I received a Meta Quest 3 on release day, so about 30 days ago at the time I’m writing this. So maybe I should title this post, “One Month with the Quest 3,” but I’ve already written “Meta Quest 3 Review” and I’m too tired out from long nights spent in the metaverse to go back and change it.
If you asked me just 40 days ago if I would ever buy a Meta Quest headset, I would have said something like, “Fuck no, what the fuck is wrong with you? Why would you ask me a question like that? Do you even know who I am?” Because I haven’t liked Facebook, Meta, and Mark Zuckerberg for quite some time. But, the times, they are a-changin’, with Elon Musk single-handedly rebooting Zuckerberg’s reputation. I’ll never use Facebook ever again, but fine, I’ll give this standalone VR thing a shot now.
This is not my first foray into VR. Back in 2019, I bought a Samsung Odyssey+ WMD headset, which attached to my PC via an all-too-short cable. I quickly fell in love with VR, especially with Beat Saber which felt like a culmination of everything I’ve ever loved about gaming and music into one package. My days became a fever dream of playing Beat Saber, and evangelizing Beat Saber to anyone who would listen: “Hark!” I would say, probably, “Have you heard? The perfect game exists, and in it, you play Fruit Ninja, but choreographed to music!” My eyes bloodshot, my voice shaking with neurotic joy.
But very quickly I fell out of love, about a month in, after a particularly intense play session of Half-Life: Alyx–with free movement on–made me feel so nauseated I still felt sick to my stomach the day after. The cable, to the PC, turned playing into a hassle, because I would have to move my entire PC between rooms. These factors combined to ensure I didn’t want to put the effort into getting my “VR legs”, the headset went into a cupboard, and I dreamt of playing Beat Saber again in a future where VR was easy and convenient to enjoy.
Well, that day is here, mostly. The Meta Quest 3 is the easiest way to play Beat Saber just about anywhere you want. Is it the best way to play Beat Saber? Probably not, not until they sort out the controller tracking issues. But for your $500 to $900–depending on how many accessories you are willing to buy to fix various issues with the out of box experience–you’re getting a good portable rig to play Beat Saber on, and it does some other nifty things as well.
Almost as soon as I got the Quest 3, I started telling people that this was the thing to buy if you could not wait to get a demo of the Apple Vision Pro experience. It may be an early prototype of a budget version of the Vision Pro, but all the various bits and pieces are here, just cobbled together into a bit of a mess of a product. It’s unfair to compare it to the Vision Pro, a product that does not actually exist yet, a product that will cost 6-7 times as much, but it’s very hard not to do so.
You can do all the Vision Pro stuff: watch movies and television in a virtual environment, or on a virtual screen using passthrough mode. You can play games. You can do calls complete with silly little avatars hanging out in a virtual space. You can set up a virtual screen for your computer, so you can compute in privacy or with more and bigger screens than you really have. What else can the Vision Pro do? That’s basically it? Well, that was a low bar, and the Quest 3 has no problem meeting it. The problem is, of course, that the Quest 3 is going to give you the $500 experience of using these features and not the $3500 experience, if such a thing is even reasonably possible.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, the movie and television watching stuff is not built in, it’s handled by third party apps, and the free ones aren’t great. The paid ones don’t offer the best experience either. People claim that watching movies on the Vision Pro is like watching them on a big OLED HDR television; on the Quest 3, watching movies is more like watching them on a 1080p SDR display. Sure, it’s big like a theater screen, but it doesn’t look great. If you have a decent television, this won’t replace it.
The Quest 3 is much more powerful than the Quest 2, which is nice, but it’s still basically a mobile phone strapped to your face, so the graphics in games aren’t fantastic. And at the moment, there aren’t a lot of games that have been updated to utilize the “power” of the Quest 3, so that bump in power is not entirely reflected in the games you’ll play, and even when it is, the benefits are mostly resolution and clarity. The games themselves still look like they are PS3 era, maybe PS4 at best. This isn’t necessarily a problem specific to the Quest 3, it takes some serious muscle to render two images at once, so even PCVR games can look a little rough around the edges anyway.
The biggest downside to the Quest 3, coming from the Samsung Odyssey+, is the switch from AMOLED displays to LCD. Instead of getting inky, immersive blacks in dark environments, you get… gray. Gray everywhere. Any really dark games, like The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, look hazy and washed out as a result, and you don’t feel particularly immersed at all. It’s a bizarre decision that negatively affects the experience of playing games and watching movies pretty significantly. You’d think OLED is table stakes for VR headsets, but I guess not.
What was that I said about accessories? Oh, yes, by default the Quest 3 comes with a fabric strap that is absolutely awful. At the very least, you want to buy the Elite Strap ($70), which adds a clamping halo that you can seat down by your occipital spur and makes the headset way more comfortable.
But now that you actually want to wear the thing, the battery life is mostly dead in under 2 hours of playtime, so that’s not great. Sure, you can find some way to rig up a battery pack in your pocket, but it’s easier to get the Elite Strap With Battery ($130), which adds a second battery and effectively doubles your battery life and acts as a counter-balance to the weight on the front of the headset, making it even more comfortable to wear.
The other accessory that should have been included in the box is the Silicone Facial Interface, which is practically a requirement if you use your Quest headset for exercise. By default you get a soft fabric one, which soaks up sweat like a sponge and can get hot on your face. The silicone facial interface, of course, does not soak up any sweat, and after an intense workout you can very easily wipe the sweat off of it. I’m not sure how sweat doesn’t get inside the headset or on the lenses, but so far all the sweat that gets onto the headset is just on the silicone facial interface.
Meta Horizon Worlds
When it comes to platform specific features and exclusives, the big thing is Horizon Worlds, Meta’s version of the “metaverse”, where you can visit different “worlds” (user created levels). Worlds can be as simple as an artistic experience to walk through lazily, as complex as a multiplayer first person shooter, or just a real life facsimile of some bar somewhere. It seems like these are the main three types of world: art, game, or social venue.
I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Horizon Worlds and there are two things that you learn very quickly: there aren’t a lot of people using Horizon Worlds, and the people who are regulars are very, very committed. I guess it shouldn’t be shocking that there are people for whom Horizon Worlds is their main social and gaming experience every single day. Many people in Horizon Worlds migrated from other virtual worlds that got shut down: some people speak wistfully of Playstation Home, others of AltSpace. No one speaks positively of VRChat, because the people who like VRChat are over there, and the people who don’t like VRChat stick to Horizon Worlds.
Before I get into anything too negative, I want to say that the community vibe in Horizon Worlds is initially extremely refreshing. People are very welcoming and typically very kind. The vibe reminded me of the early internet in a very good way. People are very quick to trade follow requests with you, and if you’re nice you can very quickly make friends. Of course, you can run into assholes, but you can just walk away from them, because they won’t follow you–there is always someone wiling to stay behind and talk to the asshole. I almost immediately made a new friend on my first night visiting, who joined me on subsequent explorations for well over a week.
Another great thing about Horizon Worlds and services like it is that it gives a relatively safe space for people with autism to socialize. I heard from multiple people how socializing in VR is sometimes the only way for some children and adults with autism to properly socialize with other people. That’s a really beautiful thing in and of itself.
I’ve met people who spend several hours every day in Horizon Worlds, and needless to say, these people are filling some sort of gaping hole in their lives with it. I’ve heard many sob stories. One guy talked about how his paperwork to leave the military got botched, so he apparently had no choice to sell his car and house, and talked about how he was going to have to euthanize his dogs because he can’t afford to take care of them. Most of the women I have spoken to in Horizon Worlds bring up having been physically abused by the men in their lives. To put a really fine point on it, I’ve heard two people (a man and a woman, unrelated to each other) talk about some or all of their children being taken by Child Protective Services. I’m not even sure why you would tell people that. I’ve heard three separate people talk about having to console people who come to Horizon Worlds to talk about committing suicide.
So that’s kind of the big issue with Horizon Worlds. Clearly Mark Zuckerberg and people at Meta thought, and may still think, that Horizon Worlds would be some great destination that normal people from all over the world would want to use and congregate in. And that may have been true during the early days of the pandemic, I have heard from people who were around back then that Horizon Worlds was popping off during the pandemic. But after that initial rush subsided, all that is left is all the “regulars”, and just like in real life, all those regulars have formed little cliques with each other. There’s politics and drama, and of course some people see Horizon Worlds as yet another sexual internet playground somehow, and once you start to encounter those things, it kind of takes the shine off. At that point, Horizon Worlds just ends up being a too-accurate facsimile of the real world, and it no longer feels like a piece of light escapism, but a mirror.