The face-computing metaverse still hasn’t gone mainstream, but that isn’t stopping Meta from trying to make it so.
Today Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg revealed full details about two new hardware products: an updated virtual reality Quest headset and a new set of Meta-powered smart glasses made by Ray-Ban. The announcements came at the start of the company’s annual Meta Connect developer conference.
Meta’s latest VR headset is the Quest 3. Like its predecessors, the Quest 3 covers the wearer’s eyes and sides of their face like a pair of ski goggles. This has been one of its biggest barriers to widespread adoption, because most of us would rather bury our faces in the glass slabs in our hands than limit our vision in a full-fledged face computer. But this newest Quest—a tech device borne from Meta’s acquisition of Oculus nearly a decade ago—relies more on mixed reality, suggesting that the future of head-mounted computers might actually involve seeing the real world a little bit more.
Zuckerberg, in his keynote address, emphasized that he believes the future of computing is a fully melded, physical-digital world. He also called the Quest 3 the industry’s first “mainstream reality headset.”
“The physical world around us is amazing. One of life’s great joys is being able to go outside and explore,” he said. “But our industry has been building up this digital world alongside it. People say, ‘The digital world isn’t the real world,’ but we really think the real world is a combination of the physical world we inhabit and the digital world we’re building.”
Meta has been teasing the Quest 3 in preliminary announcements since summer in an effort to build hype around the product. Now we know it will start shipping on October 10 and will cost $500 for a base model with 128 gigabytes of internal storage. The 512-GB model will cost $650.
The new Meta Quest 3 is lighter and slimmer and has more memory than the Meta Quest 2—all of the things you’d expect from a “new,” updated gadget. It’s running on Snapdragon’s XR2 Gen 2 chipset, which affords it better graphics performance.
Its optics have been improved too, which is important for the mixed-reality experience—the ability to see the real world around you via pass-through video. The pass-through video is in full color, whereas on the Meta Quest 2 it was grayscale. (The Meta Quest Pro has color pass-through, but again, that’s a more expensive product.) The field of view on the Quest 3 is slightly wider than on the Quest 2. A new 4K “infinite display” increases the resolution by nearly 30 percent. The headset’s spatial audio is louder. The accompanying Touch Controllers have shed their plastic rings and supposedly have improved haptic feedback.
In short, the Meta Quest 3 has gone … Pro.
Meta has spent billions in recent years on the so-called metaverse, and even changed the company name to reflect this vision for the future of computing. The term metaverse was first coined by the writer Neal Stephenson in the 1990s (to describe a totally made-up world), but it is now used to describe a set of connected, social experiences that happen in a 3D computing space. Now dozens of big tech companies are jockeying for position in that space, with some presenting a vision reliant on specific hardware and others insisting that the metaverse already exists within mobile games, or in AR apps.
Meta has been the clear standout seller of VR headsets since it first launched the Quest in 2019, having sold a reported 20 million devices to date. But it may face a formidable challenger early next year, when Apple’s Vision Pro headset starts shipping. At $3,500, Apple’s Vision Pro is extremely pricey—Meta’s Quest Pro is “only” $1,000, and people winced at that—but it’s designed to offer an integrated and Apple-y mixed-reality experience, with intuitive color pass-through. It’s unclear whether Apple will ever ship a lower-priced model.
Ben Bajarin, chief executive and principal analyst at Creative Strategies, said that in a recent survey he conducted, most respondents said they were willing to spend between $250 and $499 on a headset, and the next-largest group were only willing to spend $100 to $249. Of the people he surveyed, 20 percent were open to investing $1,000 or more on VR. Bajarin also noted that travel, entertainment, and gaming apps are some of the most popular experiences on VR (as opposed to work apps).
Meta, too, has said that games are the most popular category of apps for Meta Quest. At Meta Connect, the company said 100 new games are coming to the Quest store, which has over 500 right now. It also noted that more than half of those games will use mixed reality.
In a press briefing ahead of today’s Connect developer event, Meta showed off a handful of virtual games and experiences on the new Quest 3. (Initial thought on the soft head strap: still not easy to adjust, especially with long hair.) At least three of the apps I tried were mixed reality—a multiplayer tabletop game called BAM, a Netflix experience built around its hit Stranger Things, and a truly addictive game called First Encounters, which involved firing at fuzzy aliens. This meant that I could still see the space around me: the Meta employees lurking nearby, the sharp edges of tables, the light streaming into the room. Fully immersive VR is what makes it VR, with all its awe and nausea, but a headset that mixes real-world visibility with compelling games might appeal more to the mainstream.
More to See
Meta also revealed the next version of its video-capturing smart glasses, which, like the previous glasses, were produced in partnership with Ray-Ban.
Those original glasses, called Ray-Ban Stories, were introduced in September 2021 and looked a lot like regular Wayfarer sunglasses, with one crucial exception: They contained two 5-megapixel cameras for capturing both still images and video. They also contained speakers and an array of three microphones for picking up voice commands. Sure, the frames had a barely noticeable LED light to let people around you know that you were recording, but as WIRED pointed out at the time, it was almost too easy to surreptitiously record people.
The $299 Ray-Ban Stories were labeled a privacy nightmare, and they weren’t used much by those who purchased them, The Wall Street Journal reported last month. But that hasn’t deterred Meta from releasing this next long-in-the-works design.
The newest video-capture wearables from Meta and Ray-Ban include both sunglasses and clear-lens glasses, which can be purchased with prescription lenses inserted. There are two different frame styles—Wayfarer and Headliner—as well as options for matte or shiny plastic and four different frame colors.
Meta says the new glasses are lighter, with better weight distribution and a larger touchpad on the right temple. They record 1080p HD video and 12-megapixel still images. They also have louder speakers, and the company claims an additional microphone in the nose bridge of the frames can capture voice audio more clearly.
Those microphones and embedded speakers also let wearers converse with a new AI-powered chatbot assistant that Meta debuted today at Connect. Zuckerberg claims these conversational interactions with machine intelligence will be central to the future of products like these. “I think the AI part of this is going to be just as important in smart glasses being adopted as the augmented reality features,” he said during the keynote.
In a press event ahead of Meta Connect, the company said it has doubled the size of the LED light that indicates the glasses are recording. “We’ve had users tell us that they love the glasses, but they want people to know that they are smart glasses,” said Li-Chen Miller, vice president of product for Meta’s smart glasses and AI divisions. “That’s why we’re excited about this transparency.” (The new LED light didn’t appear that much more obvious to me when I saw it.)
The new smart glasses go on sale October 17, starting at $299 for regular lenses, $379 for transition lenses, and probably a lot more than that for prescription lenses.
I was able to briefly try the transparent Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses in advance. They fit comfortably and could easily be mistaken for real glasses, for better or worse. They wirelessly pair with a Meta app called Meta View, where photos and videos are transmitted. Using just my voice, I captured photos and videos and sent those photos and videos to Meta apps like Instagram and Messenger. I was able to call a Meta employee through WhatsApp, though he declined to share Meta’s secrets. Meta is also highlighting that the glasses are a good match for sporting activities because of their new level of water resistance, but I haven’t been able to test them for that.
Wearers can now livestream to Instagram from the glasses. This requires holding up a smartphone too, so you can open the Instagram app, initiate the livestream, and change your viewpoint—from selfie mode to whatever the glasses are seeing—during the livestream. During the demo this worked as promised, though my livestream was only visible on an internal test app. In real use cases, wearers would be able to audibly respond to commenters.
Meta’s new hardware products, both the Quest 3 and Ray-Ban glasses, offer more visibility into the real world—though that “real world” still includes a hefty dose of Meta apps.