I was skeptical about the Meta Quest 3. To a certain degree, I still am. The three year old Quest 2 doesn’t feel due for an upgrade yet, nor has it proven itself to be the ubiquitous VR headset that enthusiasts hoped it would be. I once wrote that if the Quest 2 couldn’t make VR mainstream at $299 nothing ever would, and so far, unfortunately, that sentiment is holding true. It certainly didn’t perform better when Meta raised the price to $399 (before reducing it back to $299 earlier this year) and now it hopes to find success with a $499 next-gen version. I have my doubts.
On the other hand, narrowing its focus on appealing to the current VR fans might be Meta’s only hope, and even at $499 the Quest 3 has a lot to offer the already initiated. I’ve long held that augmented reality, or mixed reality, is the true end game for these kinds of gaming devices, and it seems like Meta agrees. The Quest 3’s big new feature, and the reason it can justify its price tag, is its inclusion of impressive full-color passthrough, which will enable a wide range of games and experiences that the previous Quest headsets are simply not capable of.
In this week’s Meta Connect, the always-uncomfortable Mark Zuckerberg revealed the Quest 3’s new features, which includes two front-facing full-color cameras and a depth sensor, which allow users to view their environments through the headset in real time, and see and interact with digital objects overlaying the real world.
The demonstration showed off a variety of virtual projections. You can play a virtual board game on your real-life table, or use your actual furniture as cover from virtual enemy fire. There’s an upcoming Stranger Things game that will place portals to The Upside Down on your walls and ceiling. That kind of virtual integration opens the door to so many kinds of experience that hasn’t been possible before in VR.
There’s a lot of use cases for the Quest 3 that appeal to me. For fitness games that are highly active, XR allows you to punch, kick, and move around with confidence that you’re not going to hurt yourself. I’ve punched enough TVs and walls to know I can’t really trust the Quest 2’s safety zones to protect me, so I’m looking forward to trying the Quest 3’s mixed reality offerings. I’m also interested in using the Quest 3 as a virtual cinema for movie watching and, starting in December, for Xbox Game Pass.
The demonstration included some pretty dubious ‘gameplay’ that I don’t think will reflect what it’s actually like to use the Quest 3. In the presentation, the passthrough is presented as if you’re looking through a window on the headset, but it’s highly unlikely the cameras will have that level of clarity, nor will the lenses have a field of view as wide as our eyes – not when Apple is charging $3,500 for that kind of experience. But even if the passthrough is reasonably low res with a narrow FOV, it will still be a big step in the right direction for consumer-targeted, gaming-focused AR devices.
Still, it’s just one more step on a long journey we may never see fully realized. I’ve had a positive experience with XR glasses like the Viture One, which is essentially just a tiny screen built into a pair of sunglasses. Until we get a Quest with the form factor of a pair of glasses, we’re still just splashing around in the shallow end of what XR ought to be. As lightweight and portable as the Quest 3 seems to be, it’s not a device you’re going to walk down the street wearing, or strap on while waiting in line at the bank. We’re making due until technology can catch up to our imaginations, but I think the Quest 3 will be a worthwhile introduction to what mixed reality can do, both now and in the future.
Next: Meta Quest 3 Pre-Order Guide