It’s Monday, and you’re running late. You strap your Meta Quest Pro on your head, you squeeze in around the virtual wood conference table and you smirk at your boss, who isn’t pleased with your tardiness. He rolls his eyes, but you don’t take him seriously because, well, he looks like a levitating Woody from “Toy Story,” except with no cowboy hat…or legs.
When the meeting is over, you’re back in your real home office, but three giant virtual computer monitors hover in front of you. On the wall hangs a virtual whiteboard with a motivational quote: TEAMWORK!
vision of the future of work, where we all convene in the metaverse to collaborate and be productive. Oh yes, to achieve this, we all have to have the company’s new $1,500 face computer.
On Tuesday—nearly a year after renaming Facebook Inc. as Meta Platforms Inc. to signal a focus on virtual worlds—the company announced the Quest Pro. The new virtual-reality headset has substantial improvements over the $400 Quest 2 headset, which will remain on sale. It’s more comfortable. It has better display quality and new controllers. And it tracks your eyes and your face, so your avatar can now make the same funny faces you do!
But this isn’t really about fun. Unlike other companies who casually throw around the “Pro” label,
is really aiming this at professionals. The new features are for architects, engineers and designers, along with early adopters who just want to move beyond flat screens. Meta is taking orders starting Tuesday, and said the headset will begin reaching customers Oct. 25. The company will begin direct sales to businesses at a later date.
Meta is even partnering with its metaverse rival on this.
joined Mr. Zuckerberg on Tuesday at Meta’s Connect event to announce a partnership, which includes bringing Microsoft Teams and Windows 365 to Meta’s headsets.
The relationship might seem odd, given that Microsoft has its own mixed-reality HoloLens headset. Yet both companies are eager not to lose out on the next big computing operating system, given what happened with smartphones. Meta, for one, is spending big on this—$10 billion in 2021.
So, is the Quest Pro the gadget that convinces us all to migrate to the metaverse? Nope. But after spending a few hours trying out the headset, I experienced improvements that suggest this type of computer could be useful in the future.
A chief complaint of mine had been the heavy and undistributed weight of the boxy Quest 2 headset. Meta made the Quest Pro a bit smaller, and also distributed its weight better. The curved battery at the back functions as a counterweight.
Plus, this headset doesn’t look like you’ve put a box on your eyes and sealed yourself off from the entire world. Openings allow you some peripheral vision. (You can block the holes if you want—blockers sold separately.)
I won’t say these oversize ski goggles made me look any cooler. But everything I saw inside the headset sure looked better. That’s because of “pancake optics,” which are reduced in size by 40% while enhancing the visuals. Meta executives rattled off a lot of percentages—75% more contrast, 37% more pixels per inch. All I know is that in demos, things looked less pixelated and more realistic.
Inside the headset, five sensors are pointed at your face so your avatar can now mimic your expressions, including smiling, frowning and blinking. I got to try it out, and it really was like looking in the mirror (my avatar’s green skin and pink hair aside). It wouldn’t track me sticking out my tongue. That’s fortunately something I don’t plan on needing in the metaverse.
And no, during my demos, the avatars still didn’t have legs. A Meta spokeswoman had declined to comment prior to publication. At the event Tuesday, however, Mr. Zuckerberg said legs are coming soon to Horizon, the company’s VR hangout platform.
“Legs are hard, which is why other virtual-reality systems don’t have them either,” he said, explaining that the challenge is that there are no sensors looking at your lower body. The system will use AI to approximate leg position, he added.
There are certainly privacy concerns—tracking our emotions, constant facial scanning, etc.—with a headset that monitors your eye and face movements. That’s why Meta says you’ll have to turn this feature on in settings, and then for each app that uses it. If you do, the company says, the images captured during tracking “never leave your device and are deleted after processing.”
On the Quest 2, the outward-facing cameras are mostly for safety, and only show black-and-white imagery. On the Quest Pro, these cameras are in color, so it seems more realistic when you look around and even place digital objects. In the demo, I was able to set up a virtual DJ turntable in front of a real window overlooking New York City. You could see how this capability may appeal to architects and designers who want to look at 3-D models and renderings in real spaces, rather than on a big computer monitor.
Included with the headset are two new streamlined controllers with rechargeable batteries. They come with a stylus tip that attaches to the bottom. You can flip the controller around and use it as a virtual pen, writing and sketching with more precision.
What’s Not Better
The Pro’s battery only lasts between one and two hours. Yes, an untethered metaverse experience is shorter than the new “Top Gun” movie. It does come with a charging cable so you can chain yourself to a wall socket.
I was happy to see the headset also comes with a wireless charging dock, so you can just drop the headset and the controllers down to recharge. But the dock itself takes two hours to charge the headset to maximum capacity. At that rate, you might only squeeze in two decent metaverse meetings a day. OK, maybe that’s its best selling point.
The bigger issue is what to do inside the headset. During my meetings, I got to see a few app demos: In “Painting VR,” I splattered some virtual paint on a canvas and hung it on the real conference-room wall. In “Tribe XR,” a digital DJ platform, I got turntable instruction from a live DJ—fedora, yes, but still no legs. In a game called “Wooorld,” I was dropped into a 360-degree view of a random street corner and had to figure out my location. (Turns out, Niagara Falls.)
None of those apps would get me back to the metaverse daily. Which raises the same question I have about my corner-sitting, dust-gathering Quest 2: What will I want to do in this headset that I can’t on my laptop or my smartphone?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What has your VR experience been so far? Is there anything about the Meta Quest Pro that would make you drop $1,500? Join the conversation below.
As I said in my “living in the metaverse” piece, some interactive experiences, especially meetings with other avatars, really show the appeal. The Quest Pro makes it more immersive—you really feel like you’re sharing space with another person. But as more colleagues turn up in their offices, and more contacts come to town, it’s hard to think about when I’d need a really good virtual alternative.
The Quest Pro reminds me a lot of the early days of laptops and smartphones. Mixed-reality hardware is rapidly improving, and getting into the hands of developers who might soon surprise us with the killer apps.
I just think we’re going to need something a little cooler than avatars gathered around three-dimensional Excel sheets for this whole metaverse thing to take off.
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