Meta announces Quest 3 as Apple prepares to drop its VR/AR headset
With Apple dropping hints that its much-awaited AR/VR headset will drop at next week's WWDC event, Meta has attempted to steal its rival's thunder. The new Meta Quest 3 is smaller, much more powerful than its predecessor, and designed for next-level augmented reality.
VR/AR headsets are a nightmare hardware problem, as Meta Founder Mark Zuckerberg explained last year, showing off a huge range of prototypes his team has been building to solve the many technical challenges standing between today's headsets and the ultimate goal of tiny, fully immersive goggles.
Still, the Meta Quest (née Oculus Quest) has been an exceptionally impressive, affordable and accessible product in its first two generations, a fully wireless experience that has welcomed millions of users into the world of virtual reality – particularly non-technical types who'd be unlikely to buy a tethered headset and high-end PC. And the Quest Pro, released late last year, offers a higher-end hardware option, more suited to businesses, for US$1,499.
Now, the company has announced the Quest 3. It's not a full launch – that'll happen in late September. Instead, it's a teaser presumably designed mainly to poop on Apple's party and remind Cupertino who's the big boss dawg in the Metaverse, at least in 2023.
Quest 3 will run Meta's highest-ever-resolution display. It'll run a newly-developed Snapdragon chipset, giving it more than twice the graphics processing performance of the Quest 2 – and indeed, a fair bit more than the Quest Pro. It'll be smaller, slimmer and more comfortable.
Augmented/Mixed reality is a key focus here, so Meta is giving the Quest's pass-through vision capabilities a huge boost, allowing you to see the real world in full color and 10 times the resolution, through dual 4-megapixel cameras. A depth sensor is included as well, so the headset will be able to map out the room you're in, and create digital characters and items that interact with the real world in intuitive ways.
The controllers are also smaller, losing the tracking rings and gaining "TruTouch haptics" first shown in the Quest Pro. That's if you use them at all; the Quest 3 is just as happy to track your hands for gesture control and better immersion. It'll cost $499 for the 128 GB version, with extra memory available.
The Quest 2 is dropping to start at $299, and there's good news for current Quest 2 owners as well, with a software update on the way that'll increase CPU performance by up to 26%, GPU performance by up to 19%, and generally make the headsets faster and more responsive.
Zuckerberg has denied reports that Meta is scaling back its focus on the nebulous Metaverse concept to focus on AI. The company is still pumping billions upon billions of dollars every quarter into its Reality Labs division, convinced that this whole thing could yet take off.
We're less convinced at this point; the Quest headsets have already been terrific. Immersive, beautifully designed, surprisingly powerful and with brilliantly done user interfaces that make them super easy to get into and enjoy. The experience is shockingly good if you've never tried it – but the shock tends to wear off after a while, and we suspect there are a lot of headsets that see heavy use in the first few months, then sit on the shelf until visitors come over. That's as opposed to games consoles, which seem to stay fascinating for a lot longer.
Either way, the company has shown off a bunch of new content in the pipeline in a 2023 gaming showcase. Flick through it below, all these games are slated to launch in the next 12 months:
So Meta's still all in, and trillion-dollar juggernaut Apple is preparing its own VR headset launch, widely expected to be announced on June 5 at WWDC23. Never a company to worry too much about making things affordable, Apple's as-yet secret headset has been rumored to cost thousands.
Apple is reportedly hoping that people will eventually wear its goggles all day, linking in deeply to the iOS and MacOS systems. But according to Bloomberg, its first device will be a much more humble offering than initially envisioned, complete with an iPhone-sized, corded battery you've got to carry in your pocket, and potentially an external screen that'll show your facial expressions to the outside world.
Some expect Apple's device, combined with the fervor and deep pockets of Apple fans, will launch VR into a whole new stratosphere. Others doubt that it'll enchant people much more than the Meta gear, and wonder if there's genuinely going to be enough games, content and useful apps to keep people coming back. We shall see.