Lenovo today unveiled its next standalone VR headset for enterprise, the ThinkReality VRX standalone. While the company may be pitching its latest headset for businesses, it seems VR hardware is starting to reach a pretty solid consensus on what’s next. The near future of VR is slimmer, lighter, and has a dash of augmented reality for good measure.

Lenovo’s headset features some specs that are quickly becoming commonplace in the upcoming generation, namely a slim and light design thanks to the inclusion of pancake lenses, and color passthrough cameras for AR interactions. Anyway, here’s a quick primer on pancake lenses for a deeper look at all the hubbub:

Pancake Optics (AKA Folded Optics)

What are pancake optics? It’s not quite what it sounds like, but once you understand it, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better name.

While the simple lenses in today’s VR headsets must be a certain distance from the display in order to focus the light into your eye, the concept of pancake optics proposes ‘folding’ that distance over on itself, such that the light still traverses the same distance necessary for focusing, but its path is folded into a more compact area.

You can think of it like a piece of paper with an arbitrary length. When you fold the paper in half, the paper itself is still just as long as when you started, but its length occupies less space because you folded it over on itself.

But how the hell do you do that with light? Polarization is the key.

Image courtesy Proof of Concept Engineering

It turns out that beams of light have an ‘orientation’ which is referred to as polarization. Normally the orientation of light beams are random, but you can use a polarizer to only let light of a specific orientation pass through. You can think of a polarizer like the coin-slot on a vending machine: it will only accept coins in one orientation.

Using polarization, it’s possible to bounce light back and forth multiple times along an optical path before eventually letting it out and into the wearer’s eye. This approach, known as pancake or folded optics, allows the lens and the display to move much closer together, resulting in a more compact headset.

While slimming down VR headsets has always been a priority—pancake lenses are significantly slimmer than traditional Fresnel lenses in devices like Quest 2—it’s the color passthrough function that effectively combines AR and VR into a single device (aka ‘mixed reality’).

Image courtesy Lenovo

And Lenovo is in good company too; Meta is getting ready to launch Project Cambria, which earlier this month was revealed to be the long-awaited Quest Pro in a leak, and ByteDance’s Pico Interactive recently unveiled Pico 4, which aims to take on Quest 2 in Europe and some regions in Asia.

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Like Pico 4 and Quest Pro, the ThinkReality VRX features four front-mounted cameras for 6DOF tracking,  and high-resolution color passthrough. The back-mounted battery is also here, ostensibly serving up better balance and a much less front-heavy design. Both Pico 4 and Quest Pro feature only a single RGB camera for passthrough however, while ThinkReality VRX sports stereoscopic color passthrough.

The company hasn’t revealed exact specs just yet (i.e. no display resolution, FOV, etc), however it says ThinkReality VRX is sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR chipset, which we suspect is the now industry standard Snapdragon XR2. We’ll update this piece when/if we learn more.

Image courtesy Lenovo

And what’s all it for? Lenovo is pitching the headset as “the VR solution for workers everywhere,” adding that its headset is focused on improving employee training, virtual collaboration, and tasks like design and engineering in 3D.

“Our customers are looking for reliable, flexible and scalable gateways into the growing Enterprise Metaverse. They need business-class solutions for the new realities of working in hybrid scenarios and virtual environments” said Vishal Shah, GM of XR and Metaverse, Lenovo. “We engineered the Lenovo ThinkReality VRX to be the VR solution of choice for training and collaborating in immersive 3D.”

Lenovo is making ThinkReality VRX available in early access to select partners by the end of 2022, and will later launch general availability in select markets sometime in early 2023.

The company is also known for a number of VR and AR headsets since it began in 2016 with the launch of a Windows Mixed Reality headset, which was released alongside other top OEMs, such as HP, Samsung, Dell, and Acer. The company released the Mirage Solo VR standalone, manufactured the Rift S for Meta (then Oculus), a Lenovo Classroom 2 VR headset built in partnership with Pico, and its most recent, the ThinkReality A3 AR glasses for enterprise.

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  • Sofian

    Looking at all the pancake headsets and even Holocake 2, once you add the face mask/light blocker, headsets still look too bulky.
    It’s not going to change until they find a way to make the displays with an orientation that match the shape of the face, either at an angle (like the Pimax) or use a folded display.

    • jarrodbraun

      I think they look much bulkier than they really are. If you look at project Cambria without the light blocker, it’s very slim. The light blocker more than doubles the total thickness of the device because it has to curve around the face, but it’s so light that it doesn’t truly add “bulk”

      • Sofian

        Search for images of “ski googles”, it will give you a good idea of what I mean when I say it would look and feel far less bulky if it was following the shape of our face.

        • So basically you want something out of sci-fi that isn’t physically possible yet. Got it.

          • Sofian

            No you don’t get it, what I say is it doesn’t matter how thin the headset is it will still be bulky as long as it’s doesn’t follow the shape of the face.
            As for waiting for things to be possible before wanting them, it’s not not worth a discussion.

          • ZeePee

            No, following the shape of the face would make it less bulky.

            If you had a curved display, curved optics, in theory it could wrap around your eyes instead of protruding outwards, and then having the blinders on the sides make it look big and boxy like cambria or this does.

          • Andrew Jakobs

            Well, Samsung has patented a bended display, which was meant for VR, but sadly we haven’t heard anything from Samsung for a long time, even though about 2 years ago in may they said they would present new VR hardware in a few months, but they never did. But they did patent some new designs last year.

          • ZeePee

            So dissapointed Samsung didn’t release their odyssey 2.

            The Odyssey Plus is amazing, the best oled headset out there.

            All they needed to do with the headset, was upgrade the resolution and add 2 more cameras, like the G2.

            For the controllers, add capacitive touch sensors.

            If they did this, they would have had the best consumer headset on the market.

    • Hokhmah

      It’s a good step in the right direction but I agree with you. I think in the near future one of the thinnest VR/AR headsets might be the Lynx R1.

      • Sofian

        The concept render of the Apple headset is more what I expect in the future.

      • ViRGiN

        They need to deliver first units to its backers before it can be even taken half-seriously.

        • ZeePee

          My gosh, the resolution on that thing is fast becoming antiquated.

          2019 resolution in 2023. Today we are seeing the basic standard of 2160 x 2160 per eye coming though.

          • ViRGiN

            There are hardcore fans still using index resolution and claiming there is nothing wrong with it.

          • Cless

            I mean, its not THAT bad if you already own it and don’t have a GPU fast enough to push 2k per eye. What makes it a bad deal there its the Index price for them.

          • ViRGiN

            So it’s bad if you do have GPU fast enough?

          • Cless

            Its old, 2019 tech, there are plenty headsets with better displays out there.

          • ViRGiN

            It was already old in 2019.
            HP Reverb released like 2 months before index. With 2160×2160 per eye resolution. Lightyears ahead of 1440×1600 of index. And also for half the price.
            It’s just it had the valve branding, so they can get away with everything. Even with abandoning it immediatly after.

          • Cless

            It also had massive tracking issues, and even shittier controllers, together with a smaller sweetspot. The index should have been presented as a mid-high tier product when it came out, the problem is that it came out with a high tier product price.

          • ViRGiN

            I’m afraid you are wearing it wrong! Works fine for me. Hahaha!

            It’s not about the price. It’s about brand extreme loyality. Just check out valve index subreddit with 80k joined people. Most of them there are convinced index is still a great product and worth it’s price.

          • Cless

            I don’t give a shit about what some subreddit people think, to be honest. You will find people equally as obsessed if you go to any other headset reddit.

            I’ve had most side by side comparisons of headsets. One time I had the HP Reverb (not the g2, which came out in late 2020, the previous one that you are refering to), the index and the Quest 2, and HP Reverb had worst tracking a long shot. Followed by the Quest 2, that had some occlusion on the controllers when controllers weren’t seen by the headset, followed by the Index, which had normal 2 base station tracking.

    • Foreign Devil

      WHo cares how they look. I only care how it feels and performs.. . Do you look at yourself in a mirror when in VR?

  • Rogue Transfer

    Worth noting, that the difference between this and Meta’s upcoming Quest Pro, is that Meta is only going for a halfway solution with a single colour passthrough camera, combined with their four lower resolution B&W tracking camera images. As seen in their released demo with it. This leads to a false-looking rough colour effect, where hand and object edges are often not covered completely or go beyond the edge and with over-saturated image sections(the latter could be simply a stylistic choice, but makes it look less real).

    With Lenevo’s ThinkReality VRX having dual, true stereoscopic colour cameras, it’ll have a much more precise, colour representation lining up with the hands and objects around you. The big questions are what is the resolution in them, compared to the high+low res combined approach in Meta’s, and how natural is the warped image to the real eye’s position? The latter is an aspect which Meta has put significant effort into getting good. So, it’ll be interesting to hear how Lenovo & Qualcomm have done with this headset’s passthrough.

    • MeowMix

      Also worth noting, from the Cambria leaks, the tracking cameras used for the Passthrough are not the same B/W cameras as what’s used with the Quest2.

      You state ‘4 lower resolution B/W cameras‘. Thus far, the leaks show 2 of the 4 tracking cameras are higher resolution than the Quest2 cameras (although, still lower resolution than the HD color camera). The 2 higher res B/W cameras are used for Passthrough. The other 2 low resolution B/W cameras are not used for Passthrough.

      I do agree the 2 full color passthrough cameras is Lenovo headset is featuring is interesting; looking forward to how it compares to the QuestPro.

      • silvaring

        What is the benefit of having better pass through aside from more realism in the real world image you are seeing?

        • Ad

          This is like asking why better graphics are better aside from the game world looking nicer or more detailed.

          • silvaring

            I’m just asking what the benefit is aside from a more realistic view of what you already see without your headset. But I can see now what the benefit might be, having digital overlays on-top of the real world feed, so developers can start to figure out how to implement these kind of overlays before AR glasses become mainstream.

        • Dave

          Better passthrough will allow better more high fidelity graphcs which means more use cases with mixed reality like fitness, education, training as well as games. You want to see the things you interact with, you want to read text and you want to be immersed in the augmented world. Long is the day passthrough was about setting up your guardian play space.

    • Nice spot

    • Ad

      I hope Cambria sucks but they’re investing quite a lot of money in it. I’m sure it’ll be worthless compared to Apple’s both because of how much cheaper it is made and ARKit.

      • ViRGiN

        It surely makes valve index worthless, and valve steamvr as a whole

        • ZeePee

          This is why they are devolving Deckard.

          That could be the one headset to rule them all.

          • ViRGiN

            No they don’t, and no it won’t.
            That non-existent headset is already rulling the valve fanboys vr world.

        • Dave

          So let me get this straight, you are absolutely destroying a highly respected and rounded headset the 4 year old Valve Index with a headset that doesn’t exist and isn’t coming out for at least a couple of years, it will also not have one tenth of the software and cost at least 5 times as much. Sorry what was your point again?

      • Dave

        It’s hard to know where Meta sits right now. They’ve been so slow releasing the Quest Pro that other companies will soon have
        rival enterprise products at Lenova and Pico. I would have thought gamers would have snapped up the Quest Pro as well but that shot to bits now the cheaper Pico 4 has been introduced. Meta will need to pull some sort of rabbit out of the hat now to make the Quest Pro attractive, talk about shooting themselves in the foot. With all there upfront research the Quest Pro should have come to market at least 6 months ago.

      • Dave

        Apple has much to prove with it’s VR eco systrem. It doesn’t sound like it could effect anything gamers are interested in. I would be suprised if one sells for under 5000 dollars. If the Meta, Valve, HP etc headsets are (looking) cheaper than it’s because they actually want the general public to participate in VR instead of Apple snobs who haven’t got a clue and least of all a library to play with.

        • Ad

          “it’s because they actually want the general public to participate in VR”

          Everyone wants their data cows.

  • ViRGiN

    Covid, cheap shortage, war in ukraine, war in palestine, war in congo, pirates in nigeria.
    You sound EXTREMELY entitled.

  • All headsets now are becoming a copy-paste of the others…

    • ViRGiN

      “competition is good”
      all it does is just an illusion of choice.
      MFers want more headset choices; can’t even THINK to buy software anywhere outside steam

      • Cless

        Said the guy that can’t even THINK to buy software anywhere outside of Facebook lol

        • ViRGiN

          nah man, i buy my stuff wherever i want, not being concernced about thinking if 50 years from now i will be able to play job simulator on my future headset. nothing last forever, and steam is doomed to be wiped of the face of earth much much sooner than facebook ever will.

          • Cless

            Lol, what. You are on crack if you think that’s true. Even goddamn brick stores are alive today. Unless steam makes big changes that take it to a bad place, it won’t happen, and even if they do, they’ve made so much bank that they can afford a decade or more of decadence and try to fix shit up

          • ViRGiN

            So you think company with billions of users and 7th value in market cap of the world is going to fall before steam?
            I want that crack too! What’s next? Steam will outlive Amazon?

          • Cless

            Uhh… when did I ever say that Facebook would fall before Steam? Its you the one saying that a company is going to die before others, not me lol

          • ViRGiN

            So you’re smoking crack. Okay.

          • Cless

            Please, copy paste exactly where I said anything about facebook going under, please. If you change subject or ignore it, I will just guess you took it out of your ass, like many other things.

          • ViRGiN

            > steam is doomed to be wiped of the face of earth much much sooner than facebook ever will
            > You are on crack if you think that’s true

            Sounds like you believe it’s going to be the other way around.

          • Cless

            No, not really, I’m flat out rejecting your statement. If I thought it was the opposite I would have said so.
            Your mindset sounds very binary to me man, ” one vs the other” . They are both going to continue to be just fine for the foreseeable future. Valve is doing great, and even if Facebook isn’t, since it lost more than half its market value in less than two years, that is unrelated to their VR venture, that one is doing fine, its the actual Facebook site that stopped growing and started contracting, people under 30 just barely use it.

            And sure, most likely one will disappear before the other at some point in the future, decades from now, or more likely, eventually be bought/fused with another company. But that’s nothing we will be seeing in the 2020s or 2030s. Unless, again, either of them does a big fuckup and continues fucking up for a at least a decade nonstop.

          • ViRGiN

            > most likely one will disappear before the other at some point in the future
            and that’s basically all i said.

          • Cless

            I see, I mean, the way you said it made me think of soon, or in the foreseeable future, like this decade at least. I mean if we talk about hypothetics in the future, ALL companies will do that eventually, so why even bring that up at all? :/

          • ViRGiN

            Do you (for)see coca-cola disappearing? It’s been on the market for 136 years.

          • Cless

            I don’t, unless they fuckup big time. Like they almost did when they created New Coke. If they kept that up for a decade, most likely it wouldn’t be a shadow of what it is today, if anything at all.