Have you ever wondered how the first Virtual Reality headset came into being? The first headset or Head Mounted Device (HMD) was created in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland at the University of Utah, with the help of his student Bob Sproull. The head-mounted display was so heavy that it was suspended from the ceiling, and the formidable appearance of the device inspired its name—the Sword of Damocles.
Fast forward to 2023, the scenario has completely changed, there are no more celling suspended devices, but light and portable headsets that the users can wear like eyeglasses. The two tech giants Apple and Meta have released their latest Mixed Reality (MR) headsets for the market. Apple’s Vision Pro is to be launched in early 2024 and Meta’s Quest 3 started shipping in October 2023. These headsets are touted as the drivers of notable change and growth in the MR market. Let us delve into what these two new MR headsets have in common and what is unique about them.
When it comes to features and capabilities, both the Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest 3 have their strengths and weaknesses.
The Apple Vision Pro is more advanced in terms of display quality and compatibility with gaming controllers. It uses pixels 64 times smaller than an iPhone and gives a sense of having 4K screens in front of both your eyes. On the other hand, the Meta Quest 3's wide field of view and standalone design are definite pros, but it is not as advanced in terms of display quality and compatibility with gaming controllers.
The Apple Vision Pro boasts a sleek and modern design. It features a high-resolution OLED display, which provides a clear and immersive viewing experience. The device also comes with built-in speakers and microphones, allowing for seamless communication with other users. The Apple Vision Pro is also compatible with the Apple Arcade game controller, making it an excellent choice for gamers.
The Meta Quest 3 is a standalone VR headset that is designed for portability and ease of use. It features a lightweight and comfortable design, making it ideal for extended use. Meta Quest 3 is an update of a previous Quest version but with a slimmer, more balanced, and more comfortable form factor through upgrades like its cameras, panels, and adjustable fabric-based head strap. It also comes with built-in speakers and microphones, allowing for easy communication with other users. Additionally, the Meta Quest 3 has a wide field of view, which provides a more immersive experience.
With Vision Pro, Apple placed significant emphasis on productivity, entertainment, and social interactions, not as much on games as the gaming ecosystem still seems to be in the hands of developers. As it is a Mixed Reality headset, most of the experience is hinged on a technology known as pass-through. This technology allows us to simultaneously experience two realities: virtual reality, without losing connection to the real-world environment. The heart of Vision Pro is visionOS which provides the building blocks of spatial computing to rethink any experience in 3D. Vision Pro provides a software experience that does not require controllers, potentially offering a hands-free and more seamless experience. Besides, hand gestures, it is also possible to interact with the system by using eyes and voice.
The Meta Quest 3 OS has Android at its core and requires a Meta account. Although, the software’s foundation is Android, the user experience is not quite what you might be familiar with as an Android user. It feels like a mix of an Android tablet experience with a Microsoft Windows user interface. One can choose to use the Quest 3 in a fully immersive VR mode or in what it calls a “blended” mode that lets you see both your real-world surroundings and whatever game or content you are viewing. This is not full holographic Augmented Reality yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. To switch between modes, one can use the controller or just tap two fingers together twice; this double-tap gesture is also core to the Vision Pro and seems to be the agreed-upon way to operate a headset.
Use Cases in Real World
The Vision Pro focuses on productivity and content consumption, with limited emphasis on gaming. It supports Apple Arcade games. visionOS SDK is now available for app designers and developers to start creating innovative spatial computing apps for the infinite canvas of Apple Vision Pro and its ecosystem. A few potential use case scenarios include creating and organising presentations, refining prototypes and 3D models, and sketching designs that take shape right before your eyes.
Whereas the Quest 3 highlights its extensive library of immersive experiences and compatibility with its predecessor's games. Meta show-cased Quest titles scheduled for the late-2023 launch window such as Assassin's Creed Nexus VR, Asgard's Wrath 2, Ghostbusters: Rise of the Ghost Lord, I Expect You to Die 3, Onward, PowerWash Simulator, Samba de Amigo, Stranger Things VR, and Vampire: The Masquerade — Justice among others. Meta also announced that Xbox Cloud Gaming would be available as an app for Meta Quest 3 in December 2023.
Apple’s Vision Pro offers better quality and technology than Meta’s Quest 3 headsets, having said that, the Vision Pro will cost USD 3,499 and the Quest 3 released in October 2023 at a starting price of USD 499. The price point can be a huge influencer in the early adoption of Vision Pro.
With both these tech giants, Apple, and Meta foraying into the world of Mixed Reality, we are stepping into a new era of human and computer interactions. Do we see a future with interoperability between the headsets to provide a seamless experience to the users, we do not know that yet, but one thing is for sure, the future of Mixed Reality looks very exciting from here on.