“Wow wow wow. Beautiful.” That was the first thing I heard from an enthusiastic WWDC attendee as I waited to test Apple’s Vision Pro mixed reality headset. That level of excitement is exactly what Apple hopes for. Realistically, not everyone will be able to afford a device from $3,499 But if Apple can excite mainstream consumers idea of spatial computing, then it will be able to make a bigger splash when it inevitably unveils a more convenient sequel.
After spending 30 minutes with Vision Pro, my reaction is more tempered than the excitable participant. It’s hands down the best mixed reality (VR/AR) experience I’ve ever had, offering an unprecedented sense of immersion, with displays sharp enough to read text on websites, plus an intuitive gesture-based user interface. And yet, it’s still just a VR headset, with many of the same problems endemic to the entire category.
But let’s start at the beginning. Before getting close to Vision Pro, I had to skip a few setup steps on an iPhone. First, I rotated my head to map my face, then gave the phone a full view of my ears to tailor the headset’s spatial audio. I hopped into another room, took off my glasses, and an Apple rep used a machine to take my prescription. The Vision Pro cannot be used with glasses, so anyone needing vision correction will need to order additional lenses.
After admiring Apple’s meticulously designed corporate campus for a few minutes, I walked into a room to see Vision Pro in action. It looked even more impressive than when I first caught a glimpse of it in the morning, but that’s probably because I didn’t have to battle desperate Apple media at the same time. I wore it like any other VR headset: I held the front lenses in my left hand, pulled the back headband back a bit, and gently guided the device over my head.
Gallery: First look at Apple Vision Pro | 4 photos
Gallery: First look at Apple Vision Pro | 4 photos
The Vision Pro’s springy rear headband felt more comfortable than any of Meta’s VR devices, but the headset still exerted some pressure against my eyes and around my nose once I’d squeezed it tightly with a back dial . The prototype unit also has a Velcro strap that goes over the head, just like the Meta Quest. It’s not visible on any of Apple’s promotional materials, but the company tells me the headset’s modular design supports additional straps if needed.
Even without the over-the-head strap, though, I bet the Vision Pro would still feel visible against your eyes. You probably won’t forget you’re wearing it, which would ultimately limit her sense of immersion. And then there’s the external battery pack, which will need to be in your pocket or somewhere next to you to use the headset. I haven’t had any major issues with it, but dealing with an extra cable is something I didn’t expect from an Apple headset.
But I admit, I mostly forgot about its slight discomfort once I tried Vision Pro in action. When the screen lit up, I was faced with the same elegant meeting room I had initially entered, except this time I could also see a series of app icons hovering in front of me. Thanks to the headphones’ high-resolution front-facing cameras, I had a clear view of my surroundings, along with Apple representatives leading my demo. It wasn’t a perfect representation of reality, but it was better than any VR or AR product I’ve ever seen.
After some training with eye tracking, which involved following the moving dots on the screen with just my eyes, I also felt like I’d acquired a superpower. A simple glance at an app icon or a specific menu or button would instantly highlight it. Then I learned two key gestures, a finger pinch to select things and a finger swipe motion to scroll up/down or left/right. Unlike the Quest, you can also make those lap hand gestures comfortable; you don’t have to raise your hands like an amateur conductor.
It might be cliché to say this, but within seconds of learning those gestures, I felt like Tom Cruise in Minority report. All I needed was a glance and a pinch to open apps and quickly navigate through the interface. I also realized that a tap-and-pinch motion could scroll through websites quickly, a genuinely intuitive gesture that just felt delightful. After years of living with touchscreen interfaces on iOS and iPadOS, I don’t think anyone will have a problem learning to use Vision Pro.
With the basics down, I was ready to experience the Vision Pro’s most wonderful piece of hardware: its dual 4K micro-OLED displays. They look sharper than any screen I’ve seen before, whether it’s a VR headset or a TV. Photos look incredibly sharp, particularly panoramic images, which completely fill the entire field of view. And 3D video shot with the Vision Pro’s front-facing cameras looks eerily lifelike, almost as if you’re replaying a perfectly captured memory.
I was very impressed with how Vision Pro handled a 3D clip of Avatar: The Way of Water. The movie looked crisp and clear with all the 3D depth I remembered from the cinema. At times, the 3D looked even better than in theaters since I didn’t have to dim the movie with shaded 3D glasses. Apple would not confirm if Vision Pro could work The water way with a high frame rate of 48fps, the film initially jumped from 24fps footage to 48fps in theaters, but even without that capability, it’s something I’d still prefer to watch with headphones instead of a 4K 2D TV.
Like other VR headsets, you can also enter a virtual cinema to watch videos. By default, that mode puts you in the middle of a theater, but as a dedicated ringside babysitter, it wasn’t close enough for me. (Fight me, I don’t care.) Thankfully, Vision Pro gives you options: I was able to virtually get much closer to the screen, while even the weirdos in the back row can create that experience. Seeing Avatar: The Way of Water projected in clear 3D, at a size close to my local multiplex, it looked miraculous. Imagine wearing this thing on a long flight and going on a movie marathon.
The Vision Pro’s side speakers also do a great job of recreating cinematic spatial sound. Since they’re basically just small speakers, other people can hear them too. For a truly private experience, you’ll need to wear a pair of AirPods or AirPods Max.
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