Apple’s Vision Pro headset is set to hit the shelves at Apple Stores across the U.S. starting tomorrow, Friday, February 2. Whether you can afford it at a starting price of $3,499 or not, here’s a comprehensive overview of Apple’s latest product.
1. It’s Not (Just) a VR Headset
From a hardware perspective, the Vision Pro is a VR headset. It’s a head-mounted device that relies on an opaque display that completely replaces your direct vision and can simulate a virtual environment with a nearly complete field of view. Apple has avoided the term “VR headset”; it calls the Vision Pro a “spatial computing” device, though perhaps the best general term is mixed reality headset, because its spatial computing concept combines VR and AR.
Augmented reality overlays images onto your actual surroundings. It has shown up in expensive enterprise or industrial head-mounted displays with transparent screens that feature limited field of view but let you look through the picture directly at everything around you. It’s also appeared in phone apps that use your phone’s camera and sensors to show information on the screen layered on top of what the camera is seeing.
There are also consumer-level, transparent-screen smart glasses that display a high-resolution, color picture in front of your eyes, but they don’t yet have the cameras or sensors necessary to actually analyze your surroundings and use that information to be considered full augmented reality (though the XReal Air Ultra we saw at CES might finally break through that wall).
AR is not VR, but the line has blurred as headsets like the Meta Quest Pro and Meta Quest 3 add color cameras to let you see what’s physically around you as well as whatever the headset wants you to see. They’re higher resolution than the black-and-white cameras on older headsets used for basic environment mapping and letting you check your surroundings for safety.
This is broadly called mixed reality, and it’s where the Vision Pro comes in. In fact, its cameras appear to be a higher resolution than either Meta Quest headsets, and Apple’s version features a dedicated TrueDepth camera and LiDAR sensor for accurately mapping everything around you. So you’ll be able to sit on your couch and see your living room as well as the big web browser in front of you, or you can completely replace your living room with a virtual movie theater for ambiance while watching videos.
2. It’s Not for Walking Around Outside
Just because the Vision Pro lets you see your surroundings doesn’t mean it’s a walking-around headset. Any device that obscures your vision, even if it provides an excellent camera view to replace it, should be used carefully when there’s anything nearby you can trip over or bump into. Banging your shin against a coffee table is one thing, but walking in front of a bus is another.
You also wouldn’t be able to wear the Vision Pro for too long anyway. Its stated battery life is somewhere between two and 2.5 hours. After that you’ll either be staring at darkness or taking the headset off and stuffing it in a bag.
3. It Doesn’t Have Controllers (Besides Your Hands)
Every VR headset we’ve seen has used some form of physical controller, usually motion-sensing wands with buttons and analog sticks or touchpads. These controllers are used to track where your hands are (and in the case of the Valve Index, your individual fingers), but they’re needed if you want to use the headset. Meta Quest headsets can use their cameras to follow your hand movements and features without controllers for interacting with the general interface and apps, but many apps also don’t support hand gestures and require those controllers.
The Vision Pro doesn’t have controllers at all, and instead relies on its sophisticated cameras and sensors to work entirely with hand gestures, along with inward-facing cameras and sensors to track your eye movements as well. You interact by using your hands and eyes as mouse, keyboard, gamepad, and, yes, hands (though you’ll be able to pair physical keyboards and other peripherals if you want to use them as well).
There’s one physical control on the headset itself: a digital crown like the Apple Watch, which lets you scroll up and down and adjust your augmented or virtual environment.
4. It’s Built on macOS and iOS
A new product category usually means a new operating system for Apple, and the Vision Pro runs visionOS. It’s built on macOS, iOS, and iPadOS, but with spatial analysis and full-vision, 3D image generation in mind. Instead of a single, fixed, flat screen, you interact with the Vision Pro using multiple different windows that appear to be floating in mid-air and can be moved and resized.
5. It’s Ready For Movies
As soon as you put the Vision Pro on, the Apple TV app will be ready to show you movies and TV shows in either your own virtual theater (or other fanciful environment) or as a big floating screen in your living room. You’ll be able to watch any 2D video content available on Apple TV+, or anything you already purchased through Apple. It also supports various streaming services: ESPN, NBA, MLB, PGA Tour, Max, Discovery+, Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+, Peacock, Pluto TV, Tubi, Fubo, Crunchyroll, Red Bull TV, IMAX, TikTok, and Mubi.
3D movies will also be available, and viewable in 3D just as if you were sitting in a theater and wearing 3D glasses. Both Apple TV and Disney+ apps will support 3D movies, with dozens available at launch. In fact, if you already own a movie with a 3D version through Apple, that version will be available at no extra cost. Just remember to plug in the power cable before you start watching; the headset can only last a bit over two hours on its own.
6. It’s as Powerful as an iPad Pro
Under the Vision Pro’s fancy cameras, sensors, and displays is a familiar, and powerful, processor. The headset uses Apple’s M2 chip to drive most of its apps and operating system, with the new R1 chip assisting it as a dedicated, separate processor for handling all of the spatial computing. The M2 is also used in the iPad Pro, which we’ve complimented for having performance comparable to a laptop, and in the 2023 MacBook Air and 2022 MacBook Pro. It’s a beast of a chip, and should ensure strong performance, especially with all of the camera and sensor information being offloaded and managed by the R2.
7. Where and How to Buy It
If you’re willing to put down $3,499, the answer’s easy: Go to Apple. It’s available to preorder online now and lands at select Apple Stores on Feb. 2. Don’t expect it to show up on Amazon or at Best Buy any time soon, though. This is Apple’s baby, and Apple is tightly controlling the launch.