When the developers of Meta Quest 3 told me that their latest headset was designed with a focus on mixed reality – applications that mix the real world with game graphics – I assumed it was a missed opportunity. Something like this might be useful for the Metaverse, but what about the main target group so far, the gamers? No computing time-saving measures for VR game graphics? No eye tracking for focused image sharpness? How on earth is Quest 3 supposed to stand up to competitors like PSVR 2 and Pico 4?
In this regard, Quest 3 actually has a lot to offer, but the insight couldn’t be gleaned from raw data.
On paper, a timid iteration
There is certainly no lack of improvements compared to the outdated Quest 2. They only sound conservative on paper.
- Color pass-through mode using high-resolution 3D cameras and a depth sensor
- Modern pancake lenses for undistorted images
- Screen resolution increased by 30 percent including an expanded field of vision
- freely adjustable eye relief
- More compact form factor
- A new system chip (Snapdragon XR2 Gen2), which has twice the computing power compared to Quest 2 and therefore generates better graphics
- 8 GB of RAM – 33 percent more than the previous model
- Less bulky hand controllers that now do not require a tracking ring
These are undoubtedly advances with measurable values, but the competition has long since discovered much of it. I expected more innovation. And so I asked myself whether the focus on mixed reality was enough to give the cooled VR scene new impulses. After all, the fun also costs more than the average consumer was previously willing to spend.
At a Price of 549 euros in the “small” version with 128 GB of internal memory I saw little potential for big headlines. Competitors like Pico 4 are like lead on dealer shelves for just under 400 euros.
This is how you can be wrong. When I was allowed to lend a hand myself, the penny dropped: Many small improvements result in a big leap in Quest 3, which benefits both gamers and Metaverse applications. Why? Because in practice they go hand in hand.
See the form factor topic. The first impression when looking through the new pancake lenses was surprisingly good, because the shrunken dimensions not only make the headset more manageable. They also bring the eyes closer to the screen. No more trace of the usual diving mask view of other headsets.
As long as you don’t wear glasses that require more distance from the lenses, you can fully enjoy the 110 degree wide horizontal field of vision. Meanwhile, glasses wearers have the option of permanently replacing the installed pancake lenses with variants with a suitable diopter value.
The increased resolution and the colorful pass-through mode amazed me because I saw my surroundings almost exactly as I perceived them with my own eyes: Crisp and without any annoying screen door effect due to coarse pixel structures.
The room I was standing in seemed lifelike thanks to the high-resolution cameras and so vividly three-dimensional that I could effortlessly bend my knees to touch a low table – without the usual threat of loss of balance due to distorted depth perception. Even if certain colors seemed a bit too dark, after a few seconds I was sure: of all the pass-through modes that I was able to try out in a number of VR headsets, this was the best.
The only downer: Similar to the HTC Vive XR Elite headset, Quest 3 still struggles with small distortions when people or other moving objects dart through the image. This so-called warping is reserved compared to other headsets and can possibly be further reduced through software advances.
Measuring space made easy
The improved pass-through does not only have subjective advantages. For example, it is no longer necessary to limit the play area at home manually using a controller. If desired, Quest 3 analyzes the environment independently by building a virtual 3D grid while you look around the room. When I tried it out, it worked almost perfectly. Only when it came to the height differences of bulky objects such as plants did the automatic field delimitation go slightly over the target.
This may sound like a luxury feature at first, but it is essential for the Metaverse. If we are actually supposed to choose furniture virtually at some point and place it in our apartment for testing before purchasing, the recording of the rooms must be perfect. Apparently Meta Quest 3 brings this vision within reach.
Realities merge believably
Two games showed me how well the new headset implements such mixed reality ideas. The first was called First Encounters, the second simply BAM.
First Encounters let me use a virtual laser gun to shoot holes in the walls of the real environment. The more I removed from the walls, the more of a glaring surface of an alien planet emerged. Small aliens that looked similar to the famous tribble balls of fur from Star Trek then streamed out of the holes. They were milling around the room trying to get into a spaceship. I should prevent that with the firepower of my laser weapons.
The bottom line is that it was just a nice shooting game with a chaos factor, and yet the presentation was impressive Seamless transition between the real environment and the game graphics.
Of course I could see exactly what was real and what wasn’t, as the game components consisted entirely of simple pastel-colored elements. However, given the sharpness of the depiction and the rock-solid anchoring of all graphic components in the room, I was willing to get involved in the illusion – similar to how I temporarily accept a prop in a theater play as a real object.
It was the same with BAM. In this multiplayer game, in which four participants gather online or locally around a virtual gaming table, each player controls a small robot and tries to use it to wear a crown for as long as possible before it is stolen. Sounds simple, but it was a lot of fun. And visually it was an eye-catcher because the playing field was so firmly and plastically anchored in the room as if it were real.
Also really good for VR games
This shouldn’t be the last time Image sharpness and convincing 3D view would be the deciding factor. A special demo of the VR game Red Matter 2 designed especially for Quest 3 not only showed distant planets and deceptively real-looking space suits, the sharpness of which alone significantly increased the immersion, but also offered a comparison mode in which you could examine them at the push of a button , how much blurrier and rougher the game would look on Quest 2.
At this point I could report in detail how well the new controllers felt in the hand and that they were great when swinging virtual maracas in Sega
Samba de Amigo never collided due to annoying tracking bars.
Or how, despite my extensive VR experience, I found myself reeling while exploring Venice in Assassin’s Creed: Nexus. My brain took full advantage of the height of the virtual buildings while climbing. Nothing like this has happened to me since 2015. Not even Horizon: Call of the Mountain on PSVR2 could make me believe that.
But instead of making big speeches, I’ll keep it short with a small conclusion: image sharpness, depth perception and, last but not least, the increased comfort of Quest 3 take immersion in VR games to a new level.
Old weaknesses in new packaging
Despite all the enthusiasm for the improved technical aspects, I still don’t want to sweep under the rug the fact that there are some things that bother me. There is the issue of battery life. Again, only two to three hours of capacity are planned. Given the new graphics chip and the better screen, that may be understandable, but the short runtime is really annoying, especially with a PC-VR connection (which, as before, is possible wirelessly or via a USB-C cable).
Also: Why are accessories for Quest 2 no longer usable? Particularly third-party headbands and halo temples. Would it have been so difficult to keep the design backwards compatible? When it comes to software, the developers couldn’t emphasize enough that old games would look better on Quest 3. They didn’t care much about the hardware.