FutureFive New Zealand - Consumer technology news & reviews from the future
Story image
Hands-on review: Meta Quest 3 VR headset
Mon, 15th Jan 2024

The third incarnation of the Oculus Quest standalone consumer virtual reality headset is here. The Meta Quest 3 is smaller, lighter, and offers a higher fidelity virtual reality experience than its predecessors.  With the addition of mixed reality via the device's colour pass-through cameras, could this be the next generation of consumer VR headsets?

The Quest 3 comes in a tiny box that highlights how far we have come from strapping massive headsets to our faces (yes, I'm looking at you, HTC Vive Pro 2). The box contains the headset, two dinky battery-operated controllers, and a USB charge cable with a power adapter.

Setup is easy; you just slip the elastic strap over your head, and away you go. The consumer-friendly onboarding has the device walk you through the set-up process, choosing your play environment, and giving you a brief tutorial on the device's basic functions. It's really easy. You do need a Meta account, but even setting the device up for a child is painless. This seamless initial consumer experience is something that other headsets often overlook.

The controllers, like the Quest 3 itself, are nice and small. There's a strap on each controller to stop you from throwing them through the window during your VR experiences. The controllers are not rechargeable, each using a single AA battery. 

The Quest 3's standalone virtual reality/mixed reality feature is most definitely a massive plus over earlier tethered PC VR headsets. You are free to move about your environment without tripping over a cable. The downside is the headset's battery life, which is only about two hours.

What makes the Meta Quest 3's wireless VR even more interesting than its PC VR predecessors is the power of its onboard processor. The games and apps in the store are run via the onboard Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 processor from the device's storage, which is either 128GB or 512GB, depending on which model you choose. 

The Meta Quest 3 has a 4K screen with 2064x2208 pixels per eye with 110 degrees of horizontal view and 96 degrees vertical, in real terms that means a very crisp display with a large field of view that doesn't feel too much like you are looking through binoculars. The Quest 3 uses LCD screens, which means it lacks the deep blacks of the PSVR2's OLED panels, but the display does not suffer the PSVR2's grainy mura artifacts, either.

All the most popular virtual reality experiences are available on the Quest 3. Beat Saber, SuperHot VR, and Quest exclusives, the new Assassin's Creed Nexus VR can be taken with you and played with just the headset and controllers anywhere you like.

The real killer application, and one that is easily overlooked, or indeed completely dismissed is the Meta Quest 3's mixed reality functionality. A VR headset placed on the head of an uninitiated family member or client can be an unnerving, overwhelming, and downright frightening experience.

Virtual reality is amazing and exciting it can transport you to incredible and fantastical places. But the reality of, um, virtual reality is that it takes you out of the world that you are familiar with, usually into a completely dark area before thrusting you into unfamiliar surroundings isolating you from the people and the place that you were only moments ago. That's not good fun for a lot of people. The Meta Quest 3 gets around this, making the experience a lot more user-friendly.

The Quest 3 has two colour passthrough cameras on the front of the device. These can be used to display the real-world surroundings on the display. The camera image is not great, especially in low light, but adequate. It is possible to wander about your house with the headset on using the passthrough camera, even if it is a bit like Robocop vision. You can read your phone and spot the cat before you trip over it. 

Aside from the above, it means when you put on the headset you are not immediately dragged from really and thrust into a virtual world. Instead, the device's menu hovers in front of you whilst you sit or stand in your room. Focusing on the Quest 3's crisp graphics places the passthrough camera's sub-par quality in your peripheral vision, making the menu overlaying the real world look pretty amazing.

This is mixed reality, it's awesome and, as far as I'm concerned, it's the future of this technology. There's obvious room for improvement, but that's the familiar story of VR: nearly, but not quite.

Games and apps like the included First Encounters, Lego Bricktales, and Figmin XR use your room as the backdrop to your mixed reality experience. Even the menus system in Assassin's Creed Nexus VR opens in your room when playing on the Quest 3; this real-world anchor making the experience more accessible.

I would like to say that the Meta Quest 3's hand-tracking also adds to the headset's user-friendliness, it's pretty fantastic, but, again, it's not quite there. Being able to "see" your fingers in VR (or MR) synched with your real hands, then grabbing the display hovering in front of you and moving it with your fingertips, is pretty cool.  

The recently released Xbox Game Pass app adds a whole new dimension to gaming on the Meta Quest 3. With an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription players can access over 400 Xbox games and play them on a virtual screen, either in an Xbox VR environment or on a screen floating in your room via the passthrough camera. Games are streamed from Microsoft's servers to the headset, so there's no downloading or need for game storage space or an Xbox. You just need a decent Internet connection and a compatible controller.

Plugging the Meta Quest 3 into a gaming PC via a USB Type-C cable (not supplied, of course) opens up the headset to the vast collection of PC VR gaming titles. If your network can handle it, you can also connect to the PC wirelessly via "Airlink" but you need to be pretty much sitting on top of a decent router to get any joy. The new Steam Link app also helps to wirelessly connect the Quest 3 to your PC VR gaming collection.  

Putting games aside for one moment, the potential for the Quest 3's technology to revolutionise admin and design offices is immediately apparent to me. Using the Figmin XR app from the store I could upload infrastructure 3D design models to Sketchfab and download them into my mixed reality space in seconds. In my room, I was able to look at them as desktop models or scale them up to view at actual size. This is phenomenal. I can put the Meta Quest 3 headset on anyone and still be present next to them to talk about the 3D design they are interacting with. I can even cast what they can see to a TV via the Oculus mobile app so I can better direct them to answer questions. What an easy way of communicating an idea to a client, colleague, or the person on the street. It's an order of magnitude better than confusing plans, pretty pictures, or ropey 3D animations.  

Apps like Softspace allow you to set up huge boards to create a virtual display within your actual office space. The high resolution of the Quest 3 means that you can see all your documents around you and even move through them. 

With the Moon VR video player, I can do household chores with a video screen anchored to the wall in front of me. I can watch a movie (even a 3D movie) wearing the headset whilst doing the dishes.

The above wouldn't be viable if it wasn't for the Quest 3 being the most comfortable and lightest VR headset of its class that I've used. It shows up my Vive Pro 2 for the heavy, bulky facemask that it is. I feel I could wear the Quest 3 for a long time without the need to constantly adjust it (I'm looking at you, again, Vive Pro 2). There is a bit of light that creeps in from under the nose, but it can be worn tight without feeling like you are crushing your head. 

Whilst cheaper than other standalone headsets, Meta still has its hand out at every turn, wanting your cash. The base Quest 3 headset comes in two flavours, the NZ$929.99/AU$799.99 128GB version, and the NZ$1199.99/AU$1049.99 512GB version. Then there's NZ$129.99/AU$119.99 for the carry case, the NZ$129.99/AU$119.99 for the Elite Headstrap, and NZ$139.99/AU$129.99 for the PC VR Link Cable. 

There's also an AU$219.99 charging dock (not available in NZ), NZ$79.99/AU$69.99 Active Controller Straps, and NZ$79.99AU$69.99 for a replacement silicon facial interface.

Right now, for the price and utility, I don't think you can get a better VR headset. It's comfortable and easy to use, and the pass-through cameras make it a lot more "wearable". There's a massive library of apps, many of which are free or offer demos and trials. Game performance may not be to PC VR or PSVR2-level, but they still look and play well, untethered and anywhere. The Meta Quest 3 is a great introduction to the world of VR for newcomers and those seeking an upgrade from their existing PC VR headset.