The technology inside Apple’s Vision Pro AR headset: M2 chip, 4K display

Apple has packed a ton of hardware into its new Vision Pro headset, including high-resolution optics, more than a dozen sensors, and a pair of Apple-designed processors. Here’s a look at the technology that powers the new augmented reality device.

Vision Pro’s operating system software, called VisionOS, runs on the same M2 processor that Apple uses in its Macs, the company said at its WWDC developer conference on Monday. But to handle all the sensor data, Apple has designed a companion chip, the R1.

“It processes input from 12 cameras, five sensors and six microphones,” said Mike Rockwell, head of Apple’s Technology Development Group. Management that rapidly reduces the latency between head movement and the corresponding change in the display’s field of view down to just 12 milliseconds, about one-eighth the duration of the blink of an eye. Low display latency is essential to avoid the nausea experienced by some VR and AR headset wearers.

Premium electronics come at a cost. The Vision Pro will cost $3,499 (about 2,815 or AU$5,290 converted) when it ships in early 2024, Apple said.

But with Vision Pro, Apple is betting that a premium experience is needed to overcome the hurdles that have so far kept VR and AR headsets out of the mainstream. Budget headsets from Meta and other competitors have thus far failed to attract many people to VR and augmented reality promises like immersive video and gaming, web browsing and word processing with giant virtual computer screens, and video conferencing with full-sized companions.

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However, the price tag won’t give you everything. While most of the headset’s electronics are built-in, they are wired to an external battery pack.

Vision Pro optics and display

One of the main components of the experience is the display. VR headsets with a narrow field of view and obviously pixelated images are limited, but Apple is trying to offer something more immersive.

Vision Pro has two postage stamp-sized displays, one for each eye. But a trio of lenses extends them to cover a wider field of view while preserving sharpness and color.

“It renders video in true 4K resolution with wide color gamut and high dynamic range, all at a massive scale,” Rockwell said. “Fine text comes out razor-sharp from any angle.”

Reality Pro has a conventional camera that will allow you to take pictures. But it also has others to keep track of your surroundings for augmented reality views of your home, office or airplane seat. And downward-facing cameras track your hands for finger gestures that let you select objects and buttons.

To figure out which parts of the screen you’re focusing on, eye-tracking hardware inside the headset follows your gaze, illuminating your pupils with infrared light. Eye tracking information is not shared with website or app developers who value this information, as it can reveal what is most interesting or important on a screen.

While the Vision Pro is matte, it has a separate external-facing display that shows your eyes to people looking at you when you’re wearing the headset. The feature, called EyeSight, can also show a little bit of what you’re doing, adding a blue cast when you use an app or flashing white when you take a photo.

It’s all very elaborate, very expensive, and not likely to be sold in quantities like the quantity of smart watches, much less smartphones. But in the electronics industry, costs often go down as technology expertise and production volume increase. Apple CEO Tim Cook called Vision Pro “the start of a journey.” Perhaps a possible Apple Vision non-Pro or Apple Vision 2 Pro will attract more buyers.


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