Unfazed by the Oculus Quest 2? Here’s how future VR headsets could beat it

This year we’re treated to a range of new virtual reality headsets that will deliver next-gen experiences thanks to their technological upgrades.

The PlayStation VR 2 complements Meta Quest Pro – released in 2022 – in providing eye-tracking that enables developers to create more immersive and ambitious software experiences; Oculus Quest 3 is believed to bring color pass-through for more realistic mixed reality experiences to Meta’s budget-friendly lineup; and we could also see the long-rumoured Apple VR headset, which will reportedly be “a laptop for your face”, with specs we can’t wait to try.

But what will the generation of VR headsets do after these? For some possible answers, we spoke to Leland Hedges, general manager of headset maker Pico’s EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region – here’s what he had to say.

Improvement of the current specifications

Hedges first suggested the headset upgrades we can expect when the Pico 5, Oculus Quest 3, and Meta Quest Pro 2 launch: more of the same, but better. With this we are talking about devices with increased computing power thanks to the latest processor generations, with higher resolution displays and with improvements in the quality of existing color passthrough and depth sensors.

We’ll also hopefully see features currently reserved only for premium models – like face and gaze tracking – being rolled out to the brands’ more budget-friendly lines (assuming it wouldn’t increase the cost too much).

We’d love to see the Quest Pro’s features in more meta headsets (Image credit: Future)

It’s not just about what’s under the hood, though, Hedges adding that “a more convenient form factor has tremendous utility for users across the enterprise and consumer space.” If you can’t stand wearing a VR headset for very long, there’s pretty much no point in upgrading the battery and giving it laptop-like processing power.

More VR content

As great as hardware upgrades are, Hedges found that you also need content, otherwise you’ve got a powerful device that can’t do all that much. And not just more games.

“Currently, VR headsets are seen as very game-centric devices. I think for VR to become ‘mainstream’ – if you want to use that word – we need to offer more types of experiences,” he told us.

READ :  Best of the Best Home Printers in 2023: Top 5 Most Recommended by Experts

That doesn’t mean Pico will be giving up gaming anytime soon – Hedges said he couldn’t go into detail about what IP Pico is developing and what partnerships it has with developers (like Ubisoft’s upcoming timed-exclusive release of Just Dance VR), but added adding that he believes VR content can go even further.

Miniature golf in space is great, but it’s not all VR is good for (Image credit: Mighty Coconut)

We’re seeing more and better VR concerts, people are watching sporting events in VR – we’re also talking about big leagues like the NBA on Meta and the FIFA World Cup on Pico – and people are training in VR. Mental health could also benefit from VR software, with Hedges noting that “people use VR experiences in exposure therapy to get closer to a spider or to be more comfortable with heights.”

We’ll just have to wait and see what kind of experiences are in the pipeline.

5G/6G connectivity

But a true next-gen device can’t simply be one that makes what came before better; We need new and exciting features, and 5G or 6G connectivity would bring a lot of utility to a VR headset.

Hedges said he doesn’t think we’ll see that anytime soon, but in the medium to long term he expects a telecom operator and an XR headset maker to come together and most likely create a “really compelling proposition” in the business-to-business business area.

Ready to swap your iPhone for a VR headset? (Image credit: Apple)

The Meta Quest Pro and Pico 4 Enterprise headsets allow employees to meet in VR in a way that is more interactive than a typical voice or video call. Just as your company might want you to have a work phone so you can take a work call from anywhere in the world, an employer might want their employees to carry around a 5G headset so they can enjoy a VR experience anywhere, anytime. Can answer call whenever.

And with devices like the rumored Apple VR headset expected to offer laptop-like capabilities, with high-end specs like Apple’s M2 chip powering many of the best MacBooks and Macs, a 5G -connection make the device feel truly portable. You can place your VR office almost anywhere you want – although until battery life improves, it needs to be somewhere close to an outlet.

READ :  Behemoth PS VR2 adventure game revealed

From a consumer perspective, wearable 5G headsets open up the possibility for more interactive multiplayer mixed reality experiences. You and your friends could meet up in a virtual park and play paintball, or sit on a virtual bench and play chess, just to choose a few possible use cases.

Modular design

Upgrades are great for our devices but not so good for our wallets. One way we could see manufacturers striking a balance between offering budget-friendly headsets and offering options that appeal to prosumers (professionals and high-end users) is to make headsets modular.

We’re already starting to see aspects of it. Hedges was keen to discuss Pico’s upcoming fitness trackers – additional bands currently in beta testing that will allow the Pico 4 to track more of the wearer’s movements. By placing these optional straps around your ankles, the headset can monitor not only your arm movements but also your leg movements, which would make the Pico 4 better for VR fitness fans (since their workouts can take their legs into account) and gamers for more immersive experiences .

HTC’s upcoming Vive XR Elite will also be modular. Its battery is detachable to make it easier for wired VR, and HTC says it will release an eye and face tracking add-on for the device in the future. If you just want the core product, you can pick it up for a seemingly reasonable $1,099/£1,299 (around AU$2,300), and you only have to pay extra for the upgrades you care about.

The Vive XR Elite’s modular design could make it a winner (Image credit: Future)

To me, this modular system sounds perfect. I recently wrote about how I love the Meta Quest Pro with its processing power upgrades over my Quest 2, but the expensive eye-tracking isn’t worth it. If I could get the Quest Pro for a cheaper price and add optional eye tracking when it becomes more useful, that would be awesome.

Subscriptions and Packages

Speaking of more affordable headsets, Hedge’s last suggestion for a next-gen upgrade related to affordability – a factor he and Pico know is one of the most important when it comes to consumer VR. As such, Hedges predicts that subscriptions and bundles will become the norm for XR device manufacturers going forward.

READ :  Improving your camping experience

We’ve seen a few VR hardware bundles over the years, but many of these have been kind of rubbish – you usually get the headset at full price, along with some add-ons you don’t need. More recently, Meta and Pico have bundled software with their hardware and offered reasonable discounts; Both companies’ Black Friday sales not only reduced the cost of the headset, but also made some of the best VR games available to users for free.

Hedges added that bundles not only make the devices more affordable but also more accessible. Users get instant access to a good mix of titles that show them what their new gadget is capable of; Once they’re done with that, they’ll have a good feel for the experiences they like and don’t like, and can then find new content based on their informed preferences.

Viveport Infinity is one of the best offerings in VR (Image credit: Vive)

Another way we might see the next iteration of headsets become more affordable is via a subscription model – similar to a phone contract or Microsoft’s Xbox All-Access deal, where the cost of buying the device is spread across multiple devices months to be distributed. Buying a product in installments rather than outright carries risks, but spreading the cost can make expensive technology more accessible.

We’re already seeing some subscription models in the VR space, but on the software side. Just like Netflix or Xbox Game Pass, HTC’s Viveport Infinity subscriptions give you access to a library of content (VR games in this case) that you can buy for a fee of $13 / £13 / AU$18 per month download and enjoy as much as you want. I’ve said before that I think Meta should adopt this type of strategy for Quest 2’s software catalog, but we’ll have to wait and see if it adopts this or any of the other ideas discussed here for its future devices.