Project Cambria is the code name for Facebook’s new high end VR headset. Rumors of a Quest Pro, a professional version of the Oculus Quest 2 headset, went into overdrive last week after four short training videos were discovered in Oculus’ latest operating system code. This led many to expect a full release of a new headset (or two) at their conference on 28 October. Instead, we just received a short video and brief description that lacked a lot of detail. The reveal did however generally confirm what the training videos had already revealed.
I’ll call Facebook “Meta” from now on as it rebranded itself during the conference.
What will the Project Cambria headset feature?
The Project Cambria headset will be a higher priced, high-end device with higher resolution pancake lenses (possibly micro-leds). Meta claims the optics will be significantly improved compared to the current Quest 2. These optics will allow the device to be much smaller and lighter. Cambria will feature full colour passthrough cameras, allowing the headset to feature AR as well as VR experiences: in other words, the real world will be visible with interactive 3D objects overlaid on top. Hopefully this will be a significantly improved, distortion free, full colour version of the Oculus Quest 2’s black and white passthrough cameras. The headset will be backwards compatible with older VR experiences.
“This isn’t a Quest 2 replacement, or a Quest 3. Project Cambria will be a high-end device at a higher price point, because it’s going to be packed with all the latest advanced technologies, including improved social presence, color Passthrough, pancake optics, and a lot more. The experiences developers create with Presence Platform—which includes Passthrough API, improved hand and voice interactions, and so on—will really shine when the hardware leaps forward, and we’re designing Project Cambria for people who want to start testing out a new kind of computing on the cutting edge of what’s possible today. We’re excited to share more, so stay tuned.”
Project Cambria’s physical design
The overall design appears similar to Microsoft’s Hololen’s 2, with the battery compartment (or part of the electronics) placed at the back of a halo style design. From personal experience, headsets like these are much easier to wear for longer periods, as the weight is evenly distributed. The Quest 2, for example, is front heavy, pressing against your nose even with the expensive elite strap. There were glimpses of smaller, lighter controllers in the videos, along with no tracking rings, as well as a charging dock for both controllers and headset.
Meta claims the addition of new face and eye tracking sensors will allow virtual avatars to maintain eye contact properly in conversations, show facial expressions accurately, and make virtual interactions more emotional and real. New reconstruction algorithms will also allow the device to mimic real-world surroundings to create more immersive, interactive virtual environments. The AR possibilities looks particularly impressive, especially if Meta can maintain or increase the field of view compared to current headsets. Voice control and hand tracking will also be improved.
When will Meta’s Project Cambria headset be released?
Mark Zuckerberg stated that the new headset will be released in 2022. Not late or early 2022, just 2022. While it’s disappointing that Project Cambria is not coming out in 2021, the inclusion of full color passthrough, an optical boost, apparent improvements in overall ease of use, and all the other enhancements seem promising. VR’s and AR’s future is looking increasingly bright.
Videos of the Oculus Pro/Project Cambria headset
You can watch a short teaser video of the new Cambria headset and the original, leaked animation training videos below. It’s pretty clear that Meta has made the official teaser video deliberately blurry. The resolution is low.
What else did Meta/Facebook announce at their 2021 conference?
Meta’s 2021 conference highlights included plenty of software announcements, in particular a customizable, virtual space called Horizon Home, a place where you can invite friends, watch media, and launch new experiences (this looks to be an expansion of the current PC only Oculus home experience, but presumably available when using the Oculus Quest 2 in standalone mode too). Horizon Home will also include a workspace for those who want to try working virtually. Mark Zuckerberg also announced that the popular PC game from Rockstar studio’s, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, will be coming to the Quest 2. Apparently, a VR version of Grand Theft Auto has been in development for over two years. There was no mention of the more expansive Horizon World’s project, but it would be surprising if this did not appear when the new headset arrives in 2022.
AR Project Nazare
Facebook also gave us a brief look at Project Nazare, their codename for their first pair of consumer AR glasses. A video of ghostly avatars interacting wasn’t particularly impressive, but apparently the technology is still a long way off (perhaps three or four years).
Facebook becomes Meta and Oculus is retired
Surprising no one, Facebook renamed itself to Meta and completely dropped the Oculus brand name (I quite liked the Oculus name!). Meta is now the overarching, umbrella name for all the old Facebook companies. Facebook is now just the name of one of Meta’s social media properties. This is similar (kind of) to what Google did when they created Alphabet as their umbrella brand name.
For developers, Oculus Avatars are now available to add to projects/apps in Unity and will come to Unreal Engine next year. There was also a lot of talk about how developers will have even more opportunities in this new space to monetise the creation of digital objects (possibly using NFTs).
Quest also gets support for 2D apps, soon available in the Oculus Store. These will be based on the progressive web app industry standard. Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox and Slack apps will be in the store soon, with lots more to follow. This should make working in VR easier.
Facebook-free Quest login from 2022
In a move that is sure to make a lot of VR enthusiasts happy (including me), Meta revealed that you won’t need a Facebook account to log into your Quest devices from 2020. Mark said they are reacting to vocal criticism this move received when it was first enforced. Seemed like a really thoughtless move at a time, when Meta really didn’t need the bad PR.
It’s all about the metaverse
The whole conference emphasised Meta’s focus on building out technologies which Mark Zuckerberg hoped would lay the groundwork for a new social metaverse (think of it as the Internet with an AR and VR backbone). He wants this metaverse to be a space that no one company owns, based on interoperability: the ability of completely different systems to easily interact and exchange information using shared protocols.
Where did the metaverse idea come from?
The term “Metaverse” was first coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his novel Snowcrash, where human avatars interact with each other and other artificial avatars (called software agents) in a three-dimensional virtual space that mimics the real world. You can find our Neal Stephenson reading guide here, including a summary of his major works like Snowcrash.
What does Neal Stephenson think about Facebook focusing on the metaverse and using it as a brand name?
In an email exchange with AXIOS, Neal Stephenson seemed generally positive about the focus on the metaverse by Facebook/Meta. He revealed he had never spoken with Mark Zuckerberg but did know a few people who worked in Meta on VR.
It’s flattering when readers take the work seriously enough to put their own time and money into bringing similar ideas to fruition. After all the buildup in the last few weeks, the Meta announcement has a ripping-off-the-bandaid feeling.
Almost since the beginning of the genre, science fiction writers have occasionally been given credit for inspiring real-life inventions, so this is not new and it’s not unique. I was aware of that fact thirty years ago when I wrote “Snow Crash,” but I didn’t necessarily expect it to happen.
Good science fiction tries to depict futures that are plausible enough to seem convincing to the readers — many of whom are technically savvy, and tough critics.
So when depicting a future technology in a work of science fiction, you have to make it plausible. And if it’s plausible enough, it can be implemented in the real world.Neal Stephenson speaking to AXIO about Facebook’s name change and use of his term the Metaverse