Meta debuts $1,500 VR headset for professionals

Meta Platforms Inc. on Tuesday unveiled its latest virtual reality headset, a foray into high-end VR gear designed to entice developers and professionals to adopt Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of an immersive digital future.

The Meta Quest Pro is the company’s latest offering in a line of products previously branded as the Oculus. The Quest Pro incorporates a number of technological advancements from the company’s Quest 2 headset, which launched in late 2020.

The new headset is also a lot more expensive than its predecessor – it’s $1,500, or three times the price of the Quest 2, partly because the company is targeting more serious professionals. With the new device, Facebook parent Meta is trying to break down the notion that VR is primarily the realm of gamers to expand their audience. Meta’s Quest 2 headset has sold an estimated 15 million units.

“It’s work-focused,” Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive officer, told a small group of reporters in late September. “The ideal customers for it [are] either people who just want the highest quality VR device – so enthusiasts, prosumer types – or people who are trying to get the job done.”

Some of Quest Pro’s new features were designed with this work-centric audience in mind, and would be particularly useful for people holding meetings in VR while working remotely. The device features face and eye tracking that can humanize avatars to make VR conversations feel more personal. It also has what Meta calls a “full-color mixed reality experience,” which uses cameras on the outside of the headset to let people see the world around them and overlay graphics while wearing the device. (The Quest 2 also has this mixed reality feature, but only in black and white.)

Meta is also launching new “self-tracking” controllers alongside its new headset, meaning each controller has built-in sensors that “can track their position in 3D space independently of the headset,” according to Meta’s blog post about it Product.

Meta and Zuckerberg have been teasing the Quest Pro for months, and many details of the gadget have been leaked ahead of Tuesday’s announcement at the company’s annual Connect conference. Still, Meta’s research into developing virtual and augmented reality headsets is key to plans for the so-called Metaverse, an immersive version of the internet where Zuckerberg hopes people will eventually work and play.

One day, users will be able to access the metaverse as digital avatars through devices like the Quest Pro and eventually through augmented reality glasses designed to look like ordinary reading glasses. This vision is still a long way off – and has cost Meta tens of billions of dollars in the meantime. The company said investments in its Reality Labs business, which is responsible for building the metaverse, hurt operating profit by $10 billion in 2021. Meta’s stock is down more than 60% this year.

For now, Meta Quest Pro is promoting as an essential tool for remote work and working with Microsoft Corp. together to offer Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 Office productivity software on the new devices. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella appeared on a video with Zuckerberg on Tuesday to announce the partnership and promote the new headset. He said: “We are going through a one-time change in the way we work.”

Despite approval from some of the world’s biggest tech companies, many observers have expressed doubts as to whether Zuckerberg’s vision is even possible. After the CEO recently posted a picture of his own avatar on his Facebook page, he was ruthlessly mocked by people who thought the picture was amateurish. He quickly ordered a more advanced version, and Meta creates much more sophisticated looking avatars than the ones Zuckerberg originally released. For one, some of the new avatars have legs, like the ones Zuckerberg demonstrated on Tuesday — a notable change from previous ones that have been ridiculed for looking like floating cartoon torsos.

In addition to headsets, Meta is building other technologies that will flow into this vision. While some advances, like full-color mixed reality and face-tracking technology, are already available, many of the innovations are much further away. This category includes things like easy-to-use 3D scanning, which allows users to photograph or film personal items and quickly upload digital versions of those items into a virtual world. It also includes enhanced spatial audio, so conversations taking place in the Metaverse have the same sonic feel as they do in real life.

The company is working on a bracelet that can detect neurological signals in humans and convert those signals into output on a digital screen. The technology essentially turns the human hand into a remote control, a helpful tool when attempting to operate smart glasses.

Zuckerberg demonstrated the technology to a group of reporters from one of the company’s office buildings near Seattle late last month. The bracelet is bulky at the moment, he conceded, but eventually he thinks it will be stylish enough for people to always wear it to control the devices around them.

“I think in the future people will use it to control their phones and computers and all these other things,” he said. “You will only have a small band around your wrist.”

“It’s not that far away.” He added. “It’s not this year, but it’s not that far away.”

The Quest Pro goes on sale Tuesday and Meta will ship it on October 25th.

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