ByteDance could once again be coming for Meta’s lunch if reports that it’s preparing to launch two new Pico 4 VR headsets are true.
The main (read: only) name in VR right now is Meta, thanks entirely to the hugely popular Oculus Quest 2. While we believe the Valve Index is the best VR headset in the world, the Quest 2 still packs a punch and costs less than half what the Index does – and is even cheaper if you factor in not needing a VR-ready PC to run Meta’s standalone device.
A new-ish competitor looks to be ready to bring Meta down a peg or two, though.
Pico has been on the VR scene for a while but so far its consumer efforts have mostly been focused on China – which is where its parent company ByteDance is based. There was the Pico Neo 3 that launched in the UK and the rest of Europe in April this year, but it hasn’t yet made much of a splash. However, we could see the brand become a more well-known name when its leaked Pico 4 headsets finally drop.
According to a recent FCC filing – the US’s Federal Communications Commission – Pico is apparently preparing to launch a new Pico 4 device as well as a Pico 4 Pro in the US (via Protocol). Based on the filing, the two headsets appear to share a lot of similarities, with the main difference being eye-tracking and face-tracking, which are exclusive to the Pro version.
Adding further fuel to the fire is a follow-up leak that supposedly revealed what the new controllers will look like. Images from someone familiar with the project were shared by SkarredGhost, revealing a pair of fairly sophisticated-looking handsets.
The controllers share a lot of similarities with those used by Meta's Quest 2 – such as near identical button placements – but what appears to be the tracking rings have morphed into hand guards that wrap from the top to the bottom of the handset. In contrast, the Quest 2's tracking rings – which let VR headsets track the movement of the controllers – are placed at the top of each controller.
See the pictures below for a comparison:
While these leaked images look convincing, we have to remember to take all rumors with a pinch of salt. Until Pico or ByteDance make an official announcement we won’t know for sure what's being worked on.
With more and more details escaping into the wild, though, it likely won’t be much longer before either company reveals something about the Pico 4.
Analysis: Is ByteDance the new Meta?
The news of a new rival standalone headset launching in the US couldn’t come at a worse time for Meta.
Thanks to inflation-caused production cost increases, Meta has just raised the price of its Oculus Quest 2 headsets. The 128GB Quest 2 is now $400 / £400 / AU$630 (up from $299 / £299 / AU$479), and the 256GB version is now $500 / £500 / AU$790 (instead of $399 / £399 / AU$639). While the 128GB headset has returned to the price it originally launched in 2020, there’s no longer a cheaper 64GB model for people to buy, meaning the Quest 2 is more expensive than ever for new users.
On top of that Meta has also just announced a slump in ad sales this financial quarter – the first time it has seen a decline in ad revenue. It follows reports earlier this year in which Meta revealed that Facebook saw its monthly active users drop in the final quarter of 2021 compared to the quarter before – another first for the company.
What's more, while Meta still hosts many of the best VR games on its Quest 2 headset, the recent cancellation of Splinter Cell VR has made its hardware's gaming lineup a little bit weaker.
If the Pico 4 can capitalize on this moment of vulnerability for the monarch of the VR space – by launching either a headset that’s cheaper or one that's more powerful for a similar price to the Quest 2 – then it could be the first proper contender for the VR throne.
Though Meta likely won’t want to give up easily – especially not against ByteDance. Pico’s parent company is the same one that is backing TikTok, the hugely popular social media platform.
The meteoric rise of TikTok above its rivals has forced Meta to rethink its entire social media empire. It recently updated Instagram to make it much more similar to TikTok – however, the change was quickly reverted after many of the platform’s largest celebrity users bemoaned the change to their millions of followers.
We’ll have to wait and see if Meta can beat back ByteDance's potential VR advancements. However, with it clearly devising plans to take on TikTok and still working on a brand new VR headset (codenamed Project Cambria) that may launch later this year, it's clear Meta's not going down without a very real fight.