Meta's next headset should be a lot less expensive than Apple's, and is arriving this year. Could it have an edge?
This has been a big year for new VR headsets: the PlayStation VR 2 and Vive XR Elite are already here, and Apple's mixed reality headset should be announced in a matter of weeks. The biggest product of all of them, however, could be the Meta Quest 3.
Meta's sequel to the most popular VR headset in the world right now will be a 2023 product, and Meta's Mark Zuckerberg has already confirmed it will be priced similarly to the Quest 2. That should mean it'll be a far more affordable headset than what Apple is readying.
Will it also be the best? Here's what we expect.
Meta's work-focused Quest Pro headset that debuted last fall was a misfire, starting at $1,500 and now reduced to $1,000. Meta's Quest 3 should fall in line with the $400 price of the Quest 2 headset (although that's an increase from the Quest 2's original price of $300). Although considering it will likely have better performance and features, it could end up being a little more expensive.
That price would be less than the PlayStation VR 2, which also needs a PlayStation 5 to work. And it would likely be thousands of dollars less than what the Apple headset is expected to cost, which many industry watchers are pinning at $3000.
The future of VR is already moving towards mixed reality, blending VR with real-world surroundings using passthrough cameras projecting real-time footage in-headset. The Quest Pro and Vive XR Elite already do it, and Apple's headset is expected to do the same.
The Quest 3 should have color passthrough cameras, much like the Quest Pro, Vive XR Elite and Pico 4 do. The Quest 2 has only a basic monochrome passthrough camera. The Quest 3 could also have better depth sensing capabilities, either through improved on-headset sensors or computer vision algorithms. Meta's selection of mixed reality apps is pretty bare right now, but a mainstream Quest 3 that also taps into the possibilities could spark a lot more apps and games.
VR/AR YouTuber Bradley Lynch detailed a bunch of Quest 3 features last year based on leaks from Meta, which details a lot of what to expect: a depth sensor is planned to be onboard.
Eye tracking may be left out. The Quest Pro has eye tracking and face tracking, which can be turned off in settings and isn't used for all apps. The PlayStation VR 2 uses eye tracking frequently to optimize graphics performance, but it's also tethered to the PS5, and doesn't have to deal with battery drain concerns. The Quest 3 might skip the feature to save on cost, or perhaps because Meta isn't ready to deal with the privacy ramifications yet.
A new processor is expected, though. The aging Snapdragon XR2 chip could get a true follow-up (reports say it'll be a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2), improving graphics and speed for the new headset, and maybe battery performance as well. Qualcomm already has a multi-year partnership with Meta, unveiling new XR chips that will roll out to other devices in the future. This could be the debut of a new chip, much like the XR2 was for the Quest 2.
Storage sizes and RAM might be upgraded as well, according to Lynch's report from last year, with a 512GB storage option finally becoming available.
Meta's improved "pancake optics" lenses for the Quest Pro slimmed down the front of the VR headset versus the Quest 2, with a clearer lens to boot. The Pico 4 headset, another affordable Quest 2-range VR headset, added pancake optics last year. The Quest 3 should get this upgrade too, adding up to a much smaller headset size than the Quest 2.
Smaller could mean more portable. Will new cases and accessories emphasize this? Being able to take a Quest 3 on trips more easily would be a big advantage. HTC's Vive XR Elite folds down into the size of a pair of (big) glasses, with an optional tube-shaped carry case.
Meta updated its controllers with the Quest Pro, adding cameras for better tracking consistency and shrinking down the size. These controllers are currently an expensive upgrade for Quest 2 owners, they sell for $300 separately, but would Meta include them with the Quest 3? Or could they still be optional upgrades?
Another possibility could be another redesigned set of controllers. Meta doesn't seem ready to get rid of controllers completely for the Quest, although that seems to be the long-term strategy as hand tracking continues to improve.
Lynch also showed leaked looks at the headset last year that suggested the Quest 3 might charge in the current Quest Pro dock.
Meta's experiments in work and social apps – aka, the metaverse – haven't taken off, which means gaming is still the biggest use for the Quest 2 (along with fitness). Meta's upcoming games showcase on June 1 is emphasizing that the Quest 2 is, first and foremost, a game console.
With an expected fall debut, the Quest 3 will likely be positioned again as a game console with a lot of potential fitness, work and social benefits. It's Meta's safest bet, and with its expected console-level price, not an absurd proposition in a year where there aren't expected to be any other new game console debuts to compete with.
The Quest 3's bigger mixed reality focus, and its lower price than the Quest Pro, should finally trigger a wave of new apps that aim to use mixed reality more often. It's the Quest 3's biggest new feature, and with Apple likely to show off mixed reality quite a bit as well, it might mean developers are finally going to think in a more AR-like mindset. It's Meta's biggest opportunity to try to advance the Quest experience beyond its VR-minded status.
At this point, the fall isn't far away. The Quest 3 looks like it'll be the best Meta VR headset, and could be one of the best options for its price when it arrives. Anyone looking for a headset right now should hold off and see what's coming, especially with both this and Apple's headset on the horizon.