Meta Presents Retina Resolution & Ultra HDR Prototypes

Meta presented two prototype headsets each solving a different aspect of its goal to make VR “indistinguishable from reality”.

Neither is a practical device intended to be made into a product. Instead they simply demonstrate the effect & feeling of maxing out each of these aspects of VR display systems.

Butterscotch: Retinal Resolution

‘Retinal’ or “retina” is a term often used to describe angular resolution which at least matches that of the human eye. The generally accepted threshold is 60 pixels per degree. No consumer VR headset yet comes close to this – Quest 2 reaches around 20 pixels per degree, while the $1990 Varjo Aero reaches 35 pixels per degree. Varjo’s $5500 business-focused headsets surpass retinal resolution, but only in a tiny area in the center of your view.

Butterscotch is a research prototype achieving 55 pixels per degree. Achieving this required more than just a higher resolution display – Meta says it developed “a new hybrid lens that would fully resolve higher resolution”. CEO Mark Zuckerberg first teased what appears to be Butterscotch back in October.

The downside of Butterscotch is that it has a very narrow field of view – only half that of Quest 2. Meta says it’s also heavy and bulky. The purpose of Butterscotch is to demonstrate and research the feeling of retinal resolution, not to be a practical product.

Starburst: Ultra Bright HDR

Starburst is a prototype headset demonstrating extremely bright displays with high dynamic range (HDR). Zuckerberg described bright HDR as “arguably the most important dimension of all” of reaching VR indistinguishable from reality.

Luminance is measured in nits. A traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb reaches around 250 nits, and a high end HDR TV reaches around 1000 nits. But the brightness outdoors dwarfs these numbers – the ambient brightness on a clear sunny day is tens of thousands of nits and direct sunlight is over 1 billion nits (hence why you shouldn’t look at it). 

Today’s Quest 2 reaches just 100 nits. Meta says Starburst reaches 20,000 nits and describes it as “one of the brightest HDR displays yet built”.

Starburst is bulky, heavy, and tethered. Zuckerberg admitted it would be “wildly impractical” to ship in a product – “we’re using it to test and for further studies so we can get a sense of what the experience feels like”.

The only known headset with HDR displays is PlayStation VR2, but Sony hasn’t yet revealed the headset’s brightness.

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