Nearly four years after Mark Zuckerberg personally announced Oculus Quest the standalone VR market for consumers may have real competition.
Backed by Chinese tech giant Bytedance, the Pico 4 standalone VR system is coming to consumers in Europe, Japan & South Korea next month starting at just €429. That’s a startlingly low price for an all-in-one VR package which undercuts Quest 2 with superior specifications while delivering new features like color passthrough, alongside a store stocked with a growing list of some of the best VR games. Pico’s even secured its first major exclusive for the platform, Just Dance VR, coming in 2023.
Earlier this year we reviewed the previous Pico Neo 3 Link and called it “a decent Quest 2 alternative that signals bigger things to come”. More recently, UploadVR reporter Harry Baker briefly tried the new Pico 4 and we’re planning to review the headset properly in the coming weeks. Early indications suggest Pico 4 represents exactly what many developers and enthusiasts wanted — serious standalone competition for Zuckerberg’s Quest 2.
Analysts had suggested Pico 4 would take a play out of Meta’s own playbook and “aggressively subsidize” the system below the cost to make each headset. That appears to be exactly what’s happened. Facebook’s profit-deferring strategy had pushed would-be competitors like Lenovo and HTC to focus on enterprise markets where buyers are less sensitive to price than the value of not using anything connected to Facebook. Pico, too, had trouble here and after some early attempts at differentiating VR products it started selling to businesses-only before selling the whole company to the same giant that owns TikTok.
So did Facebook-turned-Meta drop the ball?
Well, the jury is still out on that one, but at the very least Zuckerberg and his chief technology officer Andrew Bosworth are focusing on a different part of the game right now. Quest Pro, due to be formally announced next month, will not compete directly against Pico 4 as it heads toward the high end of the standalone VR market. Quest Pro has been their focus since the release of Quest 2 in 2020, and with it comes a suite of new sensors that lay the groundwork for Meta’s efforts in AR and what amounts to an attempt to revolutionize what it means to communicate over long distances. Quest Pro might animate Meta’s much-maligned avatars more believably, and deliver leading mixed reality, but it also comes with a price tag “significantly” higher than $800. It’ll still play Quest games, of course, but this new high-end focus will also be a stark departure from almost everything Zuckerberg’s machine has built so far.
As Meta executives have alluded, Quest Pro could pave the way for some of its technologies to make the way downstream into a future mass market device, like a hypothetical Quest 3. Quest Pro may also compete with the forthcoming AR/VR headset in development at Apple. What Quest Pro doesn’t compete with, however, is Pico 4. Instead, Meta is coming into Christmas 2022 with the same device it shipped for Christmas 2021 except it’s now $100 more expensive than it was last year. Meta still has the weight of the game studios it acquired and exclusives like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to anchor its offerings to gamers for the foreseeable future. Pico, though, now has an edge in price paired with some shrewd hardware choices that, if they hold up in extended testing, could make Quest 2 seem downright outdated in comparison.
Notably, Pico isn’t entering the U.S. market with Pico 4 — at least not yet — and that means the nation that birthed Zuckerberg and Facebook will still be buying a lot of Quests this Christmas. But with Pico launching two low cost standalone headsets in one year, anything Meta has planned for 2023 and beyond will likely be met by renewed competition on multiple fronts.
And as to that question of whether Meta has dropped the ball? Below is a comment from Meta’s technical advisor John Carmack from early last year when he was talking with Bosworth about next-generation VR.
“I think that if we took the specifications of what Quest 2 does today and we made clearer optics, better ergonomics, longer battery life, and cheaper – does the same things, just does them better — that would be the killer product. But we have alternate points of view saying ‘no, we need depth cameras, we need mixed reality sensors, we need eye tracking, we need face tracking…we don’t know until we’ve exploited those and really tried hard maybe even for years to see what we can get out of those features. But I think that we’ve got enough signal that you can do so many amazing things with the current setup that continuing to focus on just making what we’ve got better….I think that’s the path to as mainstream as we need to get.”
Is Quest Pro just the tock phase of a tick-tock model developing at Meta? Or did Meta get lost in the noise just when Pico found the signal?
Stay tuned, because the VR market just got way more interesting.