It's challenging to determine if Meta is either pushing too hard for a world seen through a screen strapped to our faces or not pushing hard enough.
On October 10th, Meta is set to begin shipping the Quest 3, its latest virtual reality headset, priced at $499. The Quest 3 brings some expected upgrades, including a higher-resolution display and an improved processor, for the industry's best-selling VR gaming console. However, Meta is also incorporating "mixed reality" (MR) into the Quest 3, a term currently describing a video feed overlaid with digital elements displayed in a headset. While Meta's MR technology appears to be improving, it's struggling to demonstrate its value before launch.
A brief hands-on experience with the Meta Quest 3 during a briefing before the Meta Connect event provided a glimpse of what to expect. The Quest 3 is a more compact version of the Quest 2, offering enhanced screen clarity and more graphically intensive games. It features dual 2064 x 2208 pixel displays compared to the Quest 2's 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye and is powered by a second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chipset, claiming twice the graphics performance of the Quest 2's first-gen XR2.
While this chip won't rival a PC graphics card, a demo of the adventure game Red Matter 2 highlighted the visual improvements, with text legible only on the Quest 3 and props transitioning from blocky graphics to more detailed models. The Quest 3 shares its design with last year's Quest Pro controllers but without built-in cameras, which reduces power consumption and potentially eliminates the Pro controller's wake-up delay. The headset itself is expected to have a battery life of two to three hours, similar to the Quest 2, thanks to Qualcomm's second-gen XR2 chip's improved efficiency.
The Quest 3 also introduces some quality-of-life features, including a focus wheel for adjusting lens distance while wearing the headset and slimmer profile lenses with buttons for adjusting their distance from your face, catering to users wearing glasses. However, the experience during the demo was somewhat awkward.
One significant addition to the Quest 3 is mixed reality (MR), enabled by two color cameras similar to the Quest Pro. The passthrough feed offers a less grainy and more natural color balance compared to the Quest 2 and Quest Pro. The XR2 Gen 2 chip claims a 12-millisecond passthrough latency, on par with Apple's Vision Pro, depending on the camera feed's resolution.
The Quest 3 also includes a depth sensor absent from the Quest 2 and Quest Pro, enhancing the headset's ability to scan physical surroundings accurately without requiring manual boundary tracing for virtual reality mode.
However, the MR experiences demonstrated left something to be desired. While Meta has a strong history of funding and acquiring VR apps and games, the MR demos felt less compelling. Some apps were awkward and unreliable in their use of hand gestures, while others offered short and on-rails experiences.
Meta's MR pitch focuses on a virtual screen that substitutes for TVs and monitors, allowing users to place virtual objects in their real living spaces. While some may find this appealing, the current generation of headsets remains bulky and uncomfortable for extended use.
The Quest 3's price point is competitive, with the base 128GB model costing $200 more than the Quest 2, while the 512GB model is priced at $649. This makes it relatively affordable compared to the Quest Pro.
While the Quest 3 offers improvements in VR technology, its MR features are less convincing at this stage. Meta's vision for MR as the future of the Quest lineup has yet to convince many users of its value.
Certainly, here are more details about the Meta Quest 3 and its features:
- The Meta Quest 3 offers several hardware upgrades compared to its predecessor, the Quest 2. It features dual 2064 x 2208 pixel displays per eye, delivering a higher-resolution visual experience.
- The headset is powered by a second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chipset, which Meta claims can achieve graphics performance twice as fast as the Quest 2's first-gen XR2. This improved processing power allows for more graphically intensive games and applications.
Design and Comfort:
- The Quest 3 has undergone design enhancements to improve comfort and usability. It comes with a soft rubber face mask that is more wipeable and less cumbersome to clean than the foam mask of the Quest 2.
- The head strap has been redesigned to accommodate hairstyles with a Y-shaped top strap, making it easier for users with hair buns and ponytails to wear comfortably.
- The headset is available in various colors, including black, "Blood Orange," and "Elemental Blue."
- While the Quest 3 is slightly heavier than the Quest 2, it remains significantly lighter than the Quest Pro.
- The Quest 3's controllers have been redesigned, removing the LED tracking ring found on the Quest 2's controllers. Meta claims that improved tracking algorithms compensate for this change, potentially offering better tracking performance.
- The controllers still use disposable batteries, but Meta is offering a charging dock with rechargeable batteries as an option.
- The Quest 3's battery life is expected to be similar to that of the Quest 2, lasting between two to three hours of continuous use.
Mixed Reality (MR):
- One of the significant features of the Quest 3 is its incorporation of mixed reality (MR). It includes two color cameras similar to those on the Quest Pro, providing a passthrough feed that blends the real world with virtual elements.
- Meta describes the Quest 3 as the "first mainstream headset built for mixed reality." It aims to bring MR, typically a premium feature, to its midrange headset line.
- During a demo, Meta's MR technology appeared to have notable improvements. The passthrough video was less grainy than that of the Quest Pro and significantly better than the Quest 2's feed.
- Color balance in the MR feed appeared more natural, making it suitable for activities like checking a phone through the passthrough feed.
- The Quest 3 also features a depth sensor, enabling more accurate scanning of physical surroundings and eliminating the need for manual boundary tracing for VR mode.
Content and Apps:
- While Meta has a history of supporting and acquiring VR apps and games, the MR experiences demonstrated during the Quest 3 preview were somewhat underwhelming.
- Some MR apps were described as frustrating, with awkward and unreliable hand gesture interactions. Others provided short and on-rails experiences.
- The Quest 3 is competitively priced, with the base 128GB model costing $200 more than the Quest 2 and the 512GB model priced at $649. This pricing positions it as a more affordable option compared to the Quest Pro.
Mixed Reality Potential:
- Meta envisions mixed reality as a significant feature of its Quest lineup, with plans for more MR experiences and apps. This includes MR apps based on popular franchises like Ghostbusters and tabletop experiences.
- The Quest 3 is expected to offer streaming TV on a virtual screen and introduce MR widgets called "augments" that allow users to place virtual objects in their physical living spaces.
- While the Quest 3 shows promise in the realm of VR, particularly with its hardware improvements, the success of its MR features remains uncertain. Some users may find value in its MR capabilities, such as virtual screens and persistent virtual objects, while others may not see it as a compelling addition to their VR experiences.
- While the Quest 3 offers notable upgrades in terms of hardware and processing power, its MR features may still be a solution in search of a problem. The headset's bulkiness and comfort limitations could limit its appeal for extended use as a virtual screen substitute.
Please note that these details are based on a preview of the Meta Quest 3 and may be subject to further refinement and updates upon its official release.