Meet the new Meta Quest 3 Headset: A Bold Step Towards Mixed Reality

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Earlier this week, at the start of the annual Meta Connect developer conference, Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg revealed the details of the much-awaited Meta Quest 3 virtual reality headset. Like previous versions of the headset, the Quest 3 will cover the wearer’s eyes like a pair of ski googles, with spatial audio piped from embedded speakers in the device’s side straps. The Quest range of headsets still ranks among the most successful of the VR headsets available, having sold 20 million devices since their launch in 2019. Unlike the Rift, which first came out in 2016, the main advantage of the Quest is that is standalone – meaning it requires no additional desktop or laptop computer to power it. Wireless controllers allow users to see virtual versions of their hands, something that Meta finally removed last year with a software update that allows users to discard the controllers entirely and just use their hands instead: a far more intuitive, and delightful, experience for users, as you can see in one of our many VR experiences below:

But back to the new kid on the block. The Quest 3, much like the improved v2 model over the original, is lighter, slimmer and comes with more memory, as well as boosted resolution – an increase of nearly 30%. But the main difference is the addition of full colour video passthrough, giving users the ability to see the real world around them, with 3D content superimposed over the top – a step that heralds the company’s first step into mixed reality. Clearly, Meta has taken its learnings from the launch of its Quest Pro Headset (launched last year at a $1000 price point) and integrated it into its more affordable sibling, squarely aiming at far more expensive competitors, such as Apple’s Vision Pro or Microsoft’s Hololens 2 (both of which retail at approximately $3500). But why choose mixed reality over virtual reality? First, let’s lay out the main differences:

Virtual reality: a fully computer-generated perspective that changes in real-time based on the user’s interactions. Moving beyond 360 videos, which fix the user to the spot and only allow them to interact via their head position, mobile VR apps allow users to reach out, grab, touch and move virtual objects, as well as full virtual locomotion (via teleporting or taking physical steps).

Augmented reality: computer-generated 2D or 3D assets are superimposed on top of a live-action camera view of the world using SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), most famously in the global phenomenon that was Pokemon Go.

Mixed reality: in a way combining the two previous examples, mixed reality shows you the real world with augmented 3D objects appearing as though they shared the same space as you. Here the main difference is that MR devices scan the space that the user is in, creating 3D maps of the room to allow objects to persist and interact with that space: objects will stay on the same real world table-top you left them on.

PS. Extended Reality – XR (better than ER)is the umbrella term that encapsulates all three of the above.

So why use the Quest 3 or mobile VR in the first place? We’ve found that VR is unmatched as a medium for immersing users quickly and effectively in a virtual world, creating a strong bond between them and the virtual characters they interact with inside a scene. We leveraged this power in our branching narrative experience for Gilead based on showcasing the stories of former intravenous drug users who had struggled with Hepatitis C. What’s more, the impact of the medium means that information presented in this format is more impactful and better retained than in other formats. Check out this paper Dan researched and wrote while a Tow Center Digital Journalism Fellow for more information.

Here at Empathetic Media Health we’ve created dozens of VR, AR and MR experiences: click on the links at the top of the page for more details. In the wake of the new Quest 3 announcements, one thing is certain: the future of mobile, fully interactive XR is here to stay.

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