Facebook wants to make VR shades so we can ditch clunky headsets

When it comes to technology you have to wear, less tends to be more.

When it comes to consumer technology, effective design often comes down to usability and convenience. It's what Apple built its trillion-dollar brand on the back of. So it's no surprise that the very same concept — sensible comfort — is being applied to virtual reality (VR) headsets. Facebook, which owns Oculus, the only meaningful rival to HTC in the consumer VR space, is attempting to replace the big, awkward ski-goggle-like headset traditionally required for high-end VR experiences with something light, thin, and compact.

Facebook's holographic optical architecture aims to build VR hardware that's more like a pair of sunglasses than a multi-part sweatband with a scuba mask attached to it. "To our knowledge, our work demonstrates the thinnest VR display demonstrated to date, and we’re excited to see what the future holds," the Facebook Research team says in a blog post explaining how the tech works.

Here's a glimpse into what the company wants to do to your average VR headset:


Almost like your average sunglasses — Most of the VR headsets we see today are heavy, clunky, and similar to strapping a box to your face. They're not compact, light, or comfortable for protracted sessions. Facebook wants to change the conventional VR look with its lighter VR headset that it promises will deliver optimal virtual as well as augmented reality (AR) experiences.


The first details of the headset come in a research paper entitled "Holographics Optics for Thin and Lightweight Virtual Reality" due to be presented at the Siggraph 2020 virtual conference in August. The thickness of the proposed solution ranges between 9mm and 11mm. That's multiples less than current solutions.

Facebook says it's able to achieve this svelteness by applying multiple layers of holographic film with a projection system as well as directional backlights. With the help of laser illumination, this type of headset can deliver high-quality visuals using a range of displays and with improved viewing angles. Weighing less than 10 grams, this kind of sunglasses-esque headset is expected to deliver a field of view that covers a 93-degree circle while also providing a resolution of 1,200 x 1,600 pixels.

How do we get 'em? — It's going to be some time before Facebook's VR glasses make it to market. As far as real-world implementation goes, Facebook has some issues to work out. For starters, it needs to work on support for the full spectrum of colors as the current iteration of the headset only renders green and black optics. That's a major impediment, and one that needs to be resolved before the glasses will be anywhere near ready for prime time.