With Apple Vision Pro out in the wild, it’s likely that Meta’s Quest Pro line will evolve to become more of a direct competitor. And we’ve actually got an idea of what an even higher-end Quest Pro 2 could potentially look like.
With Vision Pro, Apple was clearly not aiming to make an affordable headset. Their strategy was to create the minimum viable quality bar for what they wanted the mixed reality experience to look and feel like. After packing in all the tech & features they thought was necessary, Vision Pro landed at $3,500.
That makes it only an indirect competitor at best to something like the $500 Quest 3. But clearly there’s a market of people willing to drop substantial money for a high-end mixed reality headset.
The Future of Quest Pro
So it makes sense that Meta’s Quest Pro line will evolve to compete in that high-end price range. But what could a Quest Pro 2 look like if Meta wanted to go toe-to-toe with Apple?
Well, it turns out we might have a pretty good idea.
Douglas Lanman is the Senior Director of Display Systems at Reality Labs Research, the R&D arm of Meta’s XR division. Late last year he gave a guest lecture at the University of Arizona, a school from which Reality Labs regularly recruits researchers.
Lanman spent most of the one-and-a-half hour session overviewing the research his team has worked on in recent years. They’ve built various prototypes separately exploring holographic optics, high-dynamic range, retina resolution, reverse-passthrough, and more.
While most of the headsets presented were purely research prototypes, Lanman wrapped up the session by talking about his vision for ‘Mirror Lake’, a concept headset that could incorporate many of the technologies his team has been exploring over the last decade. He presented the following rendering of what the headset could look like if it was actually built today.
Video via Mixed Reality News
And while he stressed this was just a concept dreamt up by him and his team—not a product roadmap—he said the concept was “practical to build now” with parts that could be readily sourced from the market. Whether or not it could be mass produced in the ballpark of $3,500 is an unanswered question, but Lanman said he thinks the industry is ready to reach “a new plateau” with a device like Mirror Lake.
He went on to explain that Mirror Lake would include compact holographic optics, multi-view eye-tracking, a varifocal display, reverse-passthrough, and baked-in prescription correction. That’s quite a mouthful… so let’s break each one of these down.
A huge challenge in making XR headsets compact is the need for optics to be placed between the viewer and the display. While Meta’s latest Quest Pro and Quest 3 headsets have impressively compact ‘pancake’ optics, Meta researchers think they can go even thinner. Their solution is a ‘holographic lens’, which is exactly what it sounds like: a lens baked into a hologram that can be practically as thin as a sheet of paper.
Eye-tracking works best when you have multiple views of each eye. This means better source data for determining exactly which direction the eye is facing. But more cameras means more overhead for processing, heat, power, and cost. So Meta researchers dreamt up an interesting method of getting multiple eye-view of an eye from just one camera. By using a holographic element, the camera can look at the lens of the headset and see multiple reflections of the wearer’s eye. That could provide more views for better eye-tracking without adding more cameras.
Every XR headset on the market today uses stereoscopy—the overlapping of two similar images—to display 3D imagery. And while this is similar to how we see in the real world, it leaves out an important visual cue; the distance from which light originates changes how our eyes focus on what we’re trying to see. But because XR headsets have a fixed display, the light is always coming from the same distance. That means you can only set one focal distance, which would be like your eyes only being able to focus at once specific distance from you. This is known as the vergence-accommodation conflict (or VAC).
A varifocal display is any display which allows variable focus, thus solving for VAC. Meta has researched several solutions to this problem, but the one Lanman says could be part of Mirror Lake is using a stack of electronically controlled polarizers to allow dynamic alteration of the lens focus. Combined with eye-tracking, this would allow the system to focus the light for the specific part of the scene that you’re looking at.
‘Passthrough’ is what we call it when you put cameras on the outside of a headset and use them to show the wearer a view of the outside world. It’s kind of like your vision is ‘passing through’ the headset. Reverse-passthrough is what we call it when you put cameras inside the headset to show the outside world a view of your face. This is the same thing you may have seen on Vision Pro (Apple calls it ‘EyeSight’).
But it isn’t as easy as just sticking a display to the outside of the headset. Because the front of your headset sits quite far from your actual eyes, showing an image of your eyes that far out would look very unrealistic—like your eyes were somehow glued to the front of the headset.
Instead, you need a way to make the eye appear sunken back into the headset. To do that you need some kind of light-field display, which is a display that shows different views depending upon the angle that you’re looking at.
Lanman said that in the Mirror Lake render they actually did a ray-tracing simulation to show an approximation of what the reverse-passthrough on the headset would look like, given the components the headset would theoretically be made from.
For those who need glasses, having a headset that can support your prescription is important. Lanman says that given the compact nature of Mirror Lake, there isn’t much room for glasses. Instead he suggests that such a headset would be customized for each user’s specific eyesight needs. On Mirror Lake that could be achieved by manufacturing the holographic lenses to accommodate vision correction for each individual. That’s clever because it means correcting the headset’s visuals for each user without adding any additional bulk or components to the headset.
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Meta’s first ‘Pro’ headset, Quest Pro, had an awkward launch to say the least. While it had some impressive optics, face-tracking, and improved mixed reality capabilities, it still end up feeling like a souped-up Quest 2. It played all the same content and the few things it did uniquely didn’t quite feel like they justified the $1,500 price point. Meta seemed to agree, because it dropped the headset to $1,000 not long after release.
Making Quest Pro’s launch even more rocky, Quest 3 was announced not long after and brought many of Quest Pro’s improvements down to a much more attractive $500 price point.
If Meta is going to have a ‘Pro’ headset line, the headset needs to do substantially more than its consumer-focused headsets. Vision Pro—packed with tech and priced at $3,500—has seemingly opened the door to Meta further differentiating future Quest Pro headsets with a higher-end offering.
And considering that one of Meta’s senior researchers think it’s possible to build a Mirror Lake-like headset with parts that are already available, it’s not a leap to think that some of that new tech could find its way into a Quest Pro 2 or Quest Pro 3.