For $1,499, Meta’s new high-end headset comes with eye tracking and mixed reality.
The new high-end headset from Meta costs $1,499 and has eye tracking and mixed reality.
The fit is the first thing I noticed about the Meta Quest Pro. Even after eight years, Meta’s (formerly Facebook’s) virtual reality headsets are usually big and heavy in the front. But the Quest Pro easily fits around my head. The battery is now on the back, and the electronics have been cut down to a lighter layer that goes over my face. Even though it’s bigger than your average pair of glasses or ski mask, it’s a big step forward for the company that makes the most VR headsets.
It’s easy to see where that step is going, but I’m not sure where it’s at right now. The Meta Quest 2 costs $399. The Quest Pro costs $1,499 and is a $1,499 version of the Meta Quest 2. It is better than the Meta Quest 2 in many ways, including better ergonomics and a faster processor. It adds eye tracking and a high-resolution colour video feed, which makes the line between virtual reality and augmented reality less clear than usual. In theory, the Quest Pro will make it easier for Meta to get into the professional VR market, which has been an afterthought for the Quest so far.
A small group of reporters during a recent demo at the company’s research division in Redmond, Washington, said that this is the highest-end VR device for enthusiasts, prosumers, and people who are trying to get work done. Meta will keep selling the Quest 2 and put the Quest Pro in a high-end category of its own.
In practice, the Meta Quest Pro seems more like a high-tech development kit for testing next-generation technology than a solution to a specific problem. When the headset comes out on October 25, I might feel differently. But it’s not clear how strong of a case Meta will make for a $1,500 device whose practical benefits for many businesses are still up for debate. One big change from the Quest 2 is that the battery life has gotten worse, which could make the Quest Pro less appealing to some of the people it’s made for.
The Quest Pro gives high-end VR to HTC, Varjo, and Valve for a long time, but the Quest Pro changes that. The headset has better internal specs than the Meta Quest 2. It has a Snapdragon XR2-Plus processor instead of the Quest 2’s Snapdragon XR2, 12GB of memory instead of 6GB, and 256GB of storage instead of the 128GB and 256GB models. The Quest 2 is 722 grams lighter, but this one is much better balanced. (It’s also close to the weight of the Quest 2 when an optional Elite Strap, which adds 173 grams or more, is used.) Its screens have a good 1800 x 1920 resolution per eye and a maximum refresh rate of 90Hz. They also use new display technology that Meta says gives them 75% more contrast than the Quest 2’s. Some features of other headsets, like the wired Varjo’s very high-definition screen, are better than the Quest Pro. But because it has better base specs and more specialised new features, it moves out of the Quest 2’s comfort zone, which is firmly in the middle of the market.
There are cameras on every part of this thing.
The Quest Pro has some new features that aren’t like anything else Meta Reality Labs has made before. It also has a design that is typical of the company. You can choose how much light the headset blocks out. By default, you’ll have a little peripheral vision and a lot of space under your eyes, but you can magnetically attach rubber blinders to each side or a magnetic full-face ring for more VR immersion.
Meta has also changed the way its old touch controllers look. They have the same familiar layout, and both the Quest Pro and its controllers work with all Quest 2 games. A set of the controllers costs $299 and can also be used with the Quest 2. But they no longer have a thick ring of LEDs on top of them. Instead, you’ll find a set of tracking cameras that look outward, just like the ones on the headset itself and the latest Magic Leap controllers. This means that if they move out of range of the headset’s cameras, they won’t lose track of them. To sketch in virtual reality with the same resistance as a real wall or table, you can even hold them upside down and swap the wrist strap at the bottom for a tiny stylus nub. (Since I just told you about all the parts that come off, you might want to buy an accessory box. (That stylus is begging to get lost in a desk drawer.)
Also, the controllers no longer eat up disposable batteries because they now have rechargeable ones built in. Meta once told me that it didn’t want to make that change because plugging in the controllers to charge them seemed like too much trouble. Now, the problem has been fixed with a small plate-sized charging dock that holds both the headset and the chargers when you’re not using them. Like the Meta Quest 2, the headset has a USB-C port on the side, so you can plug it in and use it while it’s charging. It also has hand tracking, so you probably won’t use the controllers all the time.
The Quest Pro brings back a popular feature from Meta’s first Oculus Rift: lenses that can be moved to fit the distance between your eyes (aka your interpapillary distance, or IPD). It’s a little less convenient than the Rift because you have to reach in and move the lenses themselves to focus instead of using a lever at the bottom, but it comes with a digital scale that tells you the exact IPD.
In fact, the whole fitting process has been made better. The Meta has finally gotten rid of the Velcro straps on its old headsets and replaced them with a wheel-tightening system like the Elite Strap. It doesn’t have a top strap to support its weight, but when I tried it out for about 90 minutes, it was light enough that I didn’t notice any problems.
Because it can track your eyes, the Quest Pro can actually check how well your headset fits. During the calibration process, you will be told to tilt the headset or make small changes to the focus until your eyes are perfectly in the middle. During my demo, this seemed a bit picky, as it told me at one point that I had miscalibrated a headset that felt fine. You can ignore its requests, though, and in general, they seem like a good addition to the headset, especially for people who don’t use it often.
It’s a little strange to see your face in an avatar.
The cameras that look inward, on the other hand, make a lot of new things possible. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, has said that they let the headset read many of your facial expressions and make an avatar that can do the same things as you, like blink, smile, raise its eyebrows, and wrinkle its nose. It doesn’t pick up on some of my more subtle habits, like moving my tongue or biting my lips. I never knew how many of my expressions were like that. The cameras finally make the dream of full-foveated rendering come true, which sharpens images right where you look. Sony’s PlayStation VR2 will also have this feature.
I’ve never liked passthrough augmented reality as much as some people do. I just don’t think it will ever feel as real as actually being there. But from what little I know, the Quest Pro seems to use it well. The new screen makes it easy to see what’s going on around you, and the colour cameras make it feel like you’re in real space. It’s nice if you want to use a mostly virtual experience without losing track of what’s going on, especially with things like Horizon Workrooms, which gives you virtual screens and whiteboards for a home office.
But from what I’ve seen so far, the Quest Pro’s biggest selling point may be that it’s more comfortable than any of Meta’s other Quest headsets. It’s hard to tell from demos, so I can’t give a verdict just yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s better than the cheaper version.
All of these benefits come with a big drawback: the Meta Quest Pro sounds like it has a very short battery life. I was told that the headset would last between one and two hours on a single charge and that it would take about two hours to charge, either in the dock or with a cable. (My demo took place at a number of different stations with several Quest Pros, so I didn’t get to see the limits for myself.) That’s a little more than half of how long a Quest 2 would take, which is between two and three hours. The battery on the back isn’t as easy to take out as the one on the Vive Focus 3, so you can’t just swap it out and keep going.
You could still be hooked up to your workstation.
This makes the Quest Pro less useful as a business device. HTC, Magic Leap, and other companies like to emphasize how long their products will last by creating batteries that last a long time or can be swapped out.If you’re sitting at a desk and using Workrooms, you can plug in the Quest Pro headset. However, a lot of business VR and AR involve walking around in real space, which the Quest Pro might not let you do for long periods of time.
Meta has made deals with Microsoft, Accenture, and other companies to promote the Quest Pro as, among other things, a training device for simulations, a 3D design tool, and a virtual meeting room. But I don’t know much about its worth because I’ve mostly only played casual games and tech demos. There was an updated toybox play area with versions of Operation and Jenga that were, to be fair, pretty cool. A painting tool put brushes and an easel in a real room and let me trace over a copy of “Starry Night” in a clumsy way. This was a very important way to show me that I am not Vincent van Gogh. A virtual avatar showed how its face changed.
These demos were a lot of fun, especially the third-party virtual travel app Wooorld and the mixed reality creative sandbox Figmin XR. But only one, a complex virtual DJ tool from Tribe XR, had professional uses besides Meta’s own Horizon Workrooms. And Horizon Workrooms still doesn’t feel like a good virtual office. Even though the Quest Pro’s screens are very clear, the small text on pages like Google Search is a little hard to read, and despite Microsoft’s new partnership with a wide range of companies, my virtual screens kept crashing whenever I tried to use PowerPoint.
I’m sure that some businesses will use the Quest Pro, and its partnership with Microsoft looks like it will give businesses important features like mobile device management. My first thought is that Meta might find the most value in letting developers play around with new tech instead of pushing a full-fledged professional ecosystem like HTC’s or Magic Leap’s, which often means making hardware sacrifices to focus on the features businesses need right now.
All of this makes it seem like Meta is testing out new technologies like passthrough AR and eye tracking early to see what people do with them before they get cheap enough to be used in cheaper products. In the long run, expression tracking will be great for trips into social VR universes, a slimmer stylus tool could be good for high-end art applications, and a more powerful processor will improve the graphics of VR games. The battery life could be a temporary trade-off that gets fixed in a Quest 2 or a Quest Pro with a second generation.
Meta could also be trying to beat Apple, which is said to be working on a VR/AR headset that looks a lot like the Quest Pro. Apple already makes a lot of the devices that people use at work, which gives it an advantage when it comes to putting that kind of productivity into a headset. It has been making full-fledged operating systems for a long time, while Meta is still using an OS based on Android while it works on its own. It has a lot to gain by first gaining the support of developers.
Meta is working on more than just the Quest series. Zuckerberg divides the work done by Reality Labs into four groups: “metaverse” platforms like Horizon, VR, AR, and neural interface hardware. So far, though, VR is the only one that has had a real (if small) effect on consumers, and the Quest Pro seems like a test run for whatever comes next, whether or not it gets a real user base.