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Apple Vision Pro mixed reality will make you feel bad for the Meta Quest 3

Mixed reality headset makers seem to face a choice: do it well, or do it cheap. Priced from $3500, Apple Vision Pro sure ain’t doing it cheap. The consensus from those who have tried Vision Pro, though, seems to be that the experience is technologically impressive.

Can the same be said for Meta’s new Quest 3 mixed reality headset? The $500 XR headset is only loosely defined as cheap, of course, because of Apple’s hard-to-fathom price tag. Nevertheless, is it possible to sell mixed reality for a literal fraction of Vision Pro’s price and still make the experience compelling?

Meta’s mixed reality reviews

The phrase mixed reality appears a dozen times in the CNET review of the Meta Quest 3. For context, the Meta Quest 2 offers an early 60s TV version of mixed reality. That is to say that it only revealed your surroundings in low fidelity grayscale. Quest 3 adds some color.

So how is it? Here’s one summary from the review:

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 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.

So the Meta 3’s mixed reality sorta, kinda mostly works, but is it useful?

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.

Verdict’s still out, it seems. Well, not if you ask The Verge:

The problem is, there’s almost nothing compelling to do in mixed reality on the Quest 3. The single most fun MR experience I’ve had so far is First Encounters, a mini-game in which tiny Koosh ball-looking aliens blow holes in your room and try to attack you while you try and capture them. It’s fun, silly, and really does make it feel like an alien craft has crashed into your house. It’s much more fun to play First Encounters in my basement than it would be in a purely VR space. But First Encounters is the demo experience to teach you how to use mixed reality! It’s a bad sign that that’s the best thing on the platform. Practically everything else I’ve tried is fun but simple — like Cubism, a puzzle game — or still basically a tech demo.

Top comment by Mike Wolf

Liked by 13 people

I don’t need a Vision Pro to feel bad for the Quest 3. I already feel bad for it because it’s made by Meta. 🤣

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Meanwhile, TechCrunch basically describes Meta’s mixed reality as “darker and lower res” than actual reality.

Passthrough has been getting better year by year, but no one wearing the headset is going to be fooled into believing it’s transparent. Passthrough is darker and lower res than reality. There’s a bit of latency and the image can appear warped at times. Your eyes and brain adjust fairly quickly however, and the effect is a big improvement over standalone VR. It’s significantly better for situational awareness, while the on-board depth sensors do a good job identifying landmarks and obstacles for the graphics to mingle among.

Come to think of it, that just as easily describes how my aging eyes see reality. Perhaps one doesn’t need to look any further than the UploadVR Quest 3 review headline to judge Meta’s version of mixed reality: An Excellent VR Headset With Barely Passable Mixed Reality.

Meta’s reality check

Gee, it’s almost like Meta is forcing its marginally improved VR headset to be framed as something that should be compared to the Apple Vision Pro. Here we have what Apple is pitching as the next evolution of computing, and the kind of virtual reality headset that Apple decidedly did not make.

The reality, I think, is that no consumer should actually weigh the two products as competing purchases. Meta wants to pick a fight where it can win on price, but there doesn’t seem to actually be a fight to be had. One product is literally designed around mixed reality, and the other is the Meta Quest 3.

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news, hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast, and created