Meta’s newest VR headset is impressive. Here’s why you probably won’t buy it

CNN business

Meta’s latest virtual reality headset, the Meta Quest Pro, is a sleek, powerful device. It can display text and fine details in VR, making it easy to read even small fonts. It can track your eyes and facial features, giving you a sense of connection with other people in virtual spaces: if you raise your eyebrows or they puff out their cheeks in real life, so do the VR avatars. And it can be used as a mixed reality headset, giving you a full-color glimpse of the world around you while allowing you to interact with digital objects—whether you’re painting on a spare easel or creating an artificial miniature golf course.

But the black headset that Meta unveiled at an online event on Tuesday may not be in your price range. At $1,500 ($1,499.99 to be exact), it costs nearly four times the price of the company’s cheapest Quest 2 headset. Its price, performance, and potential are more geared towards businesses – think architects and designers – with pockets deep enough to shell out the headset, and some creative and die-hard VR users.

Buyers can pre-order the Quest Pro starting Tuesday and it will ship on October 25th. It can be purchased online directly from Meta, and in the United States it can also be purchased in Best Buy stores through Best Buy’s website. and via Amazon.

Meta's newest VR headset, the Quest Pro, is aimed at business users and costs $1500.

The Quest Pro’s capabilities mark a major milestone for Meta (and for CEO Mark Zuckerberg), which has invested years and billions of dollars to steer toward a future where it believes people are spending increasing amounts of time in virtual spaces and will mix digital elements with the real world. The company’s VR unit, Reality Labs, is still tiny and expensive compared to its core business of selling ads on Facebook and Instagram: Meta said it made $2.8 billion in the second quarter of this year because of Reality Labs – Lost dollars.

It’s also a major shift in strategy, showing the company is now rolling out its best VR technology to business customers in hopes they’ll want to use VR and mixed reality apps at work. It’s a plan that could be lucrative, although it risks alienating its consumer VR business (the company plans to have two Quest product lines from now on, and use the higher-end one to decide which features to add cheaper ones should be added).

This shift can unsettle companies like Microsoft and Magic Leap, which have been working for years to convince enterprise users that their more expensive mixed reality headsets represent the future of work. (Microsoft, maker of the mixed-reality headset HoloLens, appears to be hedging its bets by bringing its software to Quest Pro and Quest 2, in a partnership announced Tuesday at Meta’s Connect event, centered on the latest advances in virtual reality and related technologies.)

And it’s not clear if — or how — this powerful device will help Meta popularize the so-called Metaverse, which Zuckerberg believes so strongly that he renamed Facebook Meta in 2021. Meta is a consumer leader in the emerging market for VR headsets -Geared Quest 2 headset, but that market is still tiny compared to, for example, console games.

I spent several hours with the Quest Pro at a meta office near San Francisco last week and was both impressed and amazed. It quickly became clear that it wasn’t going to be a mainstream headset – a decision that will frustrate some Quest 2 owners waiting to upgrade to the two-year-old headset. Still, it offers a glimpse of what VR and mixed reality experiences could look like in the years to come: better looking, more fun, and increasingly intuitive.

The Quest Pro looks significantly different than the Quest 2, as Meta took the battery pack out of the main body of the headset, bent it, and moved it behind the wearer’s head. This, plus a dial on the back of the headband that lets you adjust it with precision (making it much easier for those of us who wear glasses to keep them in VR), gives it a layout reminiscent of HoloLens 2 remembered. The dial also makes it easier to put on and take off the headset, especially if you have long hair.

Unfortunately, this new layout may make some people find it less comfortable to wear, especially for long periods of time. With the increased weight behind my head and only one knob to adjust the single strap around my noggin, I had to keep adjusting it slightly. I wore several identical headsets over the course of about two hours; After six different demos ranging from virtual painting to DJing, I left with a headache.

The Quest Pro comes with a charging dock that can power the headset and controllers.

One of the most notable new features of the Quest Pro is its ability to track the wearer’s eyes and face – something that can make people feel more present when interacting with other avatars in virtual spaces. To do this, the headset uses five infrared sensors to capture details, e.g. B. where you look and whether you sneer, frown, or raise an eyebrow. This tracking is disabled by default; Meta also said it processes eye and face images on the headset and then deletes them, and will do so even for developers adding this tracking to their apps.

I tried out this new tracking while playing around with a demo of a green-faced alien character named Aura that meta developers are providing to get a feel for how it works. With the Quest Pro on my head, I could smile, sneer, wink, squint, wiggle my nose, and so on while Aura did the same in real time (sadly, there’s no tongue tracking). The responsiveness and specificity of Aura’s facial expressions was impressive, even at this early stage.

This kind of pursuit feels like a step in the direction of what Zuckerberg promised after he was criticized online in August for a Facebook post featuring a picture of his blocky, cartoonish avatar on Meta’s flagship social app Horizon Worlds . Upon its release, Quest Pro users will be able to use it in that app and Horizon Workrooms, Meta said, as well as several developer apps like painting app Painting VR and DJ app Tribe XR.

The headset is also more of a mixed reality headset than a VR headset, as it’s not designed to constantly block all ambient light. This is a big departure from Meta’s previous focus on immersive VR, where your physical environment was typically more of a hindrance than an advantage. Meta includes magnetic light-blocking panels that can be attached to the sides to block out more light, and starting in late November it will also be selling a $50 accessory designed to completely block ambient light.

Letting in ambient light is part of the company’s effort to make headset wearers feel like they’re in touch with their physical surroundings. To build on that, the Quest Pro uses outward-facing cameras on the headset so you can see your surroundings in color (rather than black and white like the Quest 2), and continues Meta’s recent push at getting apps to interact with the real ones World.

The Quest Pro headset has sensors that can track your eyes and facial expressions.

This was shown during a demo where I used Painting VR to paint on a virtual canvas and move around a real space set up with a virtual brush and tool stand on one side of the canvas and a shelf of paint cans on the canvas and miscellaneous . I was able to mix paints, grab brushes, and apply my finished (and admittedly horrible) painting to the actual wall behind me while seeing what was happening around me and getting advice from the app’s developer.

The hand controllers that ship with the Quest Pro will play an important role in both VR and mixed reality apps, and they’ve been vastly improved over those that come with the Quest 2. Now, instead of relying on the headset to help determine where the controllers are in space, each controller includes three sensors to help shoulder the load. That means they can track 360-degree movements, which should make for smoother and better hand and arm tracking in all types of apps. (Unfortunately, they won’t track your legs in VR, but Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that Meta will use AI to bring full-body avatars to Horizon Worlds at some point in the future.)

A pressure sensor on each controller allows for more precise movements than the current Quest 2 controllers. I tried this out with a demo where I could pick up and throw around various small objects like a teacup, blocks, and a garden gnome. I found that if I lifted the teacup carefully, especially by the handle, I wouldn’t damage it; However, when I grabbed it, I crushed it (I crushed it most of the time).

The things the Quest Pro and those controllers can do without connecting to a powerful computer or setting up a bunch of external sensors seemed impossibly far off when then-Facebook bought VR headset maker Oculus in 2014. Back then, most people didn’t even consider VR a mass-market technology; Eight years and billions of dollars later, we know and expect more. The headset may deliver technologically, but whether it’s worth the price is up to Meta’s customers to decide.