Pico has just announced today its new headset: the Pico 4. It is the first real consumer-oriented HMD released by Pico on the market with wide availability, after the Pico Neo 3 Link has been used to test the waters in limited beta quantities. And since Pico is owned by Bytedance, this is the device with which Bytedance is throwing down the gauntlet to Meta, proposing a device which is sleek, super-affordable, and with a big content catalog. It so challenges Meta Quest 2 exactly on all its strongest points, including (very surprisingly) also the price. Discover with me the Pico 4 and realize why it is the first real Quest competitor!
Let’s start from the specifications of the new device:
- Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, 8 Cores 64 bit, 2.84GHz
- RAM: 8GB LPDDR4X, 2133MHz
- Storage: 128GB/256GB, UFS 3.0
- Type: 2.56″ x2 LCD display
- Resolution: 4,320 x 2,160 (2,160 x 2,160 per eye)
- PPI: 1200
- Refresh rate: 72Hz / 90Hz
- Field of view (FOV): 105° Diagonal
- IPD: Support stepless adjustment with a range of 62～72mm
- Speaker: 360° surrounding stereo speakers, supporting 3D spatial sound
- Microphone: Dual Mic up to 30dB noise reduction and 50dB echo cancellation
- Cameras: Fisheye Cameras x 4, 16MP RGB Camera x 1
- Type: 6DoF broadband haptic motion controller x 2
- Buttons: Joystick / Trigger / Grip / Menu / Capture / Home / X/Y (Left hand) / A/B (Right hand)
- Motor: Broadband Motor, 50~500Hz, can support up to 2.8G vibration
- Headset: 5300mAh, which lasts about 2.5~3 hours in active use
- Controllers: Two AA batteries, which last about 80 hours in active use
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, USB-C
- Weight: 295g (without straps), 586g (with straps)
- Operating system: Pico OS
Design-wise, the Pico 3 looks very sleek. It is the first headset that implements the ski-goggles design and it looks incredibly polished from the available images and video. All the parts seem curated, including the headband. Thanks to the use of pancake lenses, it is also quite small, so it looks more natural than a shoebox when you see it on the face of someone. According to the company, “the case is just 35.8mm at its thinnest” thanks to the pancake lenses technology. I have also appreciated that Pico kept its tradition of making bicolor headsets, and so it is mostly white, but it has still a black face.
On the cons side, I expected it to be even smaller, while from the images we have, it just looks like a smaller and cooler Quest 2… but it still seems bulkier than something like the Huawei VR glasses. Anyway, don’t misunderstand me… it is very small and lightweight.
I have to say it also reminds me a bit of the pancake headset just announced by Skyworth, but this doesn’t surprise me much, because in China many headsets have similarities because they are all made by Goertek, in the end 🙂
From the specs, it is clear that this device has very crisp visuals. The resolution is an impressive 2,160 x 2,160 pixels per eye, which is much higher than the 1,832 × 1,920 of the Quest 2. Since the field of view is also quite in line with Quest 2 (a few degrees more), it means that the pixel density is also much higher: 1200 PPI vs 773. Pixel density is what makes us see everything crisper, and if with the 773 PPI of the Quest 2 and Pico Neo 3 Link the screen door effect was already almost invisible, I think that with 1200, it will be impossible to see pixels at all, for a very immersive virtual reality.
Pico 4 is also the first headset featuring TÜV Rheinland Low Blue Light Certification, which means that the blue radiations from the display are quite low, leading to less eye strain and less risk of optical hazards. This translates into more comfort for the user, both for gaming and professional at-home use. I’m very curious to try this display to see if I can perceive this improved comfort
Pico 4 features integrated audio like all the other standalone headsets in the market, but with the difference that now the speakers have been doubled in size. This means more powerful and more immersive integrated speakers. Pico also claims that basses are very strong with these speakers.
During my press brief, Pico insisted a lot on the importance of comfort on this device. The company aims at making people wear this headset for a long time, and to do that, the user must be comfortable wearing it.
That’s why the headset has been made smaller and lighter. The Pico spokesperson that talked with me highlighted a lot of times that Pico 4 weighs “295g without the strap” and so it is the lightest device in its category. I was totally puzzled by this way of computing weight, and I wondered why they never quoted the total weight, which is 586g. In the end, I understood: 586g is bigger than the weight of Quest 2 (which is around 503g), so quoting it would seem that this headset is heavier than Quest… but Quest can be so lightweight because it has just some elastic headbands as straps, while here you have the whole fitting system. That’s why they quote “295g” and not “586g”. But since I don’t wear only the front part, I’d still consider the weight to be 586g, which is absolutely not bad.
Pico has also studied the headset to be balanced thanks to the battery installed in the rear of the headband and that counterbalances the front weight of the computational unit. Also, the materials have been studied for comfort and the facial mask has been covered with “SuperSkin fabric”, which is a “unique material that has effective wicking properties, allowing users to keep cool and dry”. I also appreciate they finally removed the terrible fitting mechanism of the top headband that was typical of Pico devices and that coped only with two head sizes.
There is also a glass spacer to be installed for users that regularly wear glasses. And the facemask is magnetic (like on the Focus 3), so it can be easily removed and washed. This also opens up many doors for aftermarket accessories. The low-blue-light emission described above also fits exactly this focus on ergonomics.
I can’t tell you how this headset is actually comfortable without putting it on my head, but at least I appreciate the big effort that Pico is doing for ergonomics, which is an important topic in VR. If we want the users to put something on their heads, it should be comfortable.
Ease of Use
Pico 4 is a consumer-oriented device, and to please every type of customer, not only the VR enthusiast, has been thought to be very user-friendly. While the Pico Neo 3 Link featured a lot of buttons, ports, and features, this has only the button to turn it on and the USB-C port to recharge it. Also the loading times and the Guardian detection of the systems have been improved so that the device goes out of sleep mode faster.
The logic is that you press the button, you turn it on, and in a few seconds, you are in VR. Something very smooth if you want to catch first-time VR users, who may want to receive this headset for Christmas. So, this is not a headset for the hard nerds, but for gamers and people that want to have fun. This is a device that directly competes with the Quest 2.
I was the first one to tease the controllers of Pico 4, and they are exactly how I described them in my dedicated post. Interestingly, these controllers are nothing revolutionary, they are not implementing inside-out tracking like the Quest Pro, but they are refining instead the existing design, a bit like Sony did with the controllers of PSVR 2.
They feature the usual control scheme available on all the other controllers: trigger, grip, 2 buttons, system button, thumbstick… with the addition of a back button typical of Pico devices. But the difference with previous Pico controllers is that they are very well designed and comfortable, and also feature a new haptic module based on “HyperSense broadband motors” that should provide more realistic haptic feedback. I don’t know what is a Hypersense broadband motor, but it sounds cool, so I believe it will do a great job. According to Pico, it can provide different rumbling options for developers, for more refined haptics: it can provide vibrations of different intensities from 50 to 500Hz.
Another interesting detail is that the tracking ring is put in a different way than usual, and this choice has been taken so that you can put your two hands very close without the controllers hitting each other. This is good for having better interactions in VR games and social spaces. I’m thinking about boxing games like our HitMotion could benefit from it, because you can protect your face with the boxing gloves without fearing the controllers touching and damaging themselves.
Pico 4 runs with a Qualcomm XR2 chipset at full power. This means that the chip is not underclocked like in Quest 2, but it has full power as in Focus 3. This is possible thanks to an active cooling system. Because of this added horsepower, this device can support the 4K+ resolution of its screen.
Pico claims the battery of Pico 4 is enough for 3 hours of gameplay and that it has fast-charging capabilities. These are good news… but even on this side, I hoped for some more hours of duration. 3 hours is just slightly more than Quest 2.
The fact that there is an RGB camera means that this device features RGB passthrough vision. Most probably the device fuses the image of the 4 tracking cameras with the color information of the 16MP RGB camera to provide a high-resolution RGB passthrough. I can’t wait to try it and I hope that Pico will let us developers have access to the RGB frame of the outside world so that we can do amazing applications out of it (e.g. apply some AI computations to what the user has around him in the physical world to do some special mixed-reality applications).
Pico 4 is running the latest version of Pico runtime, which is Pico OS, version number 5. According to the press release, “PICO OS is custom developed based on Android and is an operator interface system specially designed for VR all-in-one. PICO OS has been deeply optimized for VR games, audio and video, and interactive operations to make the experience of using virtual reality devices simpler and smoother.”
I mean, we all know these are promotional words… but at least I appreciate they haven’t gone into full fluff mode writing “it’s the best operating system to enter the metaverse“! Until now, I have found Pico runtimes to be very “practical” and a bit rougher than the Quest ones… so I‘m very curious to try this new one to make a comparison with the competition.
Finally Pico OS 5 will support hands tracking, so you can interact with the runtime and the games with your bare hands. This was a much awaited feature. And it will also support multitasking, something that was really missing from it.
In my review of the Pico Neo 3 Link, I already highlighted how Pico is investing a lot in its content catalog and has been already able to bring a good amount of high-quality games on its platform. Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom, Ultimechs, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution, SuperHot, Eleven Table Tennis, Demeo and many others are already part of the Pico Store or are coming soon. And the number is growing fast: many upcoming games are going to launch on Pico and Quest on the same day. If we remove the Meta Quest exclusive games, I would say that if it current trends continues, in a year from now there will be almost feature parity between content on Pico and content on Meta Quest.
Yes, the absence of Beat Saber will be a problem for Pico, but Bytedance is answering with other exclusive titles, the first one of which will be Just Dance VR. The VR porting of the famous Ubisoft game is coming in 2023, and it is clearly made to appeal to the mainstream audience with a game that is fun for all ages, and player types and has also a well-known brand. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of it, but many are, so this is a great addition to Pico library.
Just Dance VR is also part of a big focus on Fitness by Pico, with Pico Fitness already being part of the runtime and tracking the calories you burn while using the headset (clearly inspired by Oculus Move) and sharing them to Apple Health (like Oculus Move). Les Mills Body Combat has just been announced as being part of the content library. We already teased HitMotion on Pico at Laval Virtual, so stay tuned for future updates on that side…
Pico is not only gaming, though. The brand is going to launch documentaries made in collaboration with Discovery Channel. Plus it is also working to bring much cool content to its video application, Pico Video, including some amazing virtual concerts made by Wave. They also plan to have International Sports events, Films, and TV content. At launch, Pico aims at having +600 videos available on Pico Video.
During the launch event there was the mention to interactive live events carried on with dedicated partners like Wave. These are going to be video concerts on steroids: 8K panoramic resolution videos of the concerts of your favorite artists that you can see with other people, with 3D VR effects popping all around you. It seems a very cool program to me.
Pico is launching soon “Pico Worlds”. I appreciate that when Pico copies something does that explicitly and without even trying to cover it… so yes, this is the copy of “Horizon Worlds”, but made by Bytedance. It is expected to launch in early 2023, and you can see here below a commercial teaser trailer that shows things that are never going to happen in this application:
We don’t know if there will be also a “Pico Workrooms”, I guess we’ll have to wait for more news on the enterprise side to discover that.
Jokes apart, the thing that I liked about the presentation of Pico Worlds is that it should mix standard social with VR social mechanics. You can chat with your friends on your Pico app on your mobile phone, and then decide to meet with them in VR, for instance. I think that this mix of standard and VR mechanics can help a lot with the usability of VR systems.
Apart from that, Pico Worlds features things that are “inspired” by Horizon Worlds, like for instance in-world creation tools based on primitives. You can create your own interactive world and invite other people there or visit the worlds and minigames created by others.
Interestingly, during the keynote Pico said that they don’t want to only build a platform, but leverage existing platforms… but it is not completely clear what it does mean at this point.
Interestingly, Pico is also going to launch its avateering system, which is very customizable, and “recognizes over 80 dimensions”, which I guess means that has many different customization options. From the video, it seems cuter than Meta’s one, a bit more toy-ish, but I wait to see it live in a VR headset before judging it.
I appreciate that we want an interoperable metaverse and for this reason, we are building millions of different avateering systems. #sarcasm
Talking about social, there is one last surprise: Rec Room is coming to Pico 4!
Pico 4 will be able to stream its content to a nearby phone or TV, so that the people in the room with you can see what you are seeing. This is quite standard now, but another feature caught my attention. There is the possibility for you that have the Pico app to not only cast the content of the headset to your phone, but you can also tap on the screen of your phone to help the person that is in VR. For instance, if you are making a friend of yours try VR for the first time and he’s in a difficult situation, you can tap on your phone to indicate something to him/her in VR and guide him/her. For instance, you touch the screen where there is a switch in the virtual world, and the VR user will see a dot appearing on the VR switch. This is quite cool, actually, and very very helpful when demoing VR to other people. Great job Pico on this one.
Mixed Reality Capture
Next year is coming also the capability of recording mixed reality videos of yourself when you play VR games for easy sharing on social media. It is called Pico MRC, exactly as we had Oculus MRC on the Quest… let’s say that naming is not where Pico has big fantasy…
Pico has announced 3 accessories to come in 2023:
- Pico Fitness Band: a bracelet with 3DOF tracking via IMU sensors that you can wear on your body. It can be for instance installed on your ankles so that you can have fitness games working on both the upper and lower part of the body. Pico should provide also dedicated AI algorithm so that it will be possible to infer with decent quality the full body pose of the user by just using the headset, the controllers in the hands, and these devices on the ankles. That’s pretty cool. They are available for all developers needing them upon request starting today
- Pico Carrying Case: a case where to put your headset to carry it around
- Pico Wireless Dongle: a dongle to have a high-quality wireless connection with your PC for tetherless streaming thanks to which you can play SteamVR content. Considering that Pico wireless streaming is subpar, having a dedicated dongle with a direct network connection to your PC can help a lot in having a great quality of visuals in your wireless PC VR sessions.
Talking with Pico, I understood that there will be some slight differences in the SDK to support Pico 4 and Pico Neo 3 Link, so we developers may have to do some additional work to be able to support both. Anyway, if Pico keeps implementing Unity.XR and OpenXR as it is doing with its SDK now, I guess it shouldn’t be much work.
All you VR developers should know that Pico is offering many possibilities to you. Not only the store is open, and it is not a walled garden like Quest Store, so represents a great opportunity to publish your next game. But Pico is seeking for partnerships for almost all kind of content. During the keynote two programs have been announced:
- Creator Incentive Program: it’s a program dedicated to VR videos content creators, and will offer technical and fiscal support to VR storytellers. Pico will also partner with film festivals to bring the content of the best content creators there
- Developers Incentive program: apart from supporting developers with tools and expertise, Bytedance has set up a $12M fund dedicated to developers, with the possibility of funding each content with grants up to $2M.
This is a great moment to partner with Pico for the development of your next killer VR application!
Pico Neo 3 Link
Let’s start addressing something you expected to read in this article, but haven’t read yet. There is no mention of DisplayPort in this article, and I guess you are wondering if this device supports DisplayPort tethered streaming from a PC like the Pico Neo 3 Link. You can read my review of the Pico Neo 3 Link and discover how I found it amazing that you can connect this headset to the PC with a DisplayPort cable and have a VR experience that is the same that you have with a tethered headset. It totally excited me and I found it to be the superpower of the Neo 3 Link.
Well, I have a piece of bad news for you: there is no DP Streaming on Pico 4. This was a total bummer for me when I discovered it because I found it an enormous pity that Pico has developed this amazing technology and then it is not using it on its new device. But that’s it: a Pico spokesperson told me that the purpose of this device is being easy to use and affordable, and DP Streaming doesn’t belong to any one of these categories. It’s an understandable choice given that the purpose of this device is competing with the Quest 2, but as a tech guy, I am still quite disappointed by it.
Pico will keep selling the Pico Neo 3 Link until the end of the year, at the same price as now, and it will be the dedicated “PCVR headset” provided by Pico. So if you want to use a Pico headset for tethered VR, you have to buy the Link.
Pico 4 Pro
The leaks about Pico 4 all talked about two models: Pico 4 and Pico 4 Pro, with the Pro featuring eye tracking and face tracking to compete with Quest Pro. I was surprised to see no mentions of the Pico 4 Pro in the press release, but the device was mentioned during the keynote, where amazing features like eye tracking, face tracking, and automatic IPD adjustment have been confirmed. The last one is very cool and it means that as soon as you wear the headset, it immediately adjusts the distance between the lenses to match the one between your eyes.
Pico 4 Pro has just been teased, but Pico already talked about the fact that it will come with a complete ecosystem dedicated to enterprise: a dedicated enterprise OS, a dedicated store, and of course enterprise-grade services (e.g. fast assistance in case of problems). And no unique personal identification mechanism is needed to use Pico 4 Pro.
Some info may be unveiled in the upcoming launch event for Pico 4 in China on September, 27th, because I’ve been told that Pico 4 Pro will be sold as a consumer device in China and an enterprise headset in the West, exactly as it happened with the Pico Neo 3 Pro. More information on Pico 4 Pro is for sure to come at AWE EU on October 20-21.
This also means that Pico won’t switch completely to the consumer market, but will try to serve both the consumers and the enterprise market with different devices.
Price and availability
The PICO 4 will be available on October 18th in thirteen European countries as well as in Japan and Korea, with plans to launch in Singapore and Malaysia this year. Availability in China will be announced in the dedicated event on September, 27th, as I was telling you before. There is no news instead about the United States. It is not clear to me if it is because Pico retains Meta to be too strong in the US to try to enter there immediately, or it is because of restrictions for Chinese companies in selling products in the US. I guess sooner or later, it is coming, but for sure not this year.
The PICO 4 starts at just £379/€429 for the 128GB SKU, while it costs 499€ for the 256GB SKU. Its cheapest tier is 20 euros less than the price of Quest 2, and the 256GB unit is even more convenient. I’ll let this sink in your head for a while: we have a good consumer headset cheaper than Quest. It’s the first time we see this, an epochal change. Meta has not the cheapest device on the market anymore after a lot of years.
Europe’s Neo 3 Link Beta Program members will have the opportunity to pre-order the PICO 4 beginning September 23rd via Bestware, VR Expert, XR Shop, and System Active.
Pre-orders will open to the general public in October via Amazon, Mediamarkt, Saturn, Elkjop, The Very Group, and Coolblue.
All the accessories (Fitness Tracker, etc..) should be priced at around €49 each.
The keynote with the announcement of the headset was a high quality one, but it had also its cringy moments. I think this tweet summarizes my thoughts of its beginning:
Unluckily, I had not had the opportunity to try the device, yet, because my current dev workload prevented me to go to a review session. By the way, I will publish a review of it when I’ll receive my review unit. And as usual, I promise you it will be a fully detailed one like it is in my typical style.
For now, I can tell you what I think of this headset given what is written on paper. And honestly, I think this may be a little revolution in our ecosystem. For the first time, we have a headset that can truly compete with Meta: Pico 4 is sleeker than Quest 2, is cheaper, is more powerful, has better graphics, and has a high-quality content catalog. Quest 2 has still an edge regarding some features, like the various reprojection capabilities, a wide range of compatible accessories, productivity tools, the exclusive games like Beat Saber, all the indie games on App Lab, etc… BUT for the first time, there is a device that has advantages over it, like the form factor and the price, so for the first time, consumers will have a doubt about what device to buy. If Bytedance manages to be 很快很快 (very fast) as in typical Chinese tradition, and close the gap it has with Quest features in the next 12 months, Meta will have to seriously worry about Pico. The announcement of the developer fund and the various partnerships shows that Pico is moving in the right direction, trying to enrich its ecosystem.
Also, Pico is aiming at markets where Meta is still not that strong, like Europe, or Germany, where Quest is not allowed yet. Pico told me that it hopes the Pico 4 to be “the first headset for a large group of people”. Pico in fact aims at the “casual entry-level VR customer” more than the standard VR gamer.
I remember when my friend VR Nima said that Meta was going to announce the Quest 3 in November and we all told him that he was crazy. But now that I see what Pico has announced, I think this can be a concrete possibility. Meta has to answer fast if it doesn’t want Pico to steal its European market, and so I think it will at least tease a new consumer headset soon because Quest 2 won’t be able to compete for long with a superior product for a cheaper price.
Thanks, Pico for finally bringing back some serious competition in the VR market!
UPDATE (2022-09-22): After the release of the article, I have found some additional resources that may be interesting for you
You can find the full keynote at this link. This way you can watch it again when you have time.
Some lucky people had already the opportunity of going hands-on with the device (I envy them a lot). Here you are some of their first impressions!
(Header image by Pico)
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