The company, formerly known as Facebook, announced its next-generation virtual reality headset, the Meta Quest Pro, at its Connect developer conference on Tuesday.
Meta says the device “enables the metaverse,” but new features in the Quest Pro seem to focus on more practical things, like remote work and productivity.
Quest Pro — available for pre-order today, and shipping October 25 — is also Meta’s answer to the many shortcomings and inconveniences of its previous $399 price tag. Quest 2. It’s a logical and thoughtful upgrade, but at a much higher price tag of $1,499. Pro targets a slightly different audience than Quest 2. “With Pro, we’re trying to take Quest beyond gaming and entertainment to productivity, collaboration, and creativity,” a Meta spokesperson said during a product preview last week.
Eye tracking and face tracking
The Quest Pro, unlike its predecessor, has sensors inside the headset that not only track where your eyes move, but also your facial expressions – sort of like a more advanced version of Apple’s iPhone Memoji feature. Expressions are formed.
In a product preview, a Meta engineer showed me a real-time reading inside the headset of all those places on my face that are being measured and recorded. There were probably 40 of them – some around the mouth, some around the eyes, cheeks, nose, chin, and eyebrow. The scores for each one are used to recreate the facial expressions of my avatar, which I can see in the middle of my view.
So within collaboration experiences like Meta Horizon Workrooms, coworkers can see your reactions to what’s being said. They can see when you close your eyes, and if you look at them while they are talking. This is a big step towards making virtual reality workrooms more believable and useful.
From “crossover” to mixed reality
Wearing the Pro, you rely on a pair of cameras on the front of the device to see the real world around you. The “transit” image displayed in the lenses inside the headset is a major difference between the Pro and Quest 2. The Quest 2’s transit images are a grainy black and white view of the outside world that is primarily used for safety; It lets you define the boundaries of the real world around you so you don’t crash into an end table or wall while playing Beat Saber.
The Pro uses the jumper for more than just safety, with a realistic vision that’s four times the resolution of the Quest 2. Most importantly, it’s now colourful. This enhanced transit is a cornerstone of the Pro’s approach to mixed reality – mixing real-world objects with digital scenes created inside the headset. (Another way is to make the entire front of the headset transparent, superimposing digital images both in and within the real world, as in augmented reality glasses.)
The Pro’s style of traversal might not be great for playing Pokemon Go in the park, but it might be better for attending virtual meetings in VR from your home office.
The Pro is powered by a new Qualcomm chip called Snapdragon XR2+, which Meta says is 50% more powerful than the processor in the Quest 2. Meta has teams of engineers working on its chip designs, but has apparently opted to rely on a designer with more experience. In the XR processing of the new headset.
The best hand control
Hand controllers are also getting a redesign and some new features. Gone are the plastic ring things loaded with sensors on your hands. The new controllers know exactly where they are in the room, allowing 360 degrees of movement without “dead zones,” Meta says. It also adds haptic feedback, so if you’re using it in, say, a music app where you’re playing some virtual drums, you can feel when your drums are beating.
The controllers also add a hole in the bottom for the stylus, so you can hold the thing upside down and use it as a marker on a virtual whiteboard, for example. Most importantly, the consoles are much better at letting you pick up virtual stuff. For example, I found it very easy to pick up a virtual dart between my virtual thumb and forefinger and toss it into the virtual dartboard, a task that would have been made more difficult with Quest 2 controllers.
Pro uses a more open design, allowing you to see the real world in your peripheral vision while in the virtual space. Gone are the Quest 2 diving mask style experience, which completely shut off the outside world. Meta-made accessory pieces that you can clip to the sides of the Pro to block out the light from the outside. Amazingly, it’s sold separately at $69.
At 720 grams, the new headset is actually heavier than the Quest 2, but the Meta moved the battery to the back of the headset so that the weight of the device appears more evenly distributed over your head. The design of the new headset reminds me of that of Microsoft’s Hololens 2.
Interestingly, the Quest Pro fronts in the form of a large pair of sunglasses. Where the Quest 2 looks like a white brick strapped to your face, the Pro’s reflective black interface could make the device appear more accessible to people new to VR.
Remote work experience (enhanced)
For the remote work offer, I was asked to sit at a desk in front of a laptop and put on a Pro headset. I was sitting inside the headset at a virtual desk with a digital representation of my laptop sitting on it. I could see a pair of soft gray hands in front of me, the digital version of my hand (the headset uses cameras to track your hand movements). I could see a large virtual projection screen hanging in the space right in front of me. Hanging below was a small dashboard where I could control headphone functions and order different apps and experiences. Horizon Workrooms was one of them.
Across the (virtual) table I saw a dead person that I’ll name Jordan, or rather their avatar (in virtual reality, we’ll be stuck with avatars for a while – they serve a purpose, and can be an improvement.) Because of the facial movement tracking, Jordan’s avatar felt It’s more human, and more expressive than the avatars I’ve seen with Quest 2. He laughed, raised his eyebrows, and made a funny face. The experience was more human, and gave me more information I needed about Jordan to collaborate in a more realistic way. Spatial audio technology helps, too. I could hear his voice in the headset, and it sounded like it was coming from somewhere in front of me. When I turned my face away from him it sounded like his voice was coming from behind me.
It has changed the environment around us many times. We were on a patio near the ocean in Greece. Then we were in a formal-looking conference room, then a small office room. He told me that when meetings get too big, it’s best to break them up into smaller groups, so he shows me a large virtual room with a number of smaller tables and a meeting organizer’s platform in front. Suddenly Jordan was sitting at one of the tables across the room, and I heard a faint voice speaking from there. Then he brought me to his table and was seated in front of me again.
There was also a productivity show where you can sit at your virtual desk and work. You can set up your virtual office the way you want. You can have up to three large screens in front of you. In the demo, my virtual MacBook Pro screen was projected into one of the monitors in front of me and I could control it using the trackpad on my laptop. I used another screen to meet with Jordan, and a third screen to watch a YouTube video, I may not have been able to do these things in the real world very easily, and it might actually increase my productivity.
Jordan told me that due to improved transit and room layout, it is now possible to create your virtual office in such a way that it attracts part of the outside world. Someone from Meta told me, that he put a continuous crossing window in his virtual space so he could see his son passing by his desk when he got home from school.
In my virtual office, I got up from my seat and walked a few steps behind me to a whiteboard. I turned the console in my hand upside down and used the pen to write on the board. Jordan wrote me something on a virtual sticky note and stuck it to the board. He told me the whiteboard is fixed; That is, you can come back to them after days and find them in the same place in your virtual space, and find your doodles from the last time waiting for you.
Not revolutionary, but it’s a good move
Within the mixed reality space, the Holy Grail is a pair of glasses sturdy enough to put high definition 3D images before your eyes, yet stylish enough to be worn for long periods of the day, even in public. After all the rumors, Project Cambria, now Quest Pro, wasn’t. We’re still a long way from seeing the “glasses”, and getting there will require breakthroughs in some pretty foundational technology (batteries, processors, lenses, etc.). Even so, it’s unclear whether consumers would like their PCs to be worn on their faces, or people would tolerate the risk of being noticed (and possibly tracked or recorded) by such a device worn by strangers they pass on the street.
But remote work is real. There is a real need for better technology to facilitate this better. People in some professions at some companies are already using mixed reality technology to collaborate, in some cases saving thousands of dollars on travel expenses by canceling in-person meetings. Enhanced Collaboration Experience Pro-enabled features like face tracking and virtual traffic may entice more people and businesses to try collaborating in virtual reality. For some of them, the cost of the Pro headset may be covered by canceling one in-person meeting in favor of a remote meeting.
As for the productivity component, I’m going to have to try it to believe it. I like the idea of a virtual workspace doing things my actual desk can’t, but I’m not sure how much I can tolerate wearing 720g of weight on my head for extended periods.