The evolving landscape of AR and VR optics

In this update, we explore the latest device launches and optical advancements that will shape the rest of the year.

Ross Hookway, Marketing Executive

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The AR/VR industry is off to a fast start in 2024! In this update to our previous blog, we explore the latest device launches and optical advancements that will shape the rest of the year and beyond.

Consumer device launches boost the market

Since then, both Meta’s Quest 3 and Apple’s Vision Pro have been released to favourable early reviews and competing devices have been announced – this has affected analysts’ market projections and expanded consumer choice – good news for AR and VR optics.

At CES 2024, Xreal debuted the Air 2 Ultra glasses. Billed as a cheaper alternative to the Meta and Apple products, with a glasses-style titanium frame and 3D sensors for SLAM and hand tracking. They also feature electrochromic dimming and a ‘proprietary optical engine’. However, they do require tethering to a device such as a mobile phone or laptop, for both power and content. They are expected to be released this month.

Adjusted predictions

The market has again become fast moving, with analysts adjusting predictions and updating figures just as quickly.

At the end of 2023, Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) released revised figures for AR/VR display panel shipments, forecasting slightly less demand for VR-specific panels in 2024, but that combined shipments will rise sharply between 2024 and 2028 as newer display technologies become established, potentially reaching 90-100m units. They also forecast display revenue to reach $5.9bn in the same timeframe, with roughly an 80/20 split between VR/Passthrough AR and see-through devices.

With the relative success of the Apple Vision Pro, and Meta now rumoured to be showing an updated pair of AR glasses at the annual Meta Connect developer meeting, Analysts agree that by 2028 there will be a large market for AR and VR – looking at overall market revenue (hardware, software, and advertising) in 2028, Statista projects a combined $58.1Bn for business-to-consumer AR and VR.

Sales figures updated

In January 2024, Xreal announced that it has sold 350,000 AR glasses ‘to date’, while for Meta, Quest 3 sales (along with a price reduction for the Quest 2) are reported to have led to a record Q4 in 2023.

At the time of writing, preorders for the Apple Vision Pro are estimated to be at around the 180,000 mark by analysts, despite its high price compared to the competition.

Optics in review

As we discussed before, display and optical specifications are now a key part of product announcements. Potential customers expect a high-quality device and visual experience, regardless of price point.

Both the Quest 3 and Vision Pro have received praise for their displays and optics in early reviews. Road to VR proclaimed the Quest 3 lenses to be a ‘generational improvement over quest 2’ , while The Verge had similar thoughts on the Vision Pro, describing the display as a ‘huge leap forward’ and a ‘technical marvel’.

Xreal’s Air 2 Ultra has received TÜV certification for low blue light and flicker-free design, and the first hands-on reviews, such as from XR Today, suggest they have an ‘exceptional display’.

At FlexEnable, we are excited by the progress that has been made in AR and VR optics – and we know that innovation never stops! We have recently launched evaluation kits for both ambient dimming and tunable lenses built on flexible plastic, bringing optical and practical advantages thanks to their ultra slim and lightweight profile, ability to biaxially curve, and our unique manufacturing process.

Looking ahead

The first two months of 2024 have certainly been busy, with both CES and SPIE AR VR MR giving a glimpse into current and future device and optics trends, such as a proposal to improve the efficiency of pancake optics, and an event-based eye tracking system. We have also recently seen announcements of two reference designs:  see-through AR glasses from Pegatron and Dispelix, and a mixed reality device from Emdoor and Ultraleap. Keeping up the pace, startup Brilliant Labs have announced Frame, open-source see-through AR glasses with a monocular display and AI assistant.

With so many new devices and designs in production, new use cases will emerge from the AR community, which in turn could spark further device innovation in the coming year.

2024 promises exciting developments for the industry and could well be a year defined by the proliferation and innovation of AR and VR devices joining the market.