The Meta Quest Pro is a cutting-edge headset looking for an audience

A picture of the Meta Quest Pro VR headset
The Meta Quest Pro | Photo by Alex Heath / The Verge

Meta’s new high-end headset introduces eye tracking and mixed reality for $1,499

The first thing I notice with the Meta Quest Pro is the fit. Even after eight years, Meta’s (formerly Facebook’s) virtual reality headsets are typically bulky, front-heavy affairs. But the Quest Pro rests around my head easily, with its battery shifted to a back mount and its electronics pared down to a lighter layer over my face. Though it’s bigger than your typical pair of glasses or even your typical ski mask, it’s a major step forward for the biggest VR headset maker around.

It’s clear where that step is going, but for now, I’m less sure where it’s landed. The Quest Pro is a $1,499 variation on the $399 Meta Quest 2, improving on that headset in several ways — from better ergonomics to an upgraded processor. It adds eye tracking and a high-resolution color video feed that blurs the conventional line between virtual and augmented reality. In theory, the Quest Pro primes Meta to enter a professional-oriented VR market that has, so far, been an afterthought for the Quest.

“This is the highest-end VR device — for enthusiasts, the prosumer, the sort of people who are trying to get work done,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge and a small group of reporters during a recent demo at the company’s research division in Redmond, Washington. Meta will continue selling the Quest 2, putting the Quest Pro in a separate high-end category.

In practice, the Meta Quest Pro seems a bit like a very sophisticated development kit, more geared toward testing next-gen technology than filling specific needs. Maybe I’ll feel differently when the headset ships on October 25th. But it’s not clear how strong a case Meta will make for a $1,500 device whose pragmatic benefits for many businesses remain debatable. And there’s one major downgrade from the Quest 2: a hit to battery life that could make the Quest Pro less attractive for some of the customers it’s meant to reach.

A picture of the Meta Quest Pro headset. Photo by Adi Robertson / The Verge
The Quest Pro has a dramatically thinner lens system than the Quest 2, plus more peripheral vision.

Meta has long ceded the high end of VR to companies like HTC, Varjo, and Valve, but the Quest Pro changes that. The headset bumps the Meta Quest 2’s internal specs: there’s a Snapdragon XR2-Plus processor instead of the Quest 2’s XR2, 12GB instead of 6GB of memory, and 256GB of storage instead of 128GB and 256GB models. It weighs 722 grams to the Quest 2’s 503 grams, but it’s far better balanced. (It’s also not far from the Quest 2’s weight with an optional Elite Strap, which adds an extra 173 grams or more.) Its screens offer a respectable 1800 x 1920 pixels per eye with a maximum 90Hz refresh rate, plus new display tech that Meta says offers 75 percent more contrast than the Quest 2’s. Other headsets can beat the Quest Pro on specific features, like the wired Varjo headset’s extraordinarily high-definition screen. But the combination of better baseline specs and specialized new features pushes it out of the Quest 2’s squarely midrange comfort zone.

The Quest Pro shows off Meta Reality Labs’ typically thoughtful industrial design, as well as some idiosyncratic new features. The headset lets you choose how much light it blocks out — by default, you’ll get a little peripheral vision and a lot of space underneath your eyes, but you can magnetically fit rubber blinders to each side or use a similarly magnetic full-face ring for more VR immersion.

Meta has also replaced its old Touch controllers with a new design. They use the same familiar layout, and both the Quest Pro and its controllers are backward-compatible with all Quest 2 titles — you can buy a set of the controllers for $299 and use them with the Quest 2, too. But they’re no longer topped by a thick ring of LEDs. Instead, you’ll find a set of outward-facing tracking cameras like those on the headset itself, similar to Magic Leap’s latest controllers. This means they won’t lose tracking if they slip outside the range of the headset’s cameras. You can even hold them upside-down, replace the wrist strap at the bottom with a tiny stylus nub, and place them against a hard surface to draw in VR with the resistance of a real wall or table. (Incidentally, given all the detachable parts I’ve just mentioned, you might want to invest in a box for accessories — that stylus is just begging to get lost in a desk drawer.)

A picture of the Meta Quest Pro controller from the top Photo by Adi Robertson / The Verge
That little camera on top (plus more on the sides) replaces the old LED tracking rings.
A picture of the underside of the Quest Pro controllers, showing charging point and stylus accessory. Photo by Adi Robertson / The Verge
Flip the controller over, and you’ll see more cameras, the charging point, and an optional stylus attachment.

The controllers also no longer chew through disposable batteries, which have been replaced with built-in rechargeables. Meta once told me it resisted that change because plugging the controllers in to charge them seemed too awkward. Now, it’s fixed the issue with a charging dock the size of a small plate, which holds both the headset and the chargers while you’re not using them. Like the Meta Quest 2, you can still plug the headset in with a USB-C port on the side and use it while it’s charging, and it supports hand tracking, so you probably won’t be using those controllers all the time.

The Quest Pro returns a much-loved feature from Meta’s original Oculus Rift: the free-sliding lenses that you can change to match the width between your eyes (aka your interpupillary distance, or IPD). It’s a little less convenient than the Rift — you have to reach in and slide the lenses themselves to focus instead of using a lever at the bottom — but it’s complemented with a digital scale that tells you the precise IPD.

In fact, the entire fit process has gotten an upgrade. Meta has finally ditched the velcro straps from its previous headsets, using a design reminiscent of the Elite Strap that tightens with a wheel. There’s no top strap supporting its weight, but in a roughly 90-minute set of demo sessions with the device, it was light enough I didn’t notice any problems.

The eye tracking lets the Quest Pro actually supervise your headset’s fit. A calibration process directs you to tilt the headset or adjust the focus in tiny gradations until your eyes are perfectly centered. This seemed a little persnickety in my demo, at one point insisting that I had miscalibrated a headset that felt just fine. But you can dismiss its demands, and in general, they seemed like a helpful addition to the headset, especially for casual users.

Those inward-facing cameras, meanwhile, open up a range of new possibilities. As Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously noted, they let the headset detect many of your facial expressions, mirroring them on an avatar that can blink, grin, raise its eyebrows, and wrinkle its nose just like you. (It doesn’t detect some more subtle quirks like tongue motion or lip biting — I’d never noticed before how many of my expressions involve that!) The cameras finally realize the dream of full-foveated rendering that sharpens images just where you’re looking, a feature that will also be in Sony’s PlayStation VR2.

I’ve never liked passthrough AR as much as some people — I’m just not sure it will ever feel as real as seeing the world firsthand. But from my limited experience, the Quest Pro makes good use of it. The upgraded screen makes it easy to see your surroundings, and the color cameras provide a functional facsimile of real space. It’s nice if you want to use a mostly virtual experience without losing all situational awareness, particularly in things like Horizon Workrooms, which gives you virtual screens and whiteboards for a home office.

Yet, based on my early experience, the Quest Pro’s biggest selling point may be simply having a comfort level that Meta’s previous Quest headsets have never managed. That’s often hard to tell from demos, so I can’t render a verdict yet, but I feel pretty confident saying it beats its cheaper predecessor.

The front of the Oculus Quest Pro headset. Photo by Alex Heath / The Verge
New color cameras pass video through to the screen.

All these advantages come with one big cost: the Meta Quest Pro’s battery life sounds very bad. I was told the headset would last between one and two hours on a single charge, then take around two hours to recharge, either on the dock or with a cable. (My demo was held at a series of separate stations with multiple Quest Pros, so I didn’t experience the limits firsthand.) That’s a little more than half the time you’d get with a Quest 2, which lasts two to three hours. The back-mounted battery isn’t easily removable like the Vive Focus 3’s, so you can’t just swap it out and keep going.

This narrows the Quest Pro’s flexibility as an enterprise device. HTC, Magic Leap, and other enterprise companies tend to emphasize how long their products will last — offering either comparatively long-lasting batteries or swappable ones. You can plug the Quest Pro headset in if you’re sitting at a desk using Workrooms, but a lot of business VR and AR involves walking around physical space, and the Quest Pro might only allow that for limited stretches.

Meta has inked deals with Microsoft, Accenture, and other companies to promote the Quest Pro as a simulation training device, a 3D design tool, or a virtual meeting room, among other uses. But I don’t have a great sense of its value there because my experiences mainly involved casual games and pure tech demos. There was an updated Toybox play space with (admittedly impressive) versions of Operation and Jenga. A painting tool filled a real-world room with brushes and an easel and let me somewhat clumsily trace over a copy of Starry Night, performing the very important task of reminding me that I am no Vincent van Gogh. A virtual avatar showcased facial expressions.

The inside of the Meta Quest Pro, showing its lenses and internal tracking Photo by Alex Heath / The Verge
Inward-facing cameras track the motion of your eyes and face.

These demos were a lot of fun, including third-party virtual travel app Wooorld (no relation to the Funomena game Woorld) and mixed reality creative sandbox Figmin XR. But besides Meta’s own Horizon Workrooms, only one — a complex virtual DJ tool from Tribe XR — had professional applications. And Horizon Workrooms still doesn’t feel like a viable virtual office. Even the Quest Pro’s admirably clear screens make the small text on pages like Google Search a little fuzzy, and despite that new wide-ranging Microsoft partnership, my virtual screens crashed every time I tried to use PowerPoint.

I certainly believe some businesses will use the Quest Pro, and its Microsoft partnership will apparently offer vital enterprise features like mobile device management. My initial impression, though, is that Meta might find the greatest value in letting developers play around with new tech, not pushing a full-fledged professional ecosystem similar to HTC’s or Magic Leap’s — something that often involves making hardware compromises to focus on the features businesses need right now.

A picture of the Meta Quest Pro’s charging plate with controllers Photo by Alex Heath / The Verge
The charging plate doubles as a stand for your controllers and headset.

The whole situation suggests that Meta is taking breakthroughs like passthrough AR and eye tracking out for an early spin, trying to see what people do with them before they come down in price enough to integrate into a cheaper product. In the long term, expression tracking will be great for jaunts into social VR universes, a svelter stylus tool could be good for high-end art applications, and a more powerful processor will beef up the graphics on VR games. Battery life could be a temporary compromise that gets ironed out in a Quest 2 or second-generation Quest Pro.

Meta might also be trying to get ahead of Apple, which is reportedly planning a VR / AR headset distinctly similar to the Quest Pro. Apple makes the devices many people use for work already, which gives it a leg up in bringing that productivity into a headset. It’s got a long history of building full-fledged operating systems, while Meta is still relying on an Android-based OS while it works on its own alternative. It has a lot to gain from winning over developers first.

The Quest lineup isn’t Meta’s only mixed reality initiative. Zuckerberg groups its Reality Labs work into four categories: “metaverse” platforms like Horizon and then VR, AR, and neural interface hardware. So far, however, VR is the only one to make a real (if small) consumer impact — and whether or not it gains a real user base, the Quest Pro seems like a practice run for whatever is coming next.

Additional reporting by Alex Heath.



Source: The Verge

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