2022 has been an eventful and exciting year in XR. We experienced the fruits of developments in play since the history of VR, like mixed reality and a new slim form factor from pancake optics. Also how the waveguide lens for AR will broaden market adoption for both enterprises and consumers alike.
In this article, we will summarize and highlight how 2022 was for XR and what it indicates for its future.
In 2022, virtual reality headset design saw the emergence of the pancake lens optics. With some of the industries biggest players in the form of Pico and Meta both launching pancake lens based VR headsets.
The exciting development the pancake lens brings to virtual reality is two-fold. One, the lens slims the space between the display and the wearer’s eye, making VR headsets much smaller and lighter. In other words, the pancake lens is making VR headsets’ design more appealing to a wider audience, enlarging the market, and pushing VR to new heights. Secondly, because pancake optics uses a concave lens to centralize light into the wearer’s eyes, as opposed to the concentric rings the older fresnel lens uses, the visual clarity is much improved with the pancake lens stack. We are already seeing the pancake lens making its rounds in 2022, but expect it to take over completely going into 2023 and beyond.
Waveguide optics have long been talked about as the future of AR, however cost, quality and use cases remained serious issues. However, in 2022 this began to change with economies of scale in manufacturing making huge steps in bringing down the costs.
While experimentation in optics occurred in 2022, the waveguide became the most popular lens type for smart glasses, as it enabled a form factor similar to reading glasses in size and shape. In fact, like pancake, waveguide means AR will slim in size while improving visual clarity by minimizing the ghosting of 3D objects and other visual artifacts.
The breakthroughs this year in waveguide optics have seen rumours begin to circulate about companies like Apple, Meta and Google bringing out smart glasses in the near future.
A recent announcement from Qualcomm getting into AR and smartglasses with the upcoming Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 chipset also indicates the bullish growth that is expected in the industry.
2022 marked the year where significant strides were made in VR and AR converging into mixed reality. Yes, Varjo’s XR headsets have positioned themselves on mixed reality for years, but more often manufacturers either released a VR or AR headset. Newly released mixed reality headsets like Pico 4 and Meta Quest Pro are clear indications of this. While existing headsets such as Valve Index received compatibility with mixed reality through its front cameras in video pass-through. While soon, Lynx R1 and Lenovo ThinkReality VRX are VR headsets that position themselves on the features of mixed reality.
If you need a primer on the differences between VR, AR, and MR: this article will explain everything.
This is an exciting development, as mixed reality widens the features of virtual reality in ways that are hard to predict. But combining virtual and augmented reality will revolutionize multiple industries and their workflows. For example, being immersed in a virtual building in architecture and then shrinking the building to hover in place for a team of engineers, interior designers, and architects to collaborate and iterate. The options are endless and will step further towards an embodied 3D internet.
Intriguingly, the merger between VR and AR into MR is occurring while the headset manufacturers are splitting their departments into specializations. So even though Meta’s RealityLabs are tinkering with futuristic mixed reality technologies like Mirror Lake, reverse video pass-through, and the Holocake 2 lens, Meta is doing so with independent departments focused on either virtual or augmented reality.
2022 was also when the two premium AR headset manufacturers, Microsoft and Magic Leap, showed a change in direction within AR.
Magic Leap released its first AR headset targeting only enterprises after pivoting focus away from prosumers. The result was the exciting release of Magic Leap 2: one of the most advanced augmented reality headset we have ever seen.
The other premium AR headset manufacturer, Microsoft, also seems to be recalibrating its future within augmented reality. Little is known about Microsoft’s HoloLens 3: if the AR headset is coming, paused, or discontinued. While Microsoft representatives ensure the AR headset is still in development, it is doubtful, as it is clear there are differences in the direction Microsoft should head within AR. Namely, if they should focus on IVAS for the military, enterprise-AR with its industrial edition, or solely on VR/AR software irrespective of hardware, as stated by Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella.
When we orient our looking glass towards consumer VR and virtual reality gaming, it is hard to miss the jaw-dropping prospects of dynamic foveated rendering. An optimization technology that dynamically and in real-time prioritizes the performance of the VR game to where you are looking. Simply put, dynamic foveated rendering will increase graphical fidelity by up to ten times! And enable standalone VR gaming to run more powerful applications and have gaming sessions take less of a hit on battery life. 2022 saw the beginnings of dynamic foveated rendering with headsets like Pico 4 and Meta Quest Pro, but 2023 with PSVR2 will be the year everyone realizes its impact.
2022 spelled the beginning of developments we are about to experience in XR. VR and AR are heading towards a smaller, lighter, and more stylish form factor to be worn conveniently by users for extended periods. So whether it is a standalone VR headset with mixed reality features or stylish AR smart glasses for work or leisure: comfort and design will increase its market adoption in the coming years.
Similarly, XR has striven to deliver visual experiences sophisticated enough to pass the visual Turing test or cross the uncanny valley. But it was in 2022 that innovations from colour passthrough to dynamic foveated rendering laid the brickwork in the path towards such state-of-the-art VR and AR experiences.
Jakob Pii is Writer at VR Expert and currently lives in the UK. He started his career in VR gaming in 2015 and has stayed in XR since, from exposure therapy in VR to 360-degree video documentaries. He is fascinated by how emerging technologies change how we live, play and work.