The Pico 4 virtual reality headset
Photo: Pico

Pico’s Quest killer is here, but is ByteDance ready to fight?

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re taking a closer look at the Pico 4 — ByteDance’s new consumer VR headset — and the questions it raises about the company’s appetite to take on Meta.

Pico brings out the big guns

ByteDance’s VR unit Pico unveiled its Pico 4 VR headset yesterday, which represents the company’s most significant push into the consumer VR market yet. Pico president Henry Zhou promised that the device would deliver “an immersive XR experience like nothing else out there,” and said that the company’s goal was to become “the leading XR platform.”

That’s a lot of words to say you want to beat Meta without outright saying you want to beat Meta. And judging from the specs alone, the Pico 4 appears to be a noteworthy Quest 2 competitor. But does the Chinese company really have what it takes to take on Zuckerberg and the many billions of dollars he’s investing in his vision of the metaverse?

The Pico 4 is everything the many leaks suggested it would be. It’s a stand-alone VR headset powered by a Qualcomm XR2 processor with 8GB of RAM and a display resolution of 2,160 by 2,160 pixels per eye. Specs-wise, it’s a step up from the Quest 2 on many fronts.

  • The Quest 2 only has 6GB of RAM, and a resolution of 1,832 by 1,920 pixels per eye.
  • Meta’s headset is also powered by an XR2 processor, and we’ll have to wait for someone to run actual benchmark tests on both headsets to compare them accurately, but chances are that the Pico 4 will beat the Quest 2 on this front as well.
  • The Pico 4 also features a more ergonomic design with better weight distribution than the Quest 2, but it does weigh a few grams more than Meta’s headset (586 grams vs. 503 grams).
  • The Pico 4 is using RGB cameras for video pass-through, which should offer access to better mixed-reality experiences than the Quest 2’s grayscale cameras.
  • Pico’s headset retails for 429 euros in Europe (about $422) for the 128GB version; the Quest 2’s 128GB model sells for 449 euros.

Of course, specs aren’t everything. After prioritizing enterprise VR for prior headsets, Pico tried to emphasize this week that this is very much a consumer product.

  • Interestingly, a good chunk of Pico’s presentation was devoted to VR fitness, an area in which Meta has also been pushing hard.
  • This included the mention of an upcoming Les Mills Body Combat VR app, as well as the demo of a VR fitness dashboard that will sync with Apple Fitness.
  • Pico is also working on an optional fitness band accessory, but the company shared no details about price or release date for that product.
  • In addition to fitness, the Pico 4 will feature a number of well-known VR apps and games. Rec Room, Walkabout Minigolf, Fruit Ninja VR, and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2 Retribution were just some of the titles shown during the launch presentation.
  • Pico even managed to get Just Dance VR as an exclusive from Ubisoft.
  • The company also showed off its own social VR world, which is supposed to debut in early 2023, and looked a lot like the company’s take on Meta’s Horizon Worlds.

But there are still lots of open questions. The biggest one is around distribution: Is Pico actually serious about selling millions of these devices?

  • Pico is not selling its new headset in the U.S. for the time being, but is instead focusing on Asia and Europe.
  • The Information reported yesterday that ByteDance executives believed challenging Meta on its home turf would be “extremely difficult and hugely expensive.”
  • The company’s plans for the European market don’t appear all that fleshed out either. Pico pointed people interested in buying the Pico 4 to a German online store.
  • There’s no word on whether the Pico 4 will be available in retail stores. Without a solid retail presence, the company will have difficulty selling anywhere near the volumes Meta has been able to.
  • Little is also known about the Pico 4 Pro, a prosumer-end enterprise headset that will feature face- and eye-tracking. Pico executives teased the headset yesterday, but promised to release additional details on price and availability next month.

The Pico 4 looks like a solid foundation for ByteDance’s consumer VR ambitions. But ultimately, VR isn’t just about hardware. But it’s also about establishing an ecosystem that consumers are willing to buy into. That requires massive investments, as Meta’s multibillion-dollar metaverse gamble has shown. The real question is, does ByteDance have the stomach to give the Pico 4 a chance to succeed?

— Janko Roettgers

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Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the Quest 2’s 128GB model sells for 449 euros, not dollars.

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