Meta Quest Pro Gets Down to Business

One thing I’ve found time and again in covering virtual and augmented reality devices is that it’s hard to judge them without trying them. As opposed to devices like smartphones, where expectations are straightforward — touch screen, traditional operating system, apps — immersive experiences often need to be tried to make sense. For that reason, I was excited to get a hands-on tour of the Meta Quest Pro headset recently at a Meta office in London.

This new device is aimed primarily at business applications, with a slew of hardware and software changes designed to make the Quest Pro a serious contender for productivity — which it needs to be to justify its $1,500 price tag. Most notably, the pass-through mixed-reality capability is designed to let users merge their physical workspaces with virtual ones, and new face- and eye-tracking sensors are intended to increase the level of immersion in social and collaborative experiences. Support for Microsoft’s Office suite is also included, to help people get work done in virtual reality.

But the proof of these new devices is in the pudding, and I was keen to try out the headset to test its capabilities.

To begin the demo I was shown to a desk with a Quest Pro and a MacBook Pro, and was guided into a Horizon Workrooms space designed to demonstrate the collaborative capabilities of Meta’s new hardware. This saw me jump into a meeting room with two people: Jordan, who was also using a Quest Pro headset, and Dave, joining from a laptop.

What immediately struck me was the progress that’s been made with avatar animation, which had somewhat understandably been the subject of recent memes. Improvements here come thanks to face-, eye- and hand-tracking in the headset. Speaking with Jordan’s avatar was far more immersive than any system I’ve used in the past, with body language and expressions translating from the real world to the virtual one. This is enhanced by spatial audio, which adjusts the volume of a person speaking depending on their proximity in the virtual environment.

And to top it all off, Jordan and I were able to high-five, with a special animation and sound effect accompanying the action. This is undoubtedly very cheesy. But it brought a smile to my face, reinforcing the sense of being in the same space as another person through a natural gesture recreated in a virtual world.

Altogether, this really did help to create a stronger sense of being in the room with another person, and it felt like I’d “met” Jordan in a way that video struggles to compete with. Dave’s video feed did work seamlessly, with a more realistic image of his face, but it was notable how much less present his floating head felt than Jordan’s full 3D avatar.

I also got to try out some other cool experiences. The first of these was an app called Wooorld, which transports a user to carefully rendered 3D cities and landmarks — like Google Street View, but with the ability to step in and out of the map. This drew on the pass-through capabilities of the Quest Pro, meaning the map could be displayed on the floor and I could literally walk among 3D models of buildings before zooming to street level and seeing a 360-degree image form around me.

After this, I jumped into TribeXR, an app where people can learn to DJ with guided lessons from an expert. Notably, the app has a faithful recreation of a Pioneer DJ desk with dozens — if not hundreds — of buttons, dials and switches, meaning that aspiring mixers can practice on a virtual version of the best equipment. Having never touched a real mixing deck in my life, even the virtual version was intimidating at first; but thanks to my virtual teacher, I quickly got into the swing of things.

These latter applications likely won’t drive uptake of the Quest Pro, which is heavily geared toward businesses. But they demonstrated the power of the pass-through mixed-reality experience on the headset, which is its main selling point. Virtual reality is undoubtedly a powerful experience, but I’ve always been more by impressed by devices that can blend the virtual with the real thanks to high-resolution pass-through displays.

In my view, this is what makes the Quest Pro really exciting. The promise of Meta’s “metaverse” vision comes from breaking down the boundaries between physical and virtual, making it easier to jump from one reality to the other and blend the two when needed. The pass-through capabilities on the Quest Pro are a step forward in the journey to bring this to life, and it’ll be fascinating to see how future devices — including augmented reality smart glasses — build on this vision. As ever, my experience is a tough one to describe in words, but I definitely feel that the Quest Pro brings the metaverse one step closer.