iFixit Now Sells Valve Index Replacement Parts

Replacement parts for the Valve Index headset are now officially sold by iFixit.

iFixit is a website which offers free repair guides for a range of consumer electronics and sells repair parts and kit- including for the HTC Vive.

Valve Index launched in mid 2019. You can buy the headset, base stations and controllers separately or the full kit. Valve started selling individual controllers and the cable in mid 2021 – at the price of $149 and $129 respectively. The following parts are now available from iFixit:

Headset

Controllers

Base Stations

The “eye tube assemblies” – the lens and display panel – stand out as very different from the other parts offered. That’s not something we’d expected to be sold. Is it possible hardware hackers & modders could use this to build DIY headsets?

Sold at $999 for the full kit, Index has now been on the market for almost three years. It still has best-in-class tracking and audio quality but its 1600×1440 resolution has been leapfrogged both on the high end by HTC’s Vive Pro 2 (2448×2448) and on the low end by Meta’s $299 Quest 2 (1832×1920). The move to make replacement parts available definitely extends the Index’s lifespan, but there’s demand among VR enthusiasts for a new headset from Valve. Evidence found late last year suggests Valve is working on exactly that, but there’s no indication it will launch any time soon.

Report Details The Troubled Development Delaying Apple’s AR/VR Headset

A detailed report from The Information charts the decisions behind the apparent years-long delay of Apple’s upcoming AR/VR headset.

In 2021 BloombergThe Information, and supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released reports claiming Apple is preparing to release a premium headset for VR and AR with high resolution color passthrough.

Apple’s VR/AR team is called Technology Development Group (TDG) and is led by former Dolby executive Mike Rockwell. As previously reported by Bloomberg in 2020, TDG originally developed a powerful wireless “hub” which would stream high fidelity content to a lightweight headset. But Apple’s former Chief Design Officer Jony Ive apparently “balked” at the idea, instead insisting the headset be standalone. The standoff between Rockwell and Ive reportedly lasted months, when CEO Tim Cook sided with Ive in 2019.

The decision to ship a standalone headset apparently left some members of TDG in “disbelief” because they had built high fidelity software designed to run on a powerful external processing unit, including photorealistic avatars.

The report details the challenges involved in trying to ship an ultra high end headset with all the processing onboard without inducing overheating or compromising battery life. Apple leadership apparently expect an AR experience “far beyond” what Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta can offer, and Rockwell is apparently struggling to deliver on this.

The Information Apple VR

The headset apparently has 14 cameras in total when including those used for passthrough, positional tracking, eye tracking, face tracking, hand tracking, and body tracking – causing “headaches” for hardware and algorithm engineers. To handle this Apple built a dedicated image signal processor (ISP) chip called Bora, but engineers are apparently struggling to eliminate latency between it and the headset’s main processor – the upcoming M2. To mitigate this Apple apparently had to include a third chip to act as a “fast conduit”, but this hasn’t fully fixed the issue.

A unique apparent feature of the headset is a screen on the front to let others in the room see your upper face and eyes. But adding this screen apparently meant the passthrough cameras had to be placed in “awkward” positions far away from where the user’s eyes would be, making the development of passthrough reprojection algorithms more difficult.

The Information cites “several people familiar with the headset” as describing these makeshift solutions as a reflection of “overengineering, too-complicated solutions that often result from poor planning”.

While Jony Ive left Apple in 2019, the report claims he’s still involved with the project as a consultant, with employees needing to travel to his San Francisco home to get his approval on changes. Earlier prototypes apparently integrated the battery into the headband, but Ive “prefers” a design with a tethered battery the user wears. The Information says it doesn’t know which approach will be used in the final design.

The Information says “four people who have worked on the project” criticized the lack of focus on gaming. TDG apparently “almost never” mentions games in internal presentations, and isn’t developing a tracked controller, with the input methods instead being hand tracking and a “clothespin-like finger clip” which showed up in Apple patent filings.

The Information’s report earlier this week cited five sources revealing Tim Cook rarely visits the team working on the headset – a stark difference to Meta where some employees are reportedly frustrated at Zuckerberg’s obsession with VR and AR. The lack of a top level Apple executive championing the project has apparently made it harder to get engineering staff & resources allocated compared to the iPhone and Mac. To get support for the project, team members apparently warned that companies like Facebook and Magic Leap could end up owning the sector.

The Information previously reported Apple is considering pricing the product as high as $3000, but says top Apple executive Dan Riccio was assigned to the project last year to focus on reducing the cost of materials to make it more affordable. It should end up competing with Meta’s Project Cambria, slated to launch later this year for “significantly” above $800. If the reports so far are to be believed, though, Apple’s product will have higher resolution, a more powerful processor, and a slimmer design – though clearly achieving all that isn’t without challenges.

Zero Latency Replaces Backpack PCs With Streaming To Vive Focus 3

Location based VR company Zero Latency is getting rid of the backpacks.

Zero Latency’s existing offering uses a HP Reverb headset connected to heavy backpack PCs worn by each user. The new offering replaces this with a Vive Focus 3 – the content is now streamed wirelessly from non-worn PCs via Wi-Fi 6E.

Vive Focus 3 is HTC’s standalone VR headset, designed for businesses, priced at $1299. Back in November HTC announced a huge software update for Focus 3 focused on location based VR, adding support for multiple headsets sharing the same tracking space (called colocation), and dramatically increasing the maximum tracking boundary to 33×30 meters.

Wi-Fi 6E support was added in a recent Focus 3 update. It’s the new 6 GHz frequency band of Wi-Fi. This higher frequency, compared to the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, allows for higher bandwidth and less interference from other devices – though it can’t travel as far or penetrate walls as well. 6 GHz is so new to Wi-Fi it hasn’t even been approved by most national regulators yet. Zero Latency has locations in 26 countries, so it’s unclear how many will get Focus 3 installed, but the company says this enables full resolution streaming.

The current Zero Latency experiences include Far Cry VR, a zombie survival adventure called Undead Arena, a space mission called Singularity, and a competitive title called Sol Raiders.

Those experiences use the VR controller attached to a custom gun accessory, but Zero Latency says it’s also exploring using Focus 3’s controller-free hand tracking for future experiences.

TCL Presents Ultra Compact 2K VR LCDs With 120 Hz Refresh Rate

At Display Week 2022 TCL presented the most compact LCD panel for VR we’ve seen yet.

The primary driver of the size and bulk of today’s VR headsets is the optical design, a function of both the size of the display and the lenses used to magnify it over a relatively wide field of view. Valve’s Index uses 3.5 inch panels, while HP’s slightly more compact Reverb G2 uses 2.9 inch panels. HTC’s Vive Flow, the most compact headset available in the west, uses 2.1 inch displays.

TCL presented two new LCD panels at Display Week. Both have a refresh rate of 120 Hz.

The first is also 2.1 inches, like Vive Flow’s, but whereas Flow’s displays are 1600×1600 TCL’s new display is 2280×2280 thanks to having a density of 1512 pixels per inch. Flow reaches only 75 Hz, but it’s unclear whether this is a limitation of the panels or just a product design decision. This new panel was shown integrated into a fully standalone prototype headset to demonstrate just how compact a standalone with Flow-sized displays could be:

The second has slightly lower resolution, 2160×2160, but is smaller than any VR LCD we’ve seen to date at just 1.77 inches. To achieve this it actually has an even higher density, 1764 pixels per inch. Of course, there are even smaller OLED microdisplays available, but those tend to be significantly more expensive.

Neither new TCL panel is higher resolution or more dense than the stunning 3K panel JDI and Innolux also presented at Display Week. But both TCL panels are smaller, so could theoretically be used in extremely compact headsets.

Meta Revealed The Detailed Specs Of Quest 2’s LCD Display

At Display Week 2022 Meta revealed the detailed specs of Quest 2’s LCD panel.

In a talk titled ‘High-PPI Fast-Switch Display Development for Oculus Quest 2 VR Headsets’, Meta display engineer Cheon Hong Kim detailed the headset’s display architecture and discussed the design challenges of using LCD for VR.

Fast Switch LCD

It’s essential that displays used in VR headsets only illuminate the pixels for a small fraction of each frame – a technique called Low Persistence. That’s because each frame represents an exact moment in time, whereas in real life as you rotate or move your head the light arriving to your eyes will continuously change. If the pixels were constantly illuminated, your eyes would be receiving light for the original position even as your head turned, and your brain perceives this as motion blur. The original Oculus Rift Development Kit shipped in 2013 had this problem, and it was solved in Development Kit 2 in 2014.

At high enough refresh rates – for most people above roughly 70 Hz – you don’t even notice that the display is completely black the majority of the time. The first wave of modern consumer VR – Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR – exclusively used OLED displays because OLED pixels are self-illuminating and have an extremely fast response time, so could be easily switched off for the majority of the frame.

LCD displays were originally thought unsuitable for VR, given the much longer response time. But since the release of the Windows MR headsets in 2017, a new type of LCD panels called ‘fast switch’ have become available. These panels illuminate the backlight for a fraction of the frame, after waiting for the liquid crystal to “settle down”. Quest 2, like Oculus Go and Rift S before it, use such a panel.

Detailed Specs & Architecture

The 1920×3664 resolution and 120 Hz max refresh rate were already publicly known, but the talk revealed the panel’s exact 5.46 inch size and density: 773 pixels per inch.

It’s also noteworthy that Meta revealed the panel’s brightness – 100 nits. Keep in mind that figure is when using low persistence, so it would likely be much brighter if used outside a headset.

Meta also revealed some interesting physical properties of the display. Since Quest 2 has three IPD settings and two lenses but only one panel, only a subsection of the panel is used at once. And because the lenses are closer to circular than square, the very corner of the display is never needed – so it was simply cut out to save space.

This approach of using a single panel with an active area subsection means each eye actually gets fewer than the 1920×1832 pixels listed in the Quest 2 specifications on the Meta Store.

Screen Door Effect

Cheon Hong Kim also went into detail about some of the specific causes of SDE – screen door effect – in VR headsets:

These factors are important considerations when specifying and sourcing panels for VR headsets, but Cheon acknowledged Quest 2 has some of the issues outlined here. Meta still hasn’t released a headset fully free from the screen door effect.

R&D Priorities

In the conclusions slide, the key display resolution spec of Quest 2 was revealed, the angular resolution measured in pixels per degree. Meta says Quest 2 has 21 pixels per degree. The generally accepted figure for “retinal” human eye resolution is 60 pixels per degree. While VR headsets have been making solid advancements – the Oculus Rift had roughly 14 pixels per degree – there’s still clearly a long way to go.

Finally, Cheon alluded to Meta’s future research and development priorities – to reach the human perceptual limit of 60 pixels per degree using “high PPI micro displays” and “various foveation technologies”.

At Display Week, eMagin presented a 4K OLED microdisplay and Meta won a patent for a dynamic foveation technique a few years ago.

eMagin Presents 4K OLED Microdisplay For VR On ‘STEAMBOAT’ Board

At Display Week 2022 eMagin presented a 4K OLED microdisplay for ultra slim VR headsets.

OLED “microdisplays” are manufactured differently than smartphone or TV sized OLED panels – directly onto silicon wafers. The result is a much higher pixel density but also a much smaller size. Usually such microdisplays are 1 inch diagonal or less, which is hard to magnify over a large field of view and limits the resolution possible.

But eMagin’s new microdisplay is 2.1 inches – almost as large as the latest set of compact regular panels intended for headsets with pancake lenses. As it maintains the same density as eMagin’s previous products, but is also much larger, the new microdisplay’s resolution of 3600×4000 could practically be used in VR headsets without compromising field of view. The refresh rate is 120 Hz.

As far as we’re aware, this is the highest resolution OLED microdisplay ever presented. It’s also the brightest – at 1000 nits in low persistence mode – making it suitable for lenses which trade off optical efficiency for other specs like form factor and sharpness.

eMagin CEO Andrew Sculley told me this 4K microdisplay was developed alongside a partner based on their requirements for a proof of concept VR headset. But who exactly is, or was, this partner? A marking on the board the microdisplay was demonstrated on may offer a not so subtle hint: “STEAMBOAT”

In September YouTuber Bradley Lynch found evidence of a Valve standalone VR headset codenamed ‘Deckard’ in SteamVR driver files, and and Ars Technica said its sources confirmed Deckard’s existence.

Sculley declined to say whether the partner in question was Valve, but said there there was a second partner – a “larger company” – involved too. In November, supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed Apple’s rumored mixed reality headset will feature 4K OLED microdisplays. Meta also indicated it is exploring OLED microdisplays for future products, and a report last week suggested Meta could follow up its expensive Project Cambria with a successor in 2024.

eMagin doesn’t itself have the manufacturing capacity or finances to produce this at the scale needed for consumer products, but Sculley told me this is something they’re looking for partners to work with them on. He says the display itself is suitable for mass production.

When that does happen – Sculley seemed to suggest some time in the next two to three years – it could usher in a new class of premium compact headsets with OLED’s unbeatable contrast and the sharpness usually only seen in LCDs.

Hands-On: JDI & Innolux New 3K LCD Panel For Compact VR Headsets

At Display Week 2022 JDI and Innolux presented compact 3K LCD panels for VR headsets.

Japan Display Inc (JDI) is one of the world’s largest display providers, formed 10 years ago as a merger of the LCD manufacturing divisions of Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi. Innolux is Taiwan’s largest LCD producer.

Both new displays are roughly 2.27 inch diagonal, with a refresh rate of 90 Hz and resolution of 3240×3240 – equating to 2016 pixels per inch. The identical specs are likely due to a patent cross licensing agreement between JDI and Innolux.

This isn’t the first 3K LCD panel we’ve seen presented by display providers. At 2019’s Display Week AUO presented a 3456×3456 LCD panel with more than 2000 backlight elements to support HDR. However, that panel was larger (2.9 inch) and we haven’t heard anything about it since. In fact, AUO’s booth at this year’s Display Week didn’t feature any VR-sized panels at all.

JDI currently supplies the 2K (2160×2160) panel used in HP’s Reverb headsets. It’s 2.9 inches diagonal, so these new 3K panels are simultaneously smaller and much higher resolution.

The 2.27 inch size makes it suitable for use in compact headsets which use pancake lenses. At Display Week I tried Innolux’s panel paired with pancake lenses that appear to be identical to HTC’s Vive Flow. The clarity & sharpness was beyond anything I’ve tried before – even the Varjo Aero. While through-the-lens camera shots are far from representative of what’s seen by the human eye, here’s a short clip showing the demo imagery to give you a rough idea of the visual quality:

Neither JDI nor Innolux revealed if they have a customer yet, but if this does reach products we could be in store for a new generation of compact ultra high resolution VR headsets.

Watch: New Video Shows Mark Zuckerberg Using Project Cambria

A new video posted by Mark Zuckerberg shows the Meta CEO using the company’s new Project Cambria headset.

Well, sort of.

Cambria (which is a codename for the device) was first announced at Connect in late 2021, and is intended for release later this year as a high-end headset for work use. But Meta still hasn’t fully revealed the device’s final design outside of an early, obscured render. To that end, the video below blurs out the actual headset from any camera shots, even when it’s on Zuckerberg’s head. Check it out below.

Mark Zuckerberg Demos Project Cambria

The video isn’t focused on specs or release dates for Cambria — there’s no price or launch date reveal — but it does show the headset’s mixed reality capabilities in close detail. One of Cambria’s big upgrades over the consumer-focused Quest 2 headset is the use of high-resolution color cameras for passthrough. This delivers a much more accurate version of the real world inside VR.

As a showcase, Meta is releasing an app called The World Beyond that will release on Quest 2 next week via App Lab, but you can also see it in this video. It’s designed to make use of a bunch of mixed reality features, as well as hand tracking.

Cambria will also feature improved ergonomics and sensors as well as face and eye tracking, but those details weren’t really touched on in today’s video. No doubt we’ll learn more about them as we move closer to the headset’s release later this year.

Meta To Reveal Project Cambria Mixed Reality Details Tomorrow

Meta will reveal new details about its Project Cambria standalone headset tomorrow.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg just said as much over on his Facebook page. “Project Cambria’s color passthrough technology will enable developers to build a whole new level of mixed reality experiences,” he wrote. “More details coming tomorrow.” Included in the post is a new image of Zuckerberg wearing the device and using hand tracking features, which you can see below.

It’s possible that these details will only concern Cambria’s color passthrough capabilities but, then again, there’s plenty more we’re still yet to learn about the headset. For starters, the Cambria label itself is merely a codename, with the device being introduced at Meta’s 2021 Connect event. It’s billed as a high-end alternative to Meta’s affordable Quest headsets. Alongside the switch to color passthrough, Cambria will add face and eye tracking for more emotive social VR avatars, and features a revised form factor that employs a new type of lens.

We do know the kit’s due to launch this year but we don’t have a final release date, nor a price. Could these details be confirmed tomorrow?

Though the headset will be compatible with Quest, Meta has previously stated that Cambria is not a part of the Quest line, and is more designed for work use than gaming. In fact, Meta says it sees this headset eventually replacing devices like laptops and, at the beginning of the month, it suggested the device will cost “significantly higher” than $800 despite reports to the contrary in an article from The Information. Import logs also suggest the device will have 12GB of RAM.

What are you hoping to see from Project Cambria tomorrow? Let us know in the comments below!

Kat Walk VR Treadmill Returns With New $1,000 Model On Kickstarter This Week

VR treadmill maker KatVR will return to Kickstarter for its next device, the Kat Walk C 2.

A new crowd-funding campaign for the device launches at 7am PT on May 14, with early bird orders starting at $698 (without shipping). The original Kat Walk raised over $1 million on the platform in 2020. As with other treadmills, the device consists of a dish that players stand on with a special pair of shoes and a harness they then strap themselves into. You can then lean forward and run to simulato walking in VR. Check out a trailer for the C 2 below.

Kat Walk C 2 Announced

The C 2 promises several new additions and improvements over its predecessor, including support for a wider array of movements like strafing and kneeling down and improved tracking of your feet’s movements. The device will also be compatible with the Quest platform as well as previously supported headsets like PSVR and PC kits. KatVR also says it’s throwing in improved shoes that will make it easier to walk on the dish.

Once the first early bird tier is gone there will be two more limited tiers increasing the price by $100 each time. The unlimited tier will offer the device for $998.

KatVR will also be offering a further upgraded version of the device called the Kat Walk C 2+ that includes haptic feedback with ‘Vibrate-On-Touch Step Simulation’ and compatibility with controller to offer more moments of haptic feedback. The C 2+ is available as a $200 upgrade to whatever tier you’ve pledged (so $898 for the first early bird tier or $1199 one all early bird tiers are gone).