The Meta Quest 3 is sharper, more powerful, and still trying to make mixed reality happen

    I’m not sure if Meta is trying too hard or not hard enough to have me see the world via a screen attached to my face. * Meta will begin distributing the Quest 3, their latest virtual reality headset, on October 10th. The $499 Quest 3 has some of the features you’d expect from an upgrade to the industry’s best-selling VR gaming system, such as a higher-resolution display and a faster CPU. However, Meta has included the Quest 3 in the company’s foray towards “mixed reality” (MR), a term that currently refers to a video stream layered with digital items and fed through to a headset display. Meta’s mixed reality appears to be improving, but it is still battling to show that the new feature is worth investing in – at least before launch.

    Quest 3
    The Quest 3 controllers look like the Quest Pro’s but with no added cameras.

    At a briefing before today’s Meta Connect event, I played the Meta Quest 3 for slightly more than an hour. That’s not enough to pass judgment on the headset’s quality, but it gives us an idea of what to expect when it arrives next month. The Quest 3 is a little smaller version of the Quest 2 that promises improved screen clarity and more visually intense games. It has twin 2064 x 2208 pixel screens vs the Quest 2’s 1832 x 1920 pixel per eye, and it’s the first device to arrive with a second-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor, which Meta claims can reach graphics performance twice as fast as the Quest 2’s first-generation XR2.

    This chip is incompatible with a PC graphics card. However, a sample of the adventure game Red Matter 2 demonstrated the visual difference by switching between the Quest 3 and Quest 2 detail levels, including text that was only viewable on the Quest 3 and props that transitioned from blocky mobile game visuals to rather realistic models. (Another complication: the Quest 2 version was also built for a lower-resolution headset.) All of Meta’s high-profile Quest 3 launch games are also available on Quest 2, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Quest 3 exclusives appear shortly, taking use of its increased graphic quality.

    The Quest 3 controllers are also smaller than the Quest 2 controllers. Whereas the Quest 2 has a large LED tracking ring over the user’s knuckles, the Quest 3 does not have one and (Meta claims) compensates with enhanced tracking algorithms. Its controllers resemble those seen on last year’s Quest Pro, but without the built-in cameras, which reduces power consumption significantly and may eliminate the brief wake-up delay experienced by the Pro controller cameras. The Quest 3’s controllers still require disposable batteries, but it will ship with a charging port that includes rechargeables that may be inserted instead, as many Quest 2 owners did on their own. The Quest headset battery should last between two and three hours, which is comparable to the Quest 2 and better than the Quest Pro. While Qualcomm claims that the second-generation XR2’s GPU is 50% more efficient than its predecessor, Meta plainly chose performance above enhanced battery life.

    You’ll find some new quality-of-life features on top of a spec bump

    The gadget also has a more athletic appearance than its predecessor. The Quest 2 came with a foam face mask that was difficult to clean, while the Quest 3 comes with a soft rubber mask that appears to be wipeable if you’ve just sweated through a Beat Saber session. Its default head attachment has been updated with a Y-shaped top strap to better handle hair buns and ponytails, and you may still purchase an Elite Strap with or without a backup battery. (It is not interchangeable with the version from Quest 2.) You may obtain a mask and strap in “Blood Orange” or “Elemental Blue” in addition to the standard black face mask and white fabric strap. It’s somewhat heavier than the Quest 2 — 515 g vs. 503 g — but still substantially lighter than the 722-gram Quest Pro, however, like with the Quest 2, the Elite Strap will almost certainly add some weight.

    Meta has also included a few minor quality-of-life tweaks. Instead of the Quest 2’s cumbersome manual lens snapping, there’s now a focus wheel that lets you control the distance between lenses while wearing the headset. The lenses have a smaller profile, and a pair of buttons on the inside allow you to adjust their distance from your face, making them suitable for persons who wear glasses. In my test, this functioned awkwardly: the buttons seemed continuously stuck, and I had to slide each side of the headset out separately. However, it is feasible that it will seem more natural when I am not attempting it for the first time. And, unlike the Quest Pro, the Quest 3 did not display continual fit and calibration alerts on my screen – a feature that was well-intended but much too sensitive.

    Double-tap the temple to enter mixed reality mode and back again.
     The default strap has a Y-shaped split for ponytails — although many people might get the separate Elite Strap.

    These modifications appear to be an incremental upgrade, but Meta offers one additional new feature: mixed reality. The Quest 3 has two color cameras, just as the Quest Pro, and offers the passthrough feed that was a strong selling point for that headset. The business bills it as the “first mainstream headset built for mixed reality,” bringing what was previously a premium feature to its midrange headset line.

    Furthermore, Meta’s mixed reality appeared noticeably enhanced in my demo.People who have tried the Apple Vision Pro (I haven’t) say the Quest doesn’t measure up — which is understandable considering the lower price.However, its passthrough appears to be significantly less grainy than the Quest Pro’s and farsuperior than the Quest 2’s hazy black-and-white signal.And, at least in the controlled context in which tested it, the color balance appears significantly more realistic. could check my phone through the passthrough stream, but the Quest Pro washed it out tan unreadable blank. According to Qualcomm, the XR2 Gen processor has passthrough latency of under 12 milliseconds.

    The Quest 3 also contains a depth sensor, something the Quest 2 and Quest Pro did not have, which means it should be able to scan your physical surroundings more accurately, determining where walls and objects are positioned. Unlike with Meta’s previous headsets, you do not need to use your controller to draw a virtual reality border. Similar to the PlayStation VR2 setup procedure, you may let the headset propose one and manually alter it as needed. Double-tapping your right temple will switch you from virtual to mixed reality, making it simple to exit a VR encounter.

    Once you’re in mixed reality, though… I’m still not sure how much there is to do.

    Meta has moved on beyond basic virtual reality tech demos. From early Oculus Rift titles like Superhot and The Climb to the outstanding Quest 2 version of Resident Evil 4 and indie breakthrough hit Beat Saber, which helped establish fitness as a significant category for VR, the business has continually financed and acquired quality VR applications and games. (Over the objections of antitrust watchdogs, Meta purchased Beat Saber’s studio and the creators of the fitness app Supernatural.) It’s usually extremely adept at offering VR demos: during my Quest 3 test, I checked out the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Nexus, which promises a full-fledged VR entry in a bestselling franchise despite controls that seemed awkward relative to Sony’s so-close-to-great Horizon PlayStation VR2 climbing game.

    A streamlined setup process is long overdue

    In the Quest 3 mixed reality demos, I found little of that promise. The finest one included myself and another guy donning headsets and sitting at a coffee table, where we summoned a virtual floating arena and guided little robots about hitting each other. We could see our surrounds and each other thanks to the passthrough TV, which made it feel more like a board game than sinking into an entirely different universe. That’s cool, but it’s not something I’d do for more than a few minutes.

    Other MR applications were plain annoying. A Stranger Things game made advantage of the hand-tracking capability that is supported by all current Quest headsets, allowing me to create portals and move bat creatures using hand movements. However, the game’s usage of these movements seemed uncomfortable and untrustworthy, and the experience was brief and linear. I played a fun minigame about shooting cute fuzzy aliens in order to catch them, but it was basically a slower repetition of a HoloLens demo I did back in 2015.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad Meta’s new innovation has simplified the Quest 3 setup process, and the Quest Pro featured a few intriguing mixed reality apps, such as a painting class, that may come on the Quest 3. (This demo day looked almost entirely centered on gaming, which contrasts sharply with Meta’s pitch for the productivity-oriented Quest Pro.) However, in comparison to Meta’s proactive effort driving VR research ahead, its MR demos made the medium appear to be a solution in search of a problem.

    More mixed reality experiences are on the way, including a Ghostbusters-themed one and several more complex-looking tabletop ones. Meta also claims that you will be able to watch streaming TV on a virtual screen, and it is creating MR widgets dubbed “augments” that would let you to install persistent virtual things throughout your actual living area, such as an iHeartRadio widget and a Supernatural trainer bobblehead. When combined with the Quest Pro’s existing work-oriented MR apps, Meta’s overall MR pitch appears to be comparable to that of the Apple Vision Pro: a massive virtual screen that can replace your TV and monitor. This pitch leaves me cold, at least for the current generation of headsets.

    Quest 3
    You can get your face mask in black, elemental blue, or blood orange.

    Even so, while I haven’t had enough time with the Quest 3 to form an opinion, I’m not certain it’s a suitable replacement for your other displays just yet. As with other VR headsets, I spent my demo time fighting to find a comfortable fit, because current-gen devices are simply unavoidably huge, no matter how beautifully made they are. The Elite Strap may help, but this isn’t something I’d want to wear all day at work or put on to watch TV at supper.

    Fortunately, the MR features keep the Quest 3 from being as expensive as the Quest Pro, which, even after a significant price decrease, costs almost twice as much as the Quest 3. (One possible explanation for the pricing discrepancy is because the Quest 3 lacks eye tracking, which is included on the Quest Pro and PSVR 2.) The Quest 3’s base 128GB model costs $200 more than the Quest 2, which costs $299, and the 512GB variant costs $649. That’s not outrageously expensive; it’s in the same price range as the PSVR 2 before the expense of a PlayStation 5.

    I’m eager to use the Quest 3 outside of a demo environment and see what developers can accomplish with its enhanced specifications for full VR. I’ll also maintain an open mind regarding its mixed reality capabilities. However, Meta appears to envision MR as the future of the Quest lineup, which hasn’t persuaded me that this is a good idea.

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