I tried the $1,500 Quest Pro and saw the best of the metaverse

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By Brian X. Chen, The New York Times

BURLINGAME, Calif. — Good news, readers: After using nearly every virtual reality headset made in the last seven years, including the latest $1,500 goggles from Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, I’ve seen the best of what the metaverse could offer.

Yes, the best is already here and has been for quite some time.

It’s video games.

Zuckerberg and other tech executives want us to buy these gadgets to live out their fantasy that the metaverse will be an immersive virtual world where we shop, socialize and work. But consumers shouldn’t necessarily follow the whims of business leaders.

Gaming has been the most compelling use of these headsets since the Oculus Rift arrived in 2016. The introduction of that contraption, a clunky headset that plugged into a personal computer, marked the debut of mainstream virtual reality, and the early wave of applications was focused on this kind of entertainment. Based on extensive testing of that device, along with the myriad competitors that came after and the new Meta Quest Pro set for release next week, it seems safe to conclude that the tech has found its sweet spot.

The headsets are wearable, immersive video game consoles. People should buy them for the same reasons they get PlayStations and Nintendos: to be entertained and to find brief escapes from the real world — not to live out the outlandish dreams of tech leaders.

Meta envisions that high-resolution headsets, new business-focused software and superfast internet connections will transform the way we work, collaborate and create art. In the company’s own jargon, the Quest Pro could unlock “net new use cases.” Yet when asked, the product’s leaders couldn’t name a “killer app” for the fancy new headgear.

“We’ll learn with developers once the device is in the market,” said Anand Dass, a director of metaverse content at Meta, at a product briefing this month.

In other words, Meta’s sales pitch for the Quest Pro is the potential for it to be life-changing by enabling tasks that couldn’t be done before. That is a mighty compelling narrative, but it is a vision that has yet to be realized.

There’s a valuable lesson amid all the hype surrounding virtual (augmented, mixed, whatever-you-want-to-call-dorky-looking) goggles: We shouldn’t spend our dollars on a company’s hopes and promises for what a technology could become. We should buy these headsets for what they currently do. And based on what I saw, for the foreseeable future, the Meta Quest Pro will primarily be a gaming device. (I predict the same outcome for the Apple headset expected to be unveiled next year.)

At Meta’s Burlingame, California, office, I strapped on the Quest Pro to see what was new. Meta highlighted three features: the headset’s higher-definition picture, which is receiving quadruple the number of pixels of its predecessor, the $400 Quest 2; the array of cameras embedded into the headset, which can now create a real-time rendering of your facial expressions and eye movements; and new motion controllers with improved pressure sensitivity so you can squeeze a virtual object gently or grab it aggressively.

Meta employees and app developers gave me an hourlong tour through software tailored for the headset. I created a digital avatar of my face that mimicked my grins and frowns as I raised a curious brow. I made 3D drawings and tossed virtual darts.

I found the improved graphics and controllers impressive (and my animated avatar a bit creepy), but after I removed the headset and returned to reality-reality, I could only imagine wanting to use these new features to play games.

My favorite virtual-reality game, Blaston, which was released in 2020 and involves players shooting one another in a virtual arena, would probably benefit from the improved motion controllers to make trigger squeezes for the different guns more realistic. PokerStars VR, where gamers gather around a virtual card table to play Texas Hold ’em, would be more fun if we could pick up tells through each player’s facial expressions.

By the end of the demo, I was also doubtful that I would get any work done with this headset. In a promotional video for the product, Meta suggested that the Quest Pro could be a multitasking tool for workers juggling meetings while scrolling through emails and other tasks. But the device’s battery lasts only one to two hours, according to Meta. (The headset can still be used while plugged in, but using a computer is less complicated.)

An hour or two of battery life is fine for one thing, though. You guessed it: gaming.

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