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Update – Snap buys WaveOptics for over $500M
About an hour or so after this article first when up, reports came out that Snap had bought WaveOptics for over $500M. I had no knowledge that this deal was happening. I was analyzing what I saw from the publicly available sources discussed in the article.
I was in a hurry to get the article up, figuring that someone else might recognize the WaveOptics waveguide. At least I beat the buyout announcement.
In my hurry in putting together information and digging for connection, it was looking to me that WaveOptics would be using an LCOS microdisplay. As I pointed out, WaveOptics had been moving away from DLP to LCOS with their newer designs. Subsequent information suggests that WaveOptics was still using their much older 480 x 564 DLP design. It is still likely that future versions will use LCOS, but the current version apparently does not.
One more tease on my upcoming article. I think the image in that display will make the Snap Spectacles look like a child’s toy. If WaveOptics was worth $500M, I can only imagine what the two companies making the technology for this vastly better headset should be worth.
Snap announced their “Spectacles” device in a big way on May 20th, 2021 (Wired Article, Verge Article, and TechCrunch, to name just a few), but I have not seen anyone report on what technology is inside the Snap Spectacles.
I have had some people ask me about “what is inside the Snap Spectacles” that were just announced, and I have not seen anyone else identify what waveguide technology Snap is using. I searched and found some pictures by Snap that gave some good clues. But the clincher was from a Snap Spectacles Unboxing video on YouTube (Snap Unboxing Video).
BTW, this article is being written in the middle of the night, so expect a few typos and some corrections may follow.
Before I show the evidence of what I think is inside into the Snap Spectacles, I wanted to mention that I was in the middle of finishing off an exclusive article on an AR Headset Prototype complete that is in a whole different league than the Snap Spectacles. While just a prototype, it looks spectacular, and I was allowed to take through-the-optics pictures.
Below is a picture of the Snap showing the forward projection pattern indicative of a diffractive waveguide. Beyond that, you should note the trapezoidal pattern in the light coming from the direction of the temple. Most diffractive waveguide companies have their own distinctive pattern (or set of patterns) for how the light is expanded in the waveguide. It is sort of their fingerprint. It turns out that the trapezoidal pattern is indicative of how WaveOptics does its pupil expansion. Here is a WaveOptics Product Brief for an “up to 28-degree FOV” waveguide, pretty close to the Snap Spectacles’ stated 26.3-degrees.
You may also note that you can clearly see what the user is watching (a rocket ship in the picture above). This is true for most diffractive waveguides.
On the left is an inside-out view of the waveguides from the Unboxing Video.
Some more evident is in the “side shooter configuration” of the Snap Spectacles versus the WaveOptics show below. A downside to this configuration is that the side view is blocked off in what I call “horse blinders.” The Snap Spectacles block even more of the side view. The WaveOptics prototype has wires coming out of the back where the Snap Spectacles as a finish product is wireless.
It is possible that the technology inside Snap Spectacles is a “clone” of WaveOptics. Hitachi-LG Storage makes a WaveOptics like device. I have heard but have not confirmed that this is under license from WaveOptics. As WaveOptics has been around for many years, it is also possible that other companies may have copied Waveoptics technology.
From a 2019 product brochure from WaveOptics
The square form factor jumped out at me as the Snap Spectacles video seems to be showing a very square FOV (see still frame from the video below).
Some more information on the 28-degree WaveOptics Mars Projector from their website.
I can’t think of a company that has announced a 720 by 720 LCOS. Almost every LCOS company is capacould as 1280×720 is a very common LCOS resolution. It could be a cut down version of one of these devices.
Just a few quick comments on WaveOptics. WaveOptics has shown some of the best diffractive waveguides I have seen for image quality and brightness. They always seem to look significantly better than, say, Hololens or Magic Leap. Historically, WaveOptics has used DLP display technology, but they have been showing their newer prototypes with LCOS microdisplays at more recent conferences.
They have also been making major strides in terms of manufacturing.
This was just a quick take based on the news of the day based on the available evidence. I did not check with any sources or any of the companies mentioned above. Everything is based on public information and sources.