On October 25, Meta will release this pricy new pro-level headgear that combines VR and AR with eye and face tracking. At Meta’s research facility, we had an early test-drive.
The new VR headgear from Meta costs $1,500. Just so it can fully register, I want to put that bit out there. This may come as a shock to anyone used to paying $300 to $400 for the Meta Quest 2 as a pass to the metaverse. The Meta Quest Pro will be available on October 25 as was revealed at Meta’s Connect conference on Tuesday. It isn’t attempting to be your typical home headset, as I discovered when I recently visited Meta’s Reality Labs Research offices in Redmond, Washington.
It actually reminded me more of Microsoft’s professional-level HoloLens 2 than any consumer VR gear I’ve ever worn after wearing it for about an hour or two. Furthermore, although initially appearing to be extremely pricey, its price is actually right in line with that of commercial VR and AR headsets.
Consider the Quest Pro as the offspring of a hypothetical marriage between the Quest 2 and the HoloLens 2. Like the Quest 2, the Quest Pro is still a standalone VR headset, but it also has the ability to scan the actual environment using cameras and depth sensors before superimposing virtual items on top of it. It produces a mixed-reality experience that is similar to those produced by Magic Leap and HoloLens, except instead of employing see-through lenses with ghostly 3D pictures projected on top, it shows color video of the surroundings while also incorporating VR. (The Quest 2 headset has some of these features as well, but the black-and-white camera is much grainier.) The new controllers are more compact, offer greater haptics, and tracking, and they now have their own cameras.
Additionally, the Pro has a more potent processor—a new Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Plus that promises up to 50% more performance power than the Quest 2—as well as internal eye and face tracking, which Meta plans to use for both improved graphics in the future as well as the development of more emotionally responsive VR avatars that can smile, frown, or make eye contact. (This is not the first headset to use mixed reality in this manner. The XR2 Plus platform will also be used by forthcoming headsets this year, according to a statement from Qualcomm.)
I noticed right away how well the smaller headset fits over my spectacles after sliding it on my face. The outside world was also not obscured from my peripheral vision even though I could see virtual things that were displayed in virtual reality placed on top of the surroundings. It resembled augmented reality (AR) phone experiences but in full 3D. Using the Pro’s upgraded controls, I was able to reach out and move objects. Someone close greeted me after I finished one of my demos with “welcome back.” The Quest Pro’s mixed reality technology makes it seem as though I never left the room, which is kind of funny. The virtual objects came to me rather than being transported to other virtual locations.
Even though Meta envisions a billion-person metaverse that feels like the future of computers, current VR headsets have their limitations and obstruct the outside world. The ultimate goal is to create commonplace AR glasses, but in the interim, the Quest Pro acts as a bridge to start integrating AR into Meta headsets while still retaining VR. But this kind of $1,500 gadget isn’t trying to attract more common people. Instead, it aims to take over the business and research markets, which have, up until now, been dominated by firms like HTC, Microsoft, and Magic Leap.
When I visited Meta Reality Labs Research, CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke with a few reporters, including myself, and said this about the Quest Pro: “The people who we’re targeting, it’s going to be either people who just want the highest-end VR device — enthusiast, prosumer folks — or people who are trying to get work done.”
The system is also the greatest place to play games, CTO Andrew Bosworth remarked, highlighting the system’s improved display and room-tracking controllers. I also spoke with him during my Quest Pro demos. The current VR experiences that people are having will be improved by this material, in my opinion.
Facebook’s goals for the Quest Pro are much more ambitious than they were for the original Quest, which was marketed as a standalone home VR gaming system. A cross-device metaverse has already been envisioned by Zuckerberg as a revolutionary new platform for work and social computing. Even with VR, the precise path that Meta wants to take hasn’t been totally figured out. With the Quest Pro and other augmented reality (AR) gadgets Meta is hoping to develop, that next step might get started.
The Quest Pro is also a component of Meta’s new VR product strategy, which entails developing a professional VR product line in addition to more widely used, lower-priced consumer models. The Quest 2 was released in 2012, and the Pro comes out two years later. A Quest 3 should still be coming, possibly in 2023.
Pro VR headsets with pass-through cameras and mixed reality already exist, but the better ones, like the lidar-equipped Varjo XR-3, cost thousands of dollars (Varjo’s more recent Aero headset costs $1,990). The Magic Leap 2 costs $3,300, the HoloLens 2 costs $3,500, while HTC’s standalone Vive Focus 3 VR headset costs $1,300. Standalone AR headsets also cost thousands of dollars. The $1,500 price tag on the Meta Quest Pro doesn’t seem excessive at all in that context. But at that price, it’ll probably only be attractive to fanatics with a good reason to purchase a mixed-reality gadget in Meta’s ecosystem or to organizations who can justifiably charge the fee as a business expense.
It almost has the impression of being a window.
The front of the Quest Pro seems more like a visor because of the display’s wider field of view and its new, smaller pancake optics lenses, and it slides down over my face with equal ease. Similar to previous AR/VR headsets, such as the PlayStation VR 2 and Meta’s own Elite strap for the Quest 2, the headset is adjusted at the back using a dial. In comparison to the Quest 2, the front lenses can be adjusted for a larger range of eye distances (interpupillary distance).
With quantum dot LED-backlit LCD displays that have better local dimming, the display is superior to the Quest 2’s (not OLED, but it gets closer to better black levels). With a higher pixel density and better color gamut, the display is also intended to look sharper from all angles.
The passthrough color camera display in the headset almost feels like an extension of the outside world because I can see things in my peripheral vision. Even though the Quest Pro is technically a VR headset, it contributes to the feeling of an AR headset rather than a VR one. Apps are intended to feel more conventionally VR-like thanks to the included silicone light-blockers, and a $50 full-immersion attachment that can be purchased separately is intended to block even more light. The Quest Pro seems preferable as a VR gadget that will allow you see things around you at the same time; it is not great if you’re searching for a personal enclosed theater impression.
Five sensors are located inside the Quest Pro headset, five are located outside (including cameras and infrared sensors), and two cameras are located on the controllers. The Quest Pro is powered by a Snapdragon 662 CPU. (At the moment, they don’t record video, but who knows if that might change.)
Nearly all of the demos I was able to try out on the Quest Pro used mixed reality settings, which rely on a combination of pass-through camera video and VR visuals. The pass-through camera quality, according to Meta, is four times higher than on the Quest 2, although it still feels many levels inferior to the clarity of typical eyesight.
The Quest Pro features depth mapping infrared up to five meters, which is similar to how AR headsets and lidar operate, so it feels like it’s good enough to see the environment around me. At times, it also feels like the VR integrates remarkably well.
I entered my demo room and strolled over to an easel while using an updated version of the Quest software Painting VR, grabbing for brushes on a table next to me. There were some brushes on a virtual table and others on a physical one. For a little minute, I had to check again to make sure which was which. I hung my finished triceratops painting on one of the demo room’s curtained walls and stood next to it to study the brushstrokes.
A 3D Google Earth map with landscapes appeared on the ground in front of me thanks to the Wooorld app. I zipped inside my own New Jersey house before entering Google Street View in virtual reality. Another software demo, Figmin XR, had me drawing in mixed reality using a variant of the well-known VR painting program Tilt Brush. I created curling rainbows in the air to evoke memories of my earlier use of Magic Leap and HoloLens. I was able to drop balls down ramps or simply bounce them off the ground in a free-building sandbox area of the Figment XR software.
Even though the mixed-reality elements may seem frivolous, they could have significant benefits for designers who place 3D things in actual environments or for performers who wear headsets in public. I was in front of a mixing board and turntables for a demonstration of the DJ app Tribe XR, yet I could still see the rest of the audience and the individuals I was conversing with. I began to consider how this may work in a real club or theater and realized that it might be surprisingly effective.
Face-tracking: An add-on feature of the future
Eye and facial tracking on the Quest Pro is brand-new for Meta and raises many concerns about data protection. At first, the tracking is mostly used for controlling avatars. I was able to smile and blink while conversing with another avatar in a demo in Horizon Workrooms who had face-tracking enabled in their Quest Pro. When I first saw their image, the impact was a touch unnerving; smiles occasionally passed for grimaces, and eyes occasionally blinked strangely. However, a different demonstration showcasing more complex control options for a prototype alien-type avatar displayed a wide range of facial expressions, including pouting, brow furrowing, and more. Avatars might be adjusted for a wide range of purposes, although it is unclear how responsive and lifelike they would be. Meta claimed that by employing AI to adjust for a person’s individual skills, allowances might be created for people who are unable to make certain facial expressions.
Through a technique called foveated rendering, which only concentrates on high-res features in the center of wherever your eye is looking, eye-tracking can also make it possible for visuals to seem better. This technology is used by the PlayStation VR 2, however in my demonstrations it wasn’t active on the Quest Pro. In Redmond, between demos, Zuckerberg reminded us that adding foveated rendering isn’t a foregone conclusion: It might have an impact on the Quest Pro’s battery life, which Meta claims is already only one to two hours. Possibly because of this, or possibly because early-wave app developers in my demos haven’t yet learned how to optimize for it.
Eye tracking can be enabled in settings, and some applications may request permission to utilize it. It is not enabled by default. The data used for eye and face monitoring is encrypted locally on the device, according to Meta, so it is not accessible. When rights are granted, it’s not obvious if specific apps won’t figure out a way to use the data in other ways. Although commercial devices have dabbled in eye and facial monitoring for years, it is uncharted ground for consumer gear.
The controllers are better, smaller, and compatible with Quest 2.
The Quest Touch controllers’ plastic ring makes the Pro controllers feel much smaller. They resemble remotes more than VR-specific versions of the smaller Magic Leap controller. They also have a new feature: their own built-in cameras, which is similar to the Magic Leap 2 controller I tried earlier this year. It’s strange, but it allows them to perform independent movement tracking without relying on the cameras in the headset. Both behind my back and over my shoulders, they appeared to function effectively.
These new controllers provide considerably better and subtler haptic feedback. Similar to the PlayStation VR 2, a few demonstrations of various explosive toys and firearms demonstrated how effects may resonate in the controllers. Painting VR’s brushes gave the impression of rippling beneath my fingers, while writing on a whiteboard let me to more clearly feel the gritty friction of the writing surface.
In relation to writing, these controllers have a fantastic extra feature: stylus tips. They transform into substantial VR pens when inserted into the controllers’ base, which I tested out in Horizon Workrooms’ whiteboard mode (the Quest 2 controllers can work like this too, but the Quest Pro ones feel a lot more responsive).
There is a new pinching control that is dependent on pressure, which I almost missed seeing in one demo. When the triggers are forced together using the slanted side edge of the controllers, different pressures can be applied. I had no trouble picking up and throwing darts, picking up Jenga pieces, or squeezing stress dolls.
Owners of Quest 2 can purchase the upgraded controllers separately for $300. However, that is almost as much as a complete Quest 2 headset. This time, they can be recharged as well and are compatible with the charging port for the Quest Pro that is supplied.
Is this the beginning of VR or just a stopgap measure?
The Quest Pro has the sensation of an upscale, sophisticated VR headset. But it also has an AR headset-like feel about it. Even while many of the demos were great, I also wonder how the next Quest 3 would measure up to it and when would be a decent time to think about upgrading to Pro VR. It’s difficult to say if the Quest Pro is the best version of what is currently available or the first version of what will be available in the future as Meta makes progress toward developing further AR glasses and other firms start to enter the market next year.
Photo Credits: https://www.cnet.com/