Display tech isn’t the only unsolved piece of that puzzle, but it’s an area where Meta’s intensive VR hardware research gives it a leg up.
Zuckerberg reiterated plans to ship a high-end headset codenamed Project Cambria in 2022, following its initial announcement last year. Cambria supports full VR as well as mixed reality, thanks to high-resolution cameras that can pass a video feed to an internal screen. It will also ship with eye tracking, a key feature for future Meta headsets. From there, Zuckerberg says Meta is planning two lines of VR headsets: one that will remain cheap and consumer-focused, like today’s Quest 2, and one that will incorporate the company’s newest technology, aimed at a “prosumer or professional-grade” market. That tracks with reports that the company is already planning updates to Cambria and the Quest 2, although those prototypes weren’t discussed on the call.
Meta’s VR headsets sit alongside a separate lineup of augmented reality smart glasses, which are meant to project images onto the real world instead of blocking it with a screen. Meta recently scaled back the launch of its first-generation AR glasses, and in general, VR screens have reached consumers much faster than AR holograms. But Meta’s prototypes demonstrate how far the company thinks it has left to go.
Butterscotch is an attempt at a near-retina-quality headset display — something you can find in high-end headsets from companies like Varjo, but not the current Meta lineup. The design is “nowhere near shippable” and required roughly halving the Meta Quest 2’s 110-degree field of view. But it offers about 2.5 times the resolution of the Quest 2’s (sort of) 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye, letting users read the 20/20 vision line on an eye chart. Zuckerberg says it offers about 55 pixels per field-of-view degree, slightly short of Meta’s 60-pixel-per-degree retina standard and a bit lower than Varjo’s 64 pixels per degree.
Starburst is even less shippable than Butterscotch but tests a similarly impressive upgrade. The bulky design uses a powerful lamp — requiring handles to support its weight — and produces high dynamic range (HDR) lighting with 20,000 nits of brightness. “This one is wildly impractical to consider as a product direction for the first generation, but we’re using it as a testbed for further research and studies,” says Zuckerberg. “The goal of all this work is to help us identify which technical paths are going to allow us to make meaningful enough improvements that we can start approaching visual realism.”
Holocake 2 moves in the opposite direction, exploring Meta’s options for making VR headsets thinner and lighter. It’s the successor to a 2020 design built on holographic optics, a light-bending technique that lets a nearly flat panel stand in for a thick refractive lens. The result could be as thin as sunglasses, but Meta is still working on developing a self-contained light source that would power them — almost certainly a laser, not the OLEDs commonly used today. “We’ll need to do a lot of engineering to achieve a consumer-viable laser that meets our specs: that’s safe, low-cost, and efficient, and that can fit a slim VR headset,” says Zuckerberg. “Honestly, as of today, the jury is still out on a suitable laser source.”
The presentation also discussed Half Dome, a long-running series of prototypes that can shift focal planes depending on where users are looking. These varifocal optics began as a clunky mechanical system in 2017 and later switched to an array of liquid crystal lenses, and according to internal Meta research, they can create a more convincing (and physically comfortable) illusion of depth in VR.
Meta described Half Dome’s tech as “almost ready for prime time” back in 2020, but today, Zuckerberg was more measured. “This stuff is pretty far off,” he said in response to a question about the “prime time” comment. “We’re working on it, we really want to get it into one of the upcoming headsets, I’m confident that we will at some point, but I’m not going to pre-announce anything today.”
Reality Labs will discuss more research, including how to more accurately capture real-world footage for mixed reality, at August’s SIGGRAPH tradeshow.
The designs above exist as actual hardware that Zuckerberg showed off briefly during the event. But Meta also revealed one prototype, called Mirror Lake, that’s essentially aspirational and has never been built. The design looks more like a pair of ski goggles than Meta’s bulky Quest hardware, and it would incorporate the thin optics of Holocake 2, the HDR capabilities of Starburst, and the resolution of Butterscotch. “It shows what a complete next-gen display system could look like,” said Abrash.
On top of these features, Mirror Lake would include an outward-facing display that projects an image of the user’s eyes, reducing the sense of physical separation for people outside the headset. Meta showed this slightly uncanny feature off in a prototype last year, and it may not be the only company interested in the concept: Apple has reportedly considered a similar feature for its rumored headset. The idea is tailored for a mixed reality world where Meta has staked much of its future — but today, the company is emphasizing the incremental steps along the way.
True to form, Nothing has just announced the full reveal date for its upcoming audio product, Ear (stick).
So, an announcement about an announcement. You’ve got to hand it to Carl Pei’s marketing department, they never miss a trick.
What we’re saying is that although we still have ‘nothing’ conclusive about the features, pricing or release date for the Ear (stick) except an image of another model holding them (and we’ve seen plenty of those traipsing down the catwalk recently), we do have a date – the day when we’ll be granted official access to this information.
That day is October 26. Nothing assures us that on this day we’ll be able to find out everything, including pricing and product specifications, during the online Ear (stick) Reveal, at 3PM BST (which is 10AM ET, or 1AM on Wednesday if you’re in Sydney, Australia) on nothing.tech (opens in new tab).
Any further information? A little. Nothing calls the Ear (stick), which is now the product’s official name, “the next generation of Nothing sound technology”, and its “most advanced audio product yet”.
But that’s not all! Apparently, Ear (stick) are “half in-ear true wireless earbuds that balance supreme comfort with exceptional sound, made not to be felt when in use. They’re feather-light with an ergonomic design that’s moulded to your ears. Delivered in a unique charging case, inspired by classic cosmetic silhouettes, and compactly formed to simply glide into pockets.”
Opinion: I need more than a lipstick-style case
Nothing Ear (stick) – official leaked renders pic.twitter.com/FrhKmRttmiOctober 1, 2022
Aside from this official ‘news’ from Nothing, leaked images and videos of the Ear (stick) have been springing up all over the internet (thank you, developer Kuba Wojciechowski) and they depict earbuds that look largely unchanged, which is a shame.
For me, the focus needs to shift from gimmicks such as a cylindrical case with a red section at the end which twists up like a lipstick. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of theater, but only if the sound coming from the earbuds themselves is top dog.
See, that lipstick case shape likely will not support wireless charging. That and the rumored lack of ANC means the Ear (stick) is probably arriving as the more affordable option in Nothing’s ouevre.
For now, we sit tight until October 26.
Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.
You might soon have to buy YouTube Premium to watch 4K YouTube videos, a new user test suggests.
According to a Reddit thread (opens in new tab) highlighted on Twitter by leaker Alvin (opens in new tab), several non-Premium YouTube users have reported seeing 4K resolution (and higher) video options limited to YouTube Premium subscribers on their iOS devices. For these individuals, videos are currently only available to stream in up to 1440p (QHD) resolution.
The apparent experiment only seems to be affecting a handful of YouTube users for now, but it suggests owner Google is toying with the idea of implementing a site-wide paywall for access to high-quality video in the future.
So, after testing up to 12 ads on YouTube for non-Premium users, now some users reported that they also have to get a Premium account just to watch videos in 4K. pic.twitter.com/jJodoAxeDpOctober 1, 2022
It’s no secret that Google has been searching for new ways to monetize its YouTube platform in recent months. In September, the company introduced five unskippable ads for some YouTube users as part of a separate test – an unexpected development that, naturally, didn’t go down well with much of the YouTube community.
A resolution paywall seems a more palatable approach from Google. While annoying, the change isn’t likely to provoke the same level of ire from non-paying YouTube users as excessive ads, given that many smartphones still max out at QHD resolution anyway.
Of course, if it encourages those who do care about high-resolution viewing to invest in the platform’s Premium subscription package, it may also be more lucrative for Google. After all, YouTube Premium, which offers ad-free viewing, background playback and the ability to download videos for offline use, currently costs $11.99 / £11.99 / AU$14.99 per month.
Suffice to say, the subscription service hasn’t taken off in quite the way Google would’ve hoped since its launch in 2014. Only around 50 million users are currently signed up to YouTube Premium, while something close to 2 billion people actively use YouTube on a monthly basis.
Might the addition of 4K video into Premium’s perk package bump up that number? Only time will tell. We’ll be keeping an eye on our own YouTube account to see whether this resolution paywall becomes permanent in the coming months.
Axel is a London-based staff writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the newest movies to latest Apple developments as part of the site’s daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.
Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned a gold standard NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.
USB-C has come a long way since its debut in 2014, now becoming the standard for charging and basic data transfer (on everything except the iPhone, of course!) as well as audio and video for more and more devices. The European Parliament, long enamored with the idea of a consumer- and environmentally-friendly standard for charging devices, is pushing it forward even further. A newly-passed law says that almost all portable electronics will need to charge via USB-C by 2026.
At this point, most new laptops already use USB-C charging, taking advantage of the standard’s flexibility to deliver a range of wattages up to 100 watts. There are two exceptions: the top of the market and the bottom. Cheap budget laptops are still sometimes equipped with less expensive, semi-proprietary barrel charging cables or something like Lenovo’s rectangular charger.
On the other hand, power-hungry laptops that need more than 100 watts still use proprietary connections for their massive adapters. The USB Implementers Forum is working on expanding that limit and some of these laptops can still charge slowly over USB-C. These are the only laptops that Europe will allow to be sold with proprietary chargers after the spring of 2026. While nothing forces manufacturers to follow this new law worldwide, streamlined manufacturing and economy of scale will effectively force the rest of the world to follow in practice if not in legislation.
Parliament posted its reasoning online (spotted by Windows Central), saying that this move will encourage technological innovation and give consumers access to more interoperability with a bonus that more easily-reusable cables and chargers means less electronic waste. The post estimates that it will help consumers save up to 250 million euro a year on new charger purchases.
The bigger news is that this move is likely to finally force Apple to abandon the Lightning connector for the iPhone, cheaper iPads, and a few lingering accessories. (Apple already uses USB-C charging on most iPads and all Macbooks.) The switch for smaller mobile devices will happen by the end of 2024. This includes “all new mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, portable navigation systems, earbuds and laptops that are rechargeable via a wired cable.” (Note: This technically creates a loophole for any device that recharges via wireless only.) That should give laptop manufacturers plenty of time to flush out the remaining old-fashioned chargers from their assembly lines.
Michael is a former graphic designer who’s been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.