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I’m standing on the green, ready to take my shot in mini-golf. I’m playing table tennis, immersed in the virtual world. I’m assembling a complex 3D puzzle, completely absorbed. I’m aiming my bow and arrow at hordes of undead creatures, feeling the adrenaline rush. These are the exhilarating experiences I typically enjoy with my Meta Quest 2 VR headset. But this time, I’m strapping on the Pico 4, and the sensation is remarkably similar.
The Pico 4, developed by Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok, is emerging as a credible contender to Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset. It signals the onset of a wave of standalone VR headsets that will offer users a wider range of hardware options. However, whether it surpasses its predecessor is still up for debate, at least in my case.
Price and Availability
While the Pico 4 is not currently available in the United States, it offers an attractive price point in the Asian and European markets, undercutting the Quest 2. The 128GB model is priced at 429 euros, while the 256GB version costs 499 euros. In conversions, that’s roughly $425, £375, or AU$640, making it an enticing option for consumers seeking an affordable VR experience.
Initially, the Pico 4 is being released in 13 European countries, Japan, and Korea. However, Bytedance has no plans to introduce it to the US market. Instead, they intend to launch a business-focused pro-level version equipped with eye-tracking capabilities next year, which could rival Meta’s Quest Pro.
Display and Design: A Quest 2 Upgrade
The Pico 4 boasts a sleek and compact design, utilizing a new type of pancake lens, similar to Meta’s latest Quest Pro. The front of the headset is noticeably smaller, giving it a more streamlined appearance. However, like the Quest 2, I do encounter some trouble fitting the foam-covered eyepiece over my extra-wide glasses.
Despite this minor setback, the Pico 4 offers a comfortable fit. The battery, located at the back of the adjustable head strap, helps distribute the weight, reducing strain on my head. In comparison, the Quest 2 comes with an elastic head strap that feels less comfortable but more compact. The Pico’s design allows me to easily slide the headset on and off, with the front angled to provide quicker access to the virtual world.
The Pico 4 features LCD displays with a resolution of 2,160×2,160 pixels per eye, surpassing the Quest 2’s 1,832×1,920-pixel displays. However, in most applications, the difference is not immediately noticeable. The refresh rate can reach 90Hz when enabled, falling short of the Quest 2’s 120Hz capability. Additionally, the wider field of view in the Pico 4 (at 105 degrees) enhances the immersive experience, making game panoramas feel more natural. Personally, I find the visual quality quite pleasing.
Furthermore, the passthrough cameras on the Pico 4 deliver higher-resolution full-color images compared to the grainier black and white images produced by the Quest 2. I can explore my surroundings with greater detail through the headset. However, I couldn’t find any notable mixed reality applications to truly take advantage of this feature. The Fruit Ninja game available on the Pico app store offers a passthrough-enabled mode, but the VR elements do not align with the real world—they are merely overlaid.
The recently tested, significantly more expensive Meta Quest Pro, on the other hand, provides an augmented reality experience by seamlessly merging virtual objects with the real world. Unfortunately, the Pico 4, with its current software, does not offer such functionality.
The Pico 4 charges via USB-C, much like the Quest 2, and the battery life is expected to be around two to three hours—on par with its competitor.
Controllers: A Familiar Feel
The included Pico 4 controllers feature a similar layout to the Quest 2’s controllers, with two raised buttons, two flat buttons (one more than the Quest 2), an analog stick, and two grip triggers. A raised plastic ring positioned below the controller enables tracking using the headset’s built-in cameras, akin to the Quest 2. However, the ring’s placement differs—it arcs downward instead of looping upward.
Powered by two AA batteries each, the controllers offer good battery life so far. The vibrations produced by the haptics are sometimes stronger than those of the Quest 2, though not quite as detailed or realistic as those on the upcoming Quest Pro and PlayStation VR 2.
I have found that playing high-speed games like Eleven Table Tennis and Space Pirate Trainer on the Pico 4 is effortless, just as it is on the Quest 2.
App Library and Software Extras: A Mixed Bag
The Pico app ecosystem presents a smaller selection compared to Meta’s expansive Quest app store, which is one of the downsides of the Pico 4. Many beloved titles are available, including Walkabout Mini Golf, Demeo, Eleven Table Tennis, Red Matter, and various other games. However, several notable games are absent, including Meta-owned titles like Beat Saber and Population One, as well as popular titles like Resident Evil 4, Moss, and Star Wars: Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge. The Quest 2 undoubtedly prevails in terms of game selection, particularly since the Pico 4 lacks any true exclusives to compensate for this limitation.
The absence of specific social and productivity apps also concerns me. While Rec Room, Tiltbrush, and Virtual Desktop are offered, VRChat, Microsoft’s AltspaceVR, and many other art and productivity apps are missing. Meta has made significant strides in integrating a myriad of 2D apps into their Quest platform, with new partnerships with Microsoft on the horizon. Unfortunately, the Pico 4 lacks these features.
Regarding fitness, an essential aspect of standalone VR, the Pico 4 offers some fitness apps such as LesMills Body Combat and OhShape. However, popular titles, such as Beat Saber and the subscription-based app Supernatural, are absent. Pico has promised body tracker accessories next year, which could potentially introduce additional full-body fitness options currently lacking on the Quest 2. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of these accessories, their arrival time, and compatibility with existing apps remain uncertain.
Similar to the Quest 2, the Pico 4 can connect to a PC and function as a PC VR headset. However, the Pico lacks the phone-connected features that have become commonplace, like phone notifications and Meta’s Facebook integrations (albeit perhaps surprisingly useful). Pico’s alternative solutions are yet to be tested and evaluated.
Additionally, hand tracking without controllers, a standard feature on the Quest 2, has yet to be introduced on the Pico 4. A forthcoming software update is expected to rectify this, but the quality of the implementation remains to be seen in comparison to Meta’s solution.
Nevertheless, I have thoroughly enjoyed playing the games I have tried so far on the Pico 4. I have downloaded a range of familiar titles, including Walkabout Mini Golf, Demeo, In Death Unchained, Puzzling Places, Fruit Ninja, Space Pirate Trainer, Eleven Table Tennis, Cubism, Superhot, and Real VR Fishing. Each game has provided an excellent experience, even if they are essentially the same as their Quest counterparts.
For Now: Promising, but Not a Quest Replacement
Unless I had an unwavering aversion to Meta’s products, I would currently opt for the Quest 2 over the Pico 4. While the Pico 4 demonstrates promising improvements in hardware, its limited app library and incomplete software features temper my enthusiasm. Meta is likely to release a Quest 3 headset next year, which may offer similar features to the Pico 4. By then, the Pico 4 itself may have undergone significant enhancements through future software updates, much like the Quest 2. While VR might not make financial sense for everyone, the Pico 4 provides an alternative option. Meta is no longer the sole player in the affordable standalone VR market.
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