2023 could be the metaverse’s breakthrough year

I could tell you about all the VR headsets and AR glasses and theory apps I’ve tried this year that should define the 2022 vision for the Metaverse. Instead, I’ll just tell you about the best thing I’ve done this year and what I miss the most: Doing improvisation workshops with a small group of other artists in VR.

We met weekly in an app called Altspace VR, hosted by a brilliant interactive theater teacher named Jeff Wirth. We met every Monday and explored performance ideas with avatars. I put mine Quest 2 headset in my dusty little home office and met friends I had never seen in person.

The class ended too soon, and when I look back, I remember those sessions as if we were really together. That’s what the metaverse is to me. It’s a real thing. we just are not all there again.

This is a capture of me in a Varjo XR-3 mixed reality, in a virtual kitchen, looking at myself through a window in the real room.

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2022: A brief glimpse into the future, but only briefly

Recently, when I’m standing in a kitchen changing countertops and looking at cabinet finishes, I go to the window. I see an empty white room outside, with a mirror. I see myself, with a VR headset. I’m standing in a virtual space, suspended in a real mixed reality space, wearing one Varjo XR-3 helmet. This shocking moment represents the future—but still the unrealized potential—of what might come next.

I thought 2022 would be a good year for VR and AR, and even metaverse, a buzzing concept that represents how the Internet and the world’s virtual communities, including social media, can evolve. This was not the case. An economic downturn, crypto crash, waves of tech layoffs, and the delay of many of the most anticipated VR/AR devices have turned around quickly this year.

2023 could be the metaverse's breakthrough year


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Now, 2023 is shaping up to be the big year for immersive “augmented reality” (aka XR). Apples long awaited helmet should happen, with the hope that it will shake up the landscape. Meta 3 Quest is confirmed. that PlayStation VR 2a helmet I have already tried, arriving in February. And who knows what other surprises the new year will bring?

As for the metaverse, it will only scale as mass social adoption takes it. I’m more interested in the hardware that will power such technology, because until VR and AR headsets take their next leap forward, it’s still going to be hard to expect people to spend more time on them than they already are. But this is what 2022 showed me and where it points to 2023.

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The Magic Leap 2, an AR headset I tried in March.

Scott Stein/CNET

Magic Leap 2, Meta Quest Pro: an upcoming future in mixed reality

The two headsets that stood out to me the most this year are ending in 2022: magic jump 2 and Meta Quest Pro. They are mirror products in many ways. One tries to approach the future of mixed reality from the side of augmented reality; the other comes to mixed reality from the VR side. Both are trying to become more comfortable and reliable. Both show that there’s still no ideal shape for The Next Headset, but we’re slowly approaching a consensus on how the devices could do it.

The Magic Leap 2, a follow-up to the original Magic Leap headset that debuted in 2018, has gone from a device aimed at the masses to a headphones for business. The hardware is significantly better, mapping superimposed, glowing virtual objects to the real world with a wider field of view. It also, surprisingly, darkens the world – just like a pair of sunglasses. But it’s not the ideal set of AR glasses: it runs on a more powerful dedicated processor connected to a belt-mounted minicomputer to which it’s attached, and its single controller is suitable for basic commands, but not necessarily a fully immersive one interaction.

Meta Quest Pro Virtual Reality Headset

The Meta Quest Pro, a mixed reality VR headset, looks like an AR device.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Meta Quest Pro really isn’t that big of a change from the two-year-old Quest 2, and it’s certainly not worth the extra $1,100 for anyone who isn’t a developer. But its improved eye and face tracking capabilities and better mixed reality with color pass-through cameras – are indicators of what will appear on many VR (and AR) headsets in 2023 onwards.

The mixed reality in Quest Pro is what really surprised me. It’s not amazing, but it’s similar in spirit to what the Varjo XR-3 headphones can do. And when it’s on my head, the Pro reminds me more of AR headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens 2 than a VR headset. The way I can see the world and also look around the screen through my peripheral vision feels like a sort of goggle-like AR experience for a while, even though it’s not.

No one is able to make good AR glasses yet. Instead, everyone tries to get a little closer as best they can.

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The Pico 4 VR headset looks to go against Meta Quest 2. It largely succeeds.

Scott Stein/CNET

Expect more competition for Meta

that Top 4 The VR headset, made by TikTok parent company ByteDance, looks like a clone of Meta Quest 2, but with a few upgrades. What is really surprising is that its price is lower than Meta. ByteDance did this on purpose and probably at a loss, but it shows that somewhat affordable standalone VR headsets might be a much more common thing in the future. Pico already has them. Some of Qualcomm’s device partners that use the company’s ubiquitous VR/AR chips will have them, including presumably HTC Vive, which is already teasing a mixed reality headset for CES. Valve is rumored to have its own standalone VR headset, called Project Deckard, which could make a splash in gaming in early 2023.

Qualcomm AR2 Gen 1 chip and the front of a pair of smart glasses

The AR2 Gen 1 looks set to power compact AR glasses coming over the next few years.

Qualcomm

What about headsets connected to the phone?

Qualcomm has been promising a wave of phone-connected AR and VR devices for years, and they’re starting to appear. HTC Long live the flow, released in 2021, was an attempt at a smaller pair of phone/VR glasses. Qualcomm’s latest move to small AR glasses arriving between 2023 and 2025 can work wirelessly with phones. It’s probably pretty likely that the powerful phones we carry around will help do the heavy lifting for smaller headsets in the next few years. Apple may be planning this approach with their headphones expected in 2023.

Apple AR/VR Virtual Reality Headset

Apple should have a VR/AR device in 2023. So what will it look like?

James Martin/CNET

This is Apple

The long-awaited Apple helmet, which is likely to be VR with mixed reality capabilities similar to those provided by the Quest Pro, could shake up the landscape like nothing since the Oculus Rift. Apple products tend to clash and invade categories: iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods. Can Apple do the same with VR and AR? It’s a much bigger challenge, especially with the technical issues and the expected price (well over $1,000, possibly several thousand), plus the recessionary climate we’re in in the world of scale.

Even more interesting to me is who else is coming out of the woodwork alongside Apple. Google has been weak on AR and VR for years since shutting down its Google Daydream platform, but recent efforts such as Starline project and smart glasses indicate that an investigation is underway. Samsung also hasn’t had a new AR or VR device in years, though the company pioneered VR with the Gear VR and tends to jump quickly into markets with boldly experimental products. Will 2023 be the year of the presentation of surprise products?

Meta Quest Pro Virtual Reality Headset

The Quest Pro fits over my glasses. But that doesn’t mean I use it all the time.

Scott Stein/CNET

Will people care enough to wear them?

As I wonder if VR headsets really have a future in the home, I’m distracted by my 14-year-old son, who is literally playing a VR game on the Quest 2 right next to me. Virtual reality is already here for many people. It is difficult to appreciate it. It’s not “what if”, it’s “what else can I do?”. VR headsets are mostly fancy game consoles with limited use for most people. Meta tried to do the quest more. Not everyone was interested, and the quest isn’t up to the challenge.

The next wave of VR and AR headsets must be better at what they do: be better gaming consoles; to have more comfortable screens, more useful controllers and ways to interact; be more connected to the apps and devices we already have; be more portable and accessible.

They should work better with prescription glasses (I find many helmets don’t fit my glasses or don’t fit my prescription). New applications must appear that can show what a transparent 3D virtual world can do for us. Sony, Meta, maybe Apple, and anyone else who pops up next year have to because VR/AR headsets aren’t necessary tools for everyone yet. They have proven themselves: for design, for simulations, for games, even for fitness. In 2023, I am interested in seeing if they can be more.

One thing seems certain, though: there are plenty of new VR headsets coming in 2023, and they’re coming soon.

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