Pico 4: Good hardware alone won't cut it
Pico 4 offers great hardware for little money. Are the days of the Meta Quest 2 numbered? Not at all.
Last week, Pico dropped the bombshell and unveiled a technically strong VR headset that's even cheaper than the top dog Meta Quest 2. At least in Europe and parts of Asia, where the device will launch first.
The Pico 4 features advanced pancake lenses for a sharper image and wider field of view, it has a slightly higher resolution, smooth motorized IPD adjustment, and a higher quality passthrough mode. And to top it off, it's smaller, thinner, and lighter than Meta's VR headset.
The Pico 4 is, at least in terms of hardware, something like the Meta Quest 2 Plus. So, what does this mean for Meta Quest 2?
Content matters and VR is no different
If hardware sold hardware, Meta would probably be shaking after the announcement of the Pico 4. But it's the software that sells the hardware, and here Meta is ahead.
Pico 4 comes without the system seller Beat Saber, whose studio Beat Games Meta took over years ago. As a replacement, Pico is bringing Just Dance VR together with Ubisoft - the only exclusive title announced for the new VR headset so far. All other VR games are also available for Meta Quest 2.
Pico 4 is everything a Quest 2.5 should be
It's neither a Cambria competitor nor a Quest 3 one either really
Content and userbase are a self fulfilling prophecy in the console world. One brings the other
Pico 4 is great, but they won't easily catch up, and I think they know it pic.twitter.com/iUiwlcjBVl
- JustDaven (@JayHadHope) September 24, 2022
Beat Games is just one of six VR studios Meta acquired in recent years, and some of them have likely been working on exclusive VR titles for two or more years that could come out soon. Meta has a head start on Pico, with high-profile games like Resident Evil 4, GTA: San Andreas, and Assassin's Creed Nexus also helping to set Meta Quest 2 apart from the competition.
Pico has only had the resources to invest in exclusive VR content at all since the acquisition by TikTok parent company ByteDance in the summer of 2021. At the presentation of Pico 4, Pico announced that it would invest 12 million US dollars in VR studios (maximum of 2 million US dollars per project). That Pico supports developers is welcome, but the announced funds are tiny compared to what Meta spends.
The US is a Meta stronghold
Meta has a clear lead not only in terms of content, but also in terms of the user base. In the largest and most important VR market, the U.S., the Quest brand is strong and Pico will have a particularly hard time securing market share there.
Modern lenses, slightly smaller form factor: That appeals to us enthusiasts. Laymen are not likely to notice such subtle differences as much. In the store, they are more likely to opt for the brand that they know and that their acquaintances and friends already use.
Pico knows this: according to a report from The Information, ByteDance executives believe it would be extremely difficult and enormously expensive to challenge Meta in its home market.
That will be one of the reasons why Pico waits with the market launch in the US and starts in Europe and Asia first. One thing is clear: If the Pico 4 misses the Christmas business in the US, Pico will have an even harder time gaining traction next year.
In general, the timing that Pico has chosen for the Pico 4 launch seems a bit unfortunate. At least if you assume that Meta Quest 3 could be released as early as next year. If this is indeed the case, the device should be equipped with a brand-new XR2 chip and thus herald a new generation of standalone VR headsets. Pico 4 would then already be outdated again in terms of the heart of the hardware. But that remains to be seen.
Meta would probably enjoy domestic competition
It is unlikely that Pico will shake up the VR market in no time. The company will only be able to challenge Meta with a lot of perseverance, investment in research and innovation, and content. Meta is known to be planning three hardware generations for the future, while Pico has mainly copied Meta's hardware and software so far.
The question is whether ByteDance is serious about virtual reality - or just flirting with the VR industry. For now, we can welcome the fact that consumers will soon have some choice again and that players like ByteDance and Sony, and not just Meta, are investing in the ecosystem.
For Meta, by the way, Pico's U.S. market entry would be a boon: The antitrust case that the FTC is currently bringing against Meta will have less chance of success if Meta has another strong competitor in its home market.