Apple Vision Pro is technically spectacular, but it has the same crucial flaw as 3D TV

apple vision pro is technically spectacular, but it has the same crucial flaw as 3d tv


On Monday, Apple finally unveiled its long-awaited augmented reality / virtual reality headset, the Vision Pro at its annual developer conference, WWDC 2023.

If you missed the keynote, you’re probably wondering why What Hi-Fi?, a brand with a pretty obvious remit, is talking about an AR / VR headset.

The reason we’re making an exception for the Apple Vision Pro is that the company is directly marketing it as an “all-in-one” home cinema system that can offer a staggering “100ft viewing experience”. If that wasn’t a bold enough claim, it’s also promising the included Spatial Audio will offer full-fat home cinema-quality sound when playing movies.

We haven’t had a chance to use the headset yet, so I’m not going to talk about display or sound quality. But on paper, the lens tech used is fairly impressive and sounds like a clear step up on what I’ve experienced using the older iterations of Facebook’s Oculus and HTC’s Vive line of headsets over the years.

Specifically, it features a new micro-OLED setup that combines two roughly postage stamp-sized displays. These apparently contain 23 million pixels and let it play movies in 4K and HDR.

If you can get over the $3500 price, this is very cool, especially when you factor in all of the other things the Vision Pro can theoretically do, which include everything from video calls to gaming.

But throughout the entire section of the presentation where Apple showed people gleefully watching movies on the headset, I felt an odd sense of déjà vu.

This wasn’t a PTSD flashback to the time I garrotted myself on the cable of the Oculus Rift VR headset while fleeing a zombie in the game I was testing. It also wasn’t a flashback to the nausea I experienced demoing an “immersive” rock concert “experience” at the Vive’s launch – moshing in VR with bad network latency is not fun.

Instead, it was a resurgence from a much older memory of my time using 3D TVs.

This may sound like an odd thing to say, especially for younger readers who don’t remember when these were all the rage. The short version was that they were uber-expensive TVs that required you to wear fairly expensive special glasses to get a faux 3D effect that was sort of like what you get at IMAX – just nowhere near as good.

The reason I never got on with these is the fact that the majority of my TV viewing, at the least the part I enjoy most, is communal. At my house, I regularly host a ‘bad movie’ night, where my close friends and I resurrect forgotten classics such as Birdemic. We then eat copious amounts of fried food, laughing at the sheer B-movie brilliance on display as we go. We often do the same for sports fixtures, such as the Six Nations.

3D didn’t work in these situations for one reason – we only had two pairs of glasses, so the rest of us couldn’t enjoy the experience.

I can see this issue repeating on the Vision Pro, which has been unashamedly marketed for solo viewing. Throughout its WWDC reveal every picture and video showed a single person watching TV. There was also no mention of party viewing, to do movie nights with friends remotely. Even if there was, would you really invest in two, let alone three headsets to watch with friends and family instead of just getting a TV?

It’s this focus on sitting solo in a dark room that puts me off. The only time I would want to do this was when I was younger and living in shared accommodation with no space for a proper TV. But, back then I definitely didn’t have $3500 sitting under my bed to invest in a headset.

Even now, if I was going to shell out $3500 for movie-watching kit, no matter how good the picture or sound was, I’d want to be able to enjoy the experience with friends. And at this price, I could get some pretty nice kit to do just that – our staff writer Lewis Empson even wrote a system guide on exactly this topic.

And that’s also why I think it’s made the same critical mistake 3D TV makers made many moons ago, by forgetting home cinema experiences are best when shared with friends.


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