Facebook Buys Every AR Display From Key Supplier Apple Looked At Acquiring

Facebook signed a deal to buy several years of the entire output of a key AR microLED display supplier Apple looked at acquiring, The Information reports.

Mark Zuckerberg’s company spends “billions” of dollars researching augmented and virtual reality technology. It has publicly stated its goal of releasing lightweight AR glasses this decade, with the eventual goal of replacing the smartphone as the primary computing device for regular people.

Reports indicate that both companies plan to first ship glasses in 2023. This could lead to fierce competition between the two giants throughout this decade. Microsoft is focusing first on the enterprise market and Google appears to be taking things slow after early efforts in “smart” eyewear failed to take off.

MicroLED: The Future of Displays

Almost all electronic displays today are either LCD (including its many variants) or OLED. LCD pixels provide color, while a separate backlight provides light and, overall, this approach limits contrast. OLED pixels are self-emissive, enabling true blacks and infinite contrast.

Just to be clear here, “miniLED”, “QLED”, and similar names are just marketing terms for variants of LCD, improving backlight technology and adding shutters for better contrast.

MicroLED is a relatively new display technology. It’s self-emissive like OLED, but should be orders of magnitude brighter than OLED, as well as significantly more power efficient. This makes them uniquely suitable for consumer AR glasses, which need to be usable even on sunny days yet powered by a small and light battery.

While all major electronics companies (including Samsung, Sony, and Apple) are actively researching microLED, no company has yet figured out how to affordably mass manufacture it for a consumer product.

Plessey Semiconductors Ltd

Plessey is a UK-based firm manufacturing microLED displays intended for AR headsets and HUDs (heads-up-displays). It was founded in 2010 to build high powered lighting, but in 2017 made a complete pivot to the microLED market.

So what makes Plessey special? Why has Facebook signed this deal, and why was Apple interested in acquisition?

The firm focused specifically on microdisplays, rather than competing for smartphone or TV sized panels.

In May 2019, the firm achieved the world’s first 1080p monolithic microdisplay with individually addressable microLEDs. Monolithic means the display is made on a single wafer.

The company claims that this monolithic approach enables displays to be manufactured faster and cheaper than trying to bond individual microLEDs to a substrate, which is the alternative approach.

At Display Week 2019, the firm showed a demonstration display to the world. Despite being just 0.7″ diagonal, it has a resolution of 1920×1080 and is capable of hundreds of thousands or even millions of nits- several orders of magnitude brighter than current AR headsets. The firm claims it can make microLEDs small enough for a 4K display of the same size.

Don’t get too excited just yet, however. Plessey’s display so far is monochrome, showing only blue- the native color of microLEDs. To display red or green, phosphors or “quantum dot conversion materials” have to be used, which currently have very low efficiency.

A Key Supplier?

According to the report, Plessey is “one of the few makers” of microLED displays suitable for AR glasses.

In March 2019, the company figured out how to manufacture native green microLEDs. In December, it cracked native red too.

Developing a native full color (RGB) microdisplay is on Plessey’s 2020 roadmap. If it can achieve this and figure out how to manufacture it at scale before other competitors, it could be a significant boost for Facebook’s AR plans with this deal.

Unless Apple can find a suitable alternative, Facebook might be able to launch viable consumer glasses earlier or cheaper.

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New Nintendo Direct reveals ARMS coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

The new Nintendo Direct is still not what fans have been waiting for, with no new first party games, just ports like XCOM 2 and Burnout Paradise.

At some point you’ve just got to wonder whether Nintendo are actively trolling their fans. The fourth Nintendo Direct of 2020 has just happened and it’s still not a full-size, general topic one.

It’s the closest we’ve had so far, in that it announced a variety of new full-price games, but it was designated as only a ‘Direct Mini’ and didn’t feature any new titles from Nintendo themselves – which means we still don’t have any idea what they’re going to release for the rest of the year.

What we do know though is that the next DLC fighter for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be someone from ARMS, although Nintendo hasn’t said who yet – perhaps because they’ve already warned that development of the DLC has been set back by the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the ‘Mini’ designation, the video above is almost 30 minutes long and reveals a variety of previously unexpected third party ports, including three 2K compilations that are all coming out on 29 May:

  • The XCOM 2 Collection (XCOM 2, War Of The Chosen, and four DLC packs)
  • The Borderlands Legendary Collection (Borderlands 1, 2, and The Pre-Sequel)
  • BioShock: The Collection (BioShock Remastered, BioShock 2 Remastered, and BioShock Infinite: The Complete Edition)

Burnout Paradise Remastered is also coming to Switch, at some undisclosed date in the future.

Bizarrely, Panzer Dragoon: Remake and Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy are being released today (pre-release hype, who needs it, eh?). And so too is a demo for Square Enix’s Bravely Default 2.

The previously announced remaster Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition was also given some airtime, and will come with a new epilogue story and is also coming out on 29 May, for some reason.

There was also some Animal Crossing: New Horizons news, that we’ll get into separately, a bit more info on the Pokémon Sword and Shield DLC, and a new content update for Ring Fit Adventure.

All this happened without any warning whatsoever (unless you count the numerous rumours) and was just dumped on YouTube before anyone even realised.

Whether that means it was a hastily rescheduled, or re-edited, Direct is hard to say but it’s a peculiar way to carry on even for Nintendo.

It also means that, now Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out, they still don’t have a single major new first party game scheduled for release this year, and now that this Mini Direct has happened it’s even harder to guess when they’ll break their silence.

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Dr Seuss AR App Brings Classic Characters To Life

A new AR app brings a classic Dr Seuss book to life like never before.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC – An Amazing AR Alphabet! adapts the 1963 book of the same name (minus the AR) to smartphones. The app recreates images from the original in 3D and then projects them into the real world using your smartphone’s camera.

It comes first and foremost with a story mode in which users trace out letters of the alphabet and then interact with the characters for each. You can also jump directly to letters with a chapter select option.

There’s also a sandbox mode which lets you pick from any of the characters in the app and bring them into the world to play with. The cast includes names you really couldn’t make up by yourself, like Aunt Annie’s Alligator, David Donald Doo, Fiffer-Feffer-Feff, Little Lola Lopp, Vera Violet Vinn, Young Yolanda Yorganson, Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz. See what I mean?

It’s a pretty interesting rendition of educational AR, even if the app doesn’t feature some of Seuss’s more iconic characters. Hopefully if it’s successful we could see more of these types of experiences from the wonderful world of Seuss, though. Grinch AR, anyone? Cat in the VR Hat? We can think of some really trippy ideas for them both.

You can get the app on iOS and Android now for $3.99. Got any other cool AR storybooks we should know about? Tell us about them in the comments below!

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