X
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

My Life With the Meta Quest 3: The Best VR Headset for the Moment

No need to upgrade yet, but this is clearly the best you can get for $500 (even if it's not perfect).

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
11 min read

As I walk around my living room, I'm shooting little aliens popping out from my sofa. Like, from behind it. And also through the walls. I fire shots that break through parts of my home and show an alien landscape beyond. A little spaceship is plopped on my carpet. And meanwhile, my wife is reading, unaware she's in the middle of an alien onslaught.

This could be your home, too: The Meta Quest 3 headset blends virtual reality and camera video of your everyday world to create mixed reality. It's a trick many headsets will soon do, including Apple's Vision Pro. But Apple's headset will cost $3,499. This costs $500.

I can't help but smile. Back in 2018, this experience is the stuff Magic Leap dreamed of with its own augmented-reality glasses. But this isn't a development kit. Now families can have this in their homes. I see kids wreaking chaos in living rooms everywhere.

Watch this: Meta Quest 3 Review: Great Upgrades, but We Need More New Apps

But the Quest 3 is still very much a VR headset, just like the Quest 2. Better, sure, but is it something you're ready or able to upgrade to? I've lived in tons of VR headsets over the years, and my brief time so far with the Quest 3 tells me it's the best VR I've tried at this price. But for you, the equation might be different.

Iterative upgrades are hard. Do you stick with what you have, or do you take a plunge and get this one? The world of VR headsets used to feel strange and new, but now a lot of families I know have the Quest 2 in their homes. Meta -- aka Facebook -- found a way to turn VR into a Nintendo Switch-like gaming console. Mission accomplished. The Quest 2 has been our favorite and most affordable VR headset since 2020.

The Quest 3 improves on it a lot: better graphics, a wider and higher-resolution display, clearer lenses, smaller controllers with better-vibrating haptics and, yes, mixed reality. But its software, so far, isn't all that different, except for a handful of apps and games.

My gut feeling: You'll be fine with your Quest 2 for now, but by the middle of next year, the Quest 3 could be a lot more interesting. How interesting depends on how many apps and games Meta can rustle up and how far it evolves VR.

Scott Stein wearing the Quest 3, plus a mask

You'll still look like a person with a VR headset on. But this time, there's a greater chance you'll see whoever's looking at you.

John Kim/CNET

Mixed reality: An explosion of cameras

If you own a Quest 2, you can already do some mixed reality with its low-quality black-and-white cameras: a play border around your room or mapping a VR desk on top of your real one. The Quest 3 has much better color cameras, plus a depth sensor akin to the lidar sensor in the iPhone and iPad. It can scan a room and detect walls and ceilings and furniture, and layer a meshlike grid to map the dimensions of a whole space (or multiple spaces) to use as play areas, and then layer VR graphics on top of what the cameras see.

The results vary. The color cameras are better than those on the Quest 2 and even Meta's pricier Quest Pro (a headset that, other than having eye tracking, is now irrelevant). But they aren't as good as what I saw during the Apple Vision Pro headset demo I had earlier this year. They're good enough to see around you and even read stuff on your phone or watch with a bit of squinting.

The Quest 3 is the first VR headset to have a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chipset, which upgrades graphics, adds better camera support for mixed reality and turbocharges performance in general. It's promising hardware, though right now it's hard to tell how good it can be.

The mixed-reality effect of layering in graphics works well enough to be convincing, but it's far from perfect. Virtual things can run "behind" recognized objects and furniture that have been meshed, but sometimes they overlap weirdly. You also need lots of space (and clean walls) to make mixed-reality effects look totally convincing. I had to settle for zombies sort of moving through sofas and TVs and bookshelves.

A VR headset, the Quest 3, on a yellow table

The Quest 3's front camera/sensors are iconic. There are also two cameras in the lower corners, too.

Scott Stein/CNET

That said, mixed reality can be forgiving of messy spaces. You can scan any size space as a play area and simply set up mixed reality to navigate around the messy bits, as I did in my living room. I didn't worry about accidents, since I could see everything better through the headset.

What is it used for, though? Ah, there's the question. Right now there are a few fun but gimmicky games with mixed-reality modes, where things basically look like they're in your room with you. There are creative apps, some of them still optimized for the less mixed reality-capable Quest Pro, that float creative work or design in your own space. Painting VR, for example, works with a virtual easel, or there are apps like Figmin XR, which let you paint in the air. Tribe is a DJ app where you can still see your surroundings. The clever PianoVision can let you learn piano by tapping on a table. Some of these apps work just with hand tracking, which is still functional but sometimes glitchy, or with the Quest's controllers.

Apple is making a full-on move to an all-mixed-reality Vision Pro platform that has one consistent eye- and hand-tracking-based interface. Meta is halfway between VR with controllers and a hand-based interaction system. The Quest 3 doesn't have eye tracking.

Looking at a VR headset's lenses on a pink table

You can't see how good the display is without wearing one. But the Quest 3's new lenses are part of what makes it look so good.

Scott Stein/CNET

Display: Clear and crisp

The Quest 3's visuals may not stun you, but they're most certainly a welcome step up. The improved 2,064x2,208-pixel resolution per eye is better than what you find on the Quest 2, PlayStation VR 2 and Quest Pro. They're LCD displays, but they're vivid and sharp enough to easily read text and detail. It's not the eye-popping "retina" resolution of Apple's Micro-OLED Vision Pro, but it's better than just about any other mainstream VR headset out there.

Meta's new, more compact pancake lenses make a difference. They're really clear, and the field of view is larger, making it feel less like looking through a porthole. For mixed reality, that's great. For working with the headset on for floating virtual monitors from your computer (something the Quest has been able to do for years), it's much better, too. The 90Hz base refresh rate can be boosted to 120Hz, which is pretty standard territory for existing VR hardware.

So far, I've found the displays better for gaming and reading text, less so a killer solution for watching movies. Videos, without a doubt, look better, and I'd prefer the Quest 3 over almost any other midrange VR headset for watching shows and cinematic VR. Immersive 3D cinematic videos, like Felix and Paul's Space Explorers: The ISS Experience (shot in space), or David Attenborough's First Life VR video, look very nice. It's just that for 2D movies, it's still not a "better than a big HDR TV" solution for me. The only VR displays that have ever matched "cinema-quality TV" for me are Varjo's XR-3 and Apple's Vision Pro demo. Those are multi-thousand-dollar devices, though.

Audio hasn't changed: It still comes out through speaker holes in the head strap and sounds fine (there's also a headphone jack). But my family could hear my VR games when I was playing in the same room as them.

A man wearing a VR headset plus a face mask

I used the Quest 3 with glasses on. It fit, though adjusting the headset was sometimes weird.

John Kim/CNET

Fit and design: Still glasses-friendly

The Quest 3 headset is more compact than the Quest 2, but not by as much as you'd think. Side by side, they seem sort of similar. They feel like a similar weight. They both have elastic head straps, too.

The Quest 3 does have advantages, however. Eye distance is adjusted with a wheel now for a more flexible custom fit than the Quest 2. The included black plastic face mask can be pulled in and out to adjust the depth for glasses, too. I love that (my chunky glasses fit fine, but wide-framed glasses might be a problem), but it's still sort of snug. And pulling the plastic sides out was weird and sometimes not easy to do at all. Optionally, Zenni makes prescription lens inserts for the Quest 3 (I'll be trying these soon).

The included elastic head strap is just OK. Meta's Elite strap ($70), which I tried, has a more accommodating fit for me. But removing and attaching head straps still feels as awkward as it did with the Quest 2. Snapping off plastic straps from the arms made me worried I'd break something, and unsnapping the black face piece was similarly worrisome. I wish it was more seamless and elegant, like attaching smartwatch straps.

Two VR controllers are on a blue table: one has a white plastic ring, one doesn't.

The Meta Quest 2 controller (left) and Quest 3 controller (right): same grip style and button layout, but the plastic ring is gone. The haptics are better, too.

Scott Stein/CNET

Controllers: Same idea as Quest 2, but better

There are new controllers with the Quest 3. The Touch Plus controllers ditch the plastic rings on the Quest 2 controllers, so they're a lot more portable (and maybe less likely to break if you smack furniture with your hand). The fit is otherwise the same, though, with the same grip size, button layout and thumb-rest area. My 15-year-old kid missed the rings for his "Beat Saber grip" but still appreciated the new feel.

The controllers still use AA batteries (how long they can last on a single battery is TBD, but the Quest 2 ones last forever). Or there are special contactless rechargeable batteries that come with a charging dock (sold separately for $130). The battery compartment has contact pins inside, creating possibilities for third-party accessories that do the same.

Most importantly, the haptics are improved. The Quest 2's vibrating controller feedback isn't great. The Quest 3's feels more subtle, more able to pull off taps and rumbles that feel more nuanced. It's not as good as what the PlayStation VR 2 controllers can do, but it's promising.

Meta Quest 2 and Quest 3 sitting side by side

The Meta Quest 2 (left) vs Quest 3 (right): a new design, and a bit more compact, but the idea is still pretty similar as far as headstrap fit and overall look.

Scott Stein/CNET

PC-optional, but you need a phone

The Quest 3 works with PCs, too, just like other Quest headsets. This gives it a great bonus value, but Meta is clearly pivoting away from PCs and leaning on its standalone software. Mixed reality and other graphics advantages require apps from Meta's own app store.

I'll eventually have more to say about how it works for PCs, but I've limited this review to fully standalone use. You don't need a PC or game console at all to use the Quest 3, but you do need to initially pair the headset with a phone app. The app is used for managing settings and can locally stream games to parents or friends to see what the person using the headset is seeing.

By the way, you can capture mixed-reality game footage in the phone app, which I did for my review video. It's a great way to share moments with friends.

The Meta Quest 3 VR headset on a brown table in a charging dock

The Quest 3 charge dock ($130) is clean and has contactless battery charging for the controllers. But you can also just charge the headset with a USB-C cable.

Scott Stein/CNET

Accessories and upgrades: More storage, a charging dock and straps, but what you need most is a case

The Quest 3 starts at $500 and includes controllers and a USB-C charging cable in the box. From there, you can spend away on upgrades. The base Quest 3 has 128GB of nonupgradable storage, which is fine for most (so far, VR apps range in download size from several hundred megabytes up to as much as 15GB.)

Upgraded Quest apps that use better graphics could increase download sizes over time: For $650, the 512GB storage option might be best for any hard-core VR user who plans on buying a lot of apps. You can always erase and redownload apps as needed, like I do.

A VR headset (Quest 3) in a carrying case

The Quest 3 carrying case from Meta ($70) is also expensive, but it does cradle the headset, controllers and charge cable well.

Scott Stein/CNET

I tested a few expensive extras, too. Meta's $70 Elite strap snaps on and offers an adjustable plastic headband similar to what the Quest 2 also offered. It's good, but the Quest 2's I tried broke, so I hope this one holds up better.

A $130 Meta-made charging dock takes advantage of magnetic pins on the bottom of the Quest 3 and has contactless batteries for the controllers. It's easy to snap in and charge up, and I like this dock even better than the Quest Pro's included charge dock.

A VR headset with plastic head strap on a wooden table

The Elite Strap ($70) has a rigid plastic strap and rear cushion, making it a bit comfier for long sessions.

Scott Stein/CNET

But all you really need is a good case to protect your VR device from dust and sunlight on the lenses. Meta's big $70 case option is pricey but it does have ample space inside and nestles the controllers well, even including a space for the charging cable.

augments-coming-in-2024-2

One of the Quest 3's most unique features, mixed reality widgets called Augments, won't be available until next year.

Meta

Software: Familiar Quest apps, with a few upgrades

My big concern with the Quest 3 is how many apps will support its unique qualities. For most folks who own the Quest 2, there's no immediate need to upgrade. The Quest 3 supports all Quest 2 software and runs the same OS, but so far I haven't tried too many Quest 3-optimized titles. Samba de Amigo, a Sega rhythm music game I loved way back, is underwhelming on Quest 3 but does add mixed reality to blend the real world into some bonus levels (the floor is full of lava, and a giant monkey tore the roof off my office). Red Matter 2 boosts its graphics even further, looking as good as a PlayStation VR 2 game. 

But expected big games like Assassin's Creed Nexus, Asgard's Wrath 2 (included free with a Quest 3 purchase) and Stranger Things VR aren't here yet. And killer apps like Beat Saber are oddly lacking Quest 3 upgrades for now.

Also, Meta isn't any closer to solving its productivity and app-connected challenges for VR. Office 365 will work with the Quest and Xbox Cloud Gaming for 2D gameplay. But Meta's Horizon Worlds, an attempt at a social platform for all, feels like a mess and isn't even emphasized in the Quest's preinstalled apps.

meta-quest-3-front

The Quest 3 feels like the best VR headset of the moment. But it might not be something you need just yet.

Scott Stein/CNET

The year ahead is unclear, but the Quest 3 is likely to be the most affordable ticket to the future

In many ways, the Quest 3 feels like a soft launch or more of a phone or tablet upgrade versus a "whole new game console." More apps will certainly gain Quest 3 upgrades, and the Quest 3 could evolve whole new features: onboard AI that Meta says is coming next year, and maybe better hand tracking. Meta has evolved the Quest and Quest 2 a ton with experimental software features over time, and I expect the Quest 3 will be the same. 

The coming year is full of potentially big changes to the landscape. Apple's Vision Pro is aiming to reinvent mixed-reality computing, though its price is going to be well out of reach for most people. Samsung's and Google's expected mixed-reality hardware could also possibly push the bleeding edge and add Google Play software support. 

Will Meta be caught in the middle of future change? Or is its offering a perfectly fine gaming console for your face, with a bunch of useful extras like fitness and work apps? The Quest 3 is likely to be the most affordable mixed-reality device for a long while, and that could make it a great option for the curious. But as a next-gen game console for your family, the Quest 3 hasn't proved itself out with enough killer new software quite yet, though its better display and graphics already make it my new go-to choice. 

The Quest 3 may not change your mind about VR, but it's most certainly a better VR headset.