Teardown: Meta Quest Pro VR headset
Image credit: Creative Electron
How many trade-offs are safe when you’re racing to lead in the metaverse?
The Meta Quest Pro headset features a lot of world-class engineering and it benefits from many novel design choices. But you cannot escape the feeling that the company, formerly known as Facebook, has fallen some way short of solidifying its new eponymous ambitions in the metaverse. At £1,500, a very expensive beta has been pushed into the wide market.
Let’s be fair. Meta’s latest headset carries its ‘Pro’ branding not because it is a flagship consumer electronics device but because it is primarily aimed at commercial users. Any sales to the public are gravy. So much is evident from the price differential between the new headset and its immediate predecessor: the Quest 2 is sold for just £400.
Getting businesses to invest in VR and the metaverse for workplace collaboration has become increasingly important while the technology otherwise remains led by hardcore gamers – they will never deliver the returns the space needs to justify even investment in it to date. Notably, recent sharp falls in Meta’s stock price have exposed mounting investor scepticism over Mark Zuckerberg’s new virtual vision.
So, consider some of the main innovations in Quest Pro.
There are 10 cameras in the headset. Five point outward to survey the real world, and then reproduce it to the user integrated with virtual elements. Early reviews suggest that this helps Quest Pro generate a more “solid” and therefore more convincing collaborative environment than earlier attempts that have suffered from ghostly overlays.
Of the five that point inwards, three IR units track facial movements around the user’s eyes and cheekbones with the goal of passing expressions to his or her metaverse avatar.
All very cool, and beyond that, the last two IR cameras track eye movement itself. This allows the Quest Pro to apply foveated rendering. This technique effectively concentrates the sharpest resolution on those areas of the image where the eye is looking, while peripheral fields are softer and less heavily rendered (the fovea is the part of the retina where visual acuity is highest). It saves power and maximises processor capacity (here a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2+).
Business applications that could benefit from these features are not hard to guess. They range from product design to meeting engagement and beyond. So far, so good.
The optics are also excellent, with high-grade plastic pancake lenses reducing weight while retaining quality.
Shahram Mokhtari from the iFixit Teardown team looked at these and other features and concludes that the Quest Pro “really is a wonderful device”.
The iFixit focus on repairability is important here. While innovation matters to CTOs if it gives their companies an edge, they also worry about maintenance, particularly for technologies that are promoted for use in volume across the enterprise.
In that respect, Mokhtari found a few other less wonderful things.
The Quest Pro’s designers cleverly balance the headset by having a curved battery at the back. But while you can access it, it is not an explicitly swappable pack – and this for a commercially targeted device with a life of just two hours per charge.
“One of the first things you’ll notice from our teardown is the sheer complexity of the device,” Mokhtari says. “We ended up going through 146 screws and three magnetic mats plus a whole other tray just for the plastic parts. This is certainly not a device meant to be repaired by the faint of heart and I might go as far as saying that it’s simply not meant to be a repairable device full stop.”
Then, the applications, notably the Horizon Workrooms collaborative platform, also fall short, and again Mokhtari’s comments capture what many users have felt.
“Turning to the software, we have evidence-a-plenty hinting that everything from the user interface to the in-world experience was simply not ready for release,” he says. “From blocky immersion-breaking metaverse scenery to the truly god-awful experience of trying to join a colleague in one of the realms in said metaverse, it seems clear to most that there’s a lot of work to be done before the software is ready for primetime.”
Mokhtari gives Meta the benefit of the doubt to some degree, seeing the Quest Pro as having been pushed to market as the company warily eyes Apple’s rumoured ambitions in a consumer/commercial augmented-reality crossover.
This haste would also explain why Meta dropped a time-of-flight depth sensor option from the specification, although the technology may in future allow VR headsets to do away with handheld controllers.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard to see any senior corporate IT director placing anything other than a pathfinder or R&D order for expensive devices that are hard to maintain and still set to evolve.
Rather, he or she might expect a Meta (or an Apple or an HTC or a Microsoft ) to give them one for free as part of a campaign to promote their platforms for the next stage in virtual collaboration. That was how you used to get Tier 1s in for the long haul. Asking them to pay up for only a few steps beyond a proof-of-concept? Not so much.
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