Meta’s next hardware play shows high-end VR is going mainstream

A Meta Quest 2 user.
A Meta Quest 2 user.
Image: Meta
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The next phase of Meta’s virtual reality (VR) hardware system will be pricier and offer more features than the current $299 Quest 2 headset. Meta’s next-generation device was expected to be released at the end of 2021, but has been pushed to later this year. 

“[W]e’ll release a higher-end headset, code-named Project Cambria, which will be more focused on work use cases and eventually replacing your laptop or work setup,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during an investor conference call (pdf) last week. 

Unlike the original Oculus Rift VR headset, the Quest uses surface-mounted tracking sensors instead of external sensors. Along with the easier, more portable set-up, and relatively affordable price, the Quest line of headsets have quickly carried Meta’s version of VR into mainstream adoption territory. 

Fueled by titles like Beat Saber, which gamifies exercise, and Population One (think Call of Duty in VR), the Quest 2 has helped Meta boost its Reality Labs revenue by 30%, compared to the same first quarter period in 2021, to $695 million (pdf). And while the costs associated with developing its immersive products ballooned to $3.7 billion, the steady growth on the revenue side (somewhat obscured by the annual holiday season sales spikes) is pushing Meta to stick to its commitment to VR. 

Meta’s roadmap for VR is set for the next three years    

The company is promising that the Cambria VR headset will offer a better ergonomic design, eye and face tracking to facilitate eye contact with others in VR and the ability to transmit facial expressions, and full-color passthrough mixed reality (the passthrough feature on Quest, which lets you pause VR to peek at the real world without removing the headset, is in black and white).

“We’re now basically funding product teams to be building our future products, two or three versions into the future,” said Zuckerberg. “But it’s not going to be until those products really hit the market and scale in a meaningful way and this market ends up being big that this will be a big revenue or profit contributor to the business…this is laying the groundwork for what I expect to be a very exciting 2030s.”

Although Meta didn’t give specific dates, a report from The Information claims that the Cambria headset will arrive in September, along with updated Quest-level devices code-named Stinson in 2023 and Cardiff in 2024. Additionally, the report pegs the price of the Cambria device at around $800 or more.

Who will buy the premium Meta VR headset first?

Despite Meta’s goal of using Cambria to target office and business users, initially the headset will more likely attract the early VR adopters who spent $600 for the company’s Rift headset, which came out in 2016, and about $1,200 for the VR-capable PC needed to use the headset. That niche cohort of users pioneered the VR segment until Meta released the Quest three years later.

In the interim, high-end VR devices largely fell out of fashion, with pricey PC-dependent devices like the StarVR One ($3,200), HTC Vive Pro ($1,500), and the Valve Index ($1,000) only appealing to a small subset of VR users focused on high-resolution graphics, better tracking, and advanced accessories.

Nevertheless, what the coming multi-tier product offering from Meta indicates is that VR is finally beginning to mature into the mainstream device market it has been projected to become since Sony’s PlayStation, HTC, and Meta first delved into the space in 2016.