An expensive VR experiment with no audience
An expensive VR experiment with no audience
Sofia Pitt using Meta Quest Pro
I’ve been testing the new $1,500 Meta Quest Pro virtual reality headset since it launched on Oct. 25.
After spending about two weeks with it, here’s my takeaway: The Pro has an identity crisis.
At $1,500, it’s far too expensive to be considered a consumer device for gaming. Unfortunately, most of the apps on the device haven’t been optimized for the new Pro, so it also doesn’t feel ready for professional use, either. Meta still needs VR developers who are looking to enhance the metaverse to buy the Pro and create more apps and use cases for the headset.
Investors have been particularly concerned about the amount of money the company is spending on its Reality Labs division, which built the new headset. So far this year, Meta has lost $9.4 billion betting on the metaverse, and shares of the company are down about 70% year to date. Meta announced Wednesday it’s laying off 11,000 employees.
But CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned that these metaverse advancements wouldn’t be seen for five to 10 years. “Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,” Zuckerberg wrote in an October 2021 blog post.
He’s betting the metaverse is the new frontier of the internet. “We believe VR devices will help usher in the next computing platform — becoming as ubiquitous as laptops and tablets are today — and that people will use them in their everyday lives to access the metaverse,” Zuckerberg wrote in the announcement for the new Meta Quest Pro.
“The metaverse is not going to be busted or made based on Pro,” said Gene Munster, founder and managing partner at Loup Ventures.
Instead, this latest product launch is another “aggressive experience experiment,” Munster said. “They’re creating a business around how people are going to use tech in the future.”
In other words, the Meta Quest Pro is a very expensive experiment built to help figure out the use cases for the metaverse.
Here’s what the headset is like.
Meta Quest Pro vs. Meta Quest 2: Design upgrades
The fit and design of the Meta Quest Pro are a huge upgrade compared with the Meta Quest 2 headset, which launched in 2020 under the name Oculus Quest 2.
The battery has been moved to the back, making the weight distribution much better. New “pancake” lenses — they’re flat like a pancake instead of round and bulky — are much thinner and provide better peripheral vision.
Meta Quest Pro.
Even though the headset is more comfortable, wearing it for long periods of time can take a toll on your forehead. When you set up your Pro, and whenever you put it on, it will prompt you to do a fit calibration check to make sure the device is snugly fastened to your head. I found that these recommendations make the headset too tight, so follow Meta’s fit guidelines at your own risk.
Forehead marking after prolonged use of the Meta Quest Pro.
The Meta Quest Pro has an upgraded processor. The new Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Plus promises up to 50% more performance power, according to Meta. Paired with the new screens, it also allows for richer colors, deeper blacks and better visuals.
The new processor, combined with added eye and face tracking, means your avatar more accurately reflects you in VR. Eye and face tracking is the most exciting update. If you’re smiling, your avatar smiles too. If you’re looking pensive, your avatar looks deep in thought. This makes interactions in the metaverse feel more lifelike. Your avatar won’t look like an accurate depiction of you, but your true emotions will be communicated in your expressions when you’re interacting with others.
Meta Quest Pro with light blockers attached.
You can also attach the included magnetic light blockers to the sides of your headset to feel more fully immersed in the world of VR. While much more light is blocked out when compared with the Quest 2, it’s still not completely dark. There’s also a magnetic face ring attachment that’s meant to block out light entirely, but it’s sold separately and costs an additional $50.
The controllers were also upgraded. They are now chargeable and don’t require you to replace the batteries, which makes them much easier to use. They track your hand movements through cameras that face outwards. They’re much less clunky and they even have a cool feature where you can replace the strap hardware with a stylus nub so you can replicate the feeling of drawing.
The new controllers pair with previous Meta headsets, too, but cost $299 if you buy them separately.
Meta also added color pass-through capability on the Pro, replacing the hazy black-and-white version on earlier models, allowing you to see virtual images on top of real-life objects. For example, while painting on a virtual canvas, you can see the objects in the room around you. It looks as though the virtual canvas is set up in the room you’re in.
The headset has angled speakers that project sound into your ears and a microphone that picks up even faint whispers slightly better than the microphone on the Quest 2.
Entering the metaverse: A not-so-warm welcome
The first interaction I had with someone in Horizon Worlds was another avatar telling me to “f— off.”
Horizon Worlds is a social virtual reality application created by Meta that allows users to explore virtual worlds and interact with other participants virtually. This is Meta’s main metaverse platform.
Social etiquette isn’t the same in VR as it is in reality. While I was engaging in another social interaction, a female user’s avatar started hitting my avatar, which is not allowed per Meta’s guidelines. If someone’s behavior is inappropriate, you can report them. You can also set up boundaries so people can’t get too close to you.
There are Community Guides, employed by Meta, who walk around Horizon Worlds and help guide you through your Horizon Worlds experience. I listened in on a conversation others were having with one of the guides. The other users wanted to know more about him and how much money he made, which he said he couldn’t share.
And I thought it was weird when someone asked me how I could afford my Meta Quest Pro.
There were pleasant interactions, too. Many legless avatars told me information about the different worlds I was in and where to go to see a comedy show or play a game. I even played virtual beer pong with some folks, but things turned sour when my opponent said, “If I make this shot, you have to CashApp me $5.” I walked away from the game.
Horizon Worlds using the Meta Quest Pro.
Wooorld helped me see the metaverse’s potential
The major issue with the new headset is not its design, it’s the software. There aren’t enough apps that are optimized to take advantage of the Meta Quest Pro’s updates.
The app Wooorld is a perfect example of this. The point of Wooorld is exploration. You are transported by picking a landmark on a topographical map, which then shows you real photos of your surroundings. I was able to travel to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Pyramids of Egypt, and a mountain in Japan.
Egyptian Pyramid in Wooorld on Meta Quest Pro.
I can see the use case for this sort of application. Imagine being a middle school history teacher trying to explain the Great Wall of China. Taking the students right to it in virtual reality could help keep them interested.
Golden Gate Bridge on Wooorld application using Meta Quest Pro.
But the pictures are grainy and getting to different locations isn’t easy. It took me 45 minutes to figure out how to move around in Wooorld. When you make it to your desired location, you can see a 360-degree view of the landmark, but I wish you could see more, walk around and access additional information about the location.
Overall, the experience is not better than the much more affordable Meta Quest 2.
Wooorld application view of Japanese mountain.
Meditating in the metaverse
I am an avid meditator; I try to get 10 to 20 minutes of mindfulness practice every day. I typically use a guided meditation app to practice, but meditation in the real world will never be the same now that I’ve done it in the metaverse.
TRIPP is a guided virtual reality experience that fully immerses you in meditation. If you’ve ever tried meditating before, you know that quieting your thoughts is usually the most challenging part. Connecting to the present moment is easy when you are consumed by visuals and auditory instructions.
TRIPP application on the Meta Quest Pro.
In TRIPP, users are guided through breathing exercises that use visual cues to help them get into the activity. For example, when you’re inhaling and exhaling, little particles appear to virtually flow in and out of your mouth. The app also incorporates games into mindfulness. You’re tasked with using your head to direct an object that touches different coins, while simultaneously avoiding obstacles. For me, it was pretty hard to stress about my to-do list when I was trying to focus on the object of the game.
I left my meditation sessions feeling a little more connected to the present moment. I was able to better concentrate on tasks afterward without getting pointlessly lost in thought.
Productivity in the metaverse
I did not find it productive to actually work with my headset on, which is one of the main Pro headset use cases Meta promotes.
“One of the problems Meta is trying to solve is trying to help people collaborate in a hybrid environment,” Munster said.
I used an app called Immersed to project my computer screen in VR. While using Immersed you can co-work with others, write on a whiteboard, type, watch videos — essentially anything you can do on a computer.
There’s also Meta’s own Horizon Workroom, which is a VR workspace that allows you to connect, collaborate and create. The face and eye tracking make the avatar experience more lifelike, but besides that, both apps perform similarly to how they do when used on the Meta Quest 2.
Immersed application on Meta Quest Pro.
The benefit of working in the metaverse is that you remove outside distractions. Unless you have phone notifications set up, you can only see what exists on the screens in front of you. In theory, this is a great idea. I often get distracted by things going on in the environment around me, and Immersed removes the temptation to talk to people around you or pick up your phone.
But I felt disoriented. I was itching to take the headset off after a few minutes of trying to read an article. My eyes felt tired from stimulation and the headset felt too heavy to wear for more than an hour at a time. While I was able to wear the headset for longer while in Horizon Worlds, for some reason reading and typing felt more strenuous, which is why I had a hard time with work productivity in VR.
Being creative in the metaverse is a different story. I used the app Painting VR and found it really engaging and exciting to put a virtual brush to a canvas. Once you get a hang of the hand gestures, you can mix colors, experiment with different brush sizes and even press against the canvas harder to achieve a thicker line. You can display your paintings on the wall and invite friends to see your exhibition.
Painting VR on Meta Quest Pro
These experiences are not new or exclusive to the Pro. All of them can be done on the Quest 2. But everything is faster on the Pro. The visuals are sharper, and the cameras are better and portray your facial expressions in the digital world. The headset is more comfortable. The sensors are more accurate, and the battery life is better. But, besides that, you’ll play the same games and use the same applications with the much less expensive Quest 2.
Should you buy it?
I see some promising use cases for the headset, especially when it comes to education, but there’s no justification yet for buying the more expensive Pro since you currently get similar virtual reality experiences from the Quest 2.
I’m excited to see how developers can expand on the metaverse and give people access to better apps and learning opportunities that may otherwise be impossible in the real world. I can picture a surgeon practicing in the metaverse, or a celebrity holding a free virtual concert that anyone with a headset can attend. But these applications will only work if Meta improves the graphics and makes virtual reality feel much closer to actual reality.
Meta has made improvements to its headset. The software and hardware are better, but there aren’t new applications to justify the huge price hike. While I’m sure the cost of these adjustments justifies some of the price increase, consumers aren’t getting any more real value or new experiences by splurging for the much more expensive headset.
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