TikTok Company’s New VR Headset Competes with Meta on Price and Privacy

TikTok Company’s New VR Headset Competes with Meta on Price and Privacy

Meta is terrified of TikTok’s domineering presence in the social media market, and now it seems the company behind the app, ByteDance, is coming for Meta’s own stake in the Metaverse with a headset that’s the closest we’ve seen in price to the Quest 2.

Bytedance’s VR subsidiary, Pico, introduced the Pico 4 in an English language Thursday livestream that was equal parts cringey and surprising — mostly because of how much it seems to be going after Meta. The device will sell at $US425 ($590) (€429) for the 128GB version and $US492 ($683) (€499) for the 256GB version.

The big thing here, however, is that the device will only launch outside of its home country in Japan, Korea, and 13 countries in Europe, including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. The Chinese Market will get its own announcement on Sept. 27, and full preorders are set to start Oct. 18. The Verge noted that the headset could appear in the U.S. eventually, based on FCC filings.

The Pico 4 is running on an eight-core, 2.84 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor, according to the products specs page. Considering Meta’s already contracted with Qualcomm for custom chipsets, it will be interesting to see how powerful this device will be compared to future Quests. Otherwise, the Pico 4 is boasting a pretty beefy 4,320 x 2,160 resolution (of course, that’s 2,160 pixels per eye). The two 2.56-inch LCD screens boast a refresh rate between 72Hz and 90Hz.

The headband is just a single strap, but Pico is promoting that the weight of the device is balanced due to the 5300mAh battery sitting behind the head. The device’s controllers are also pretty interesting. The loops, used by the headset to track positioning, are angled in front of the palms rather than around or in front of the hands. The four buttons used in most modern games are shared between both controllers.

But Pico is also advertising you won’t have to use controllers for everything, as the device does have hand tracking capabilities. Of course, the company did not show off this feature in-action. The Quest 2 also has hand tracking.

Last year, ByteDance bought out Pico for an undisclosed amount. Pico was ranked as one of the largest VR headset makers. It was a deal that mirrored Facebook when it purchased Oculus back in 2014. Even back then, we speculated that the TikTok owner could have been setting itself up with a showdown against its rival in the social media space, and it appears that with its announced specs and price point, the company is ready to make a statement.

Meta recently bumped the price of both its 128GB and 256GB Quest 2 models by $US100 ($139), so Pico 4 now sits comfortably against the $US399 ($554) Quest headset.

But what may make the difference here is the software available for the device. Pico makes little mention of what games its system will support, but instead advertises proprietary sports programs and video content. Pico did show off some upcoming games, including The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Retribution and Peaky Blinders: The King’s Ransom alongside other VR classics like Gorn, and the company promised more VR games would be coming to the Pico store over time.

Pico seems to be going after Meta and its metaverse directly with its “Avatar System.” Leland Hedges, the general manager for Pico, showed off his own rather gaunt and plastic-looking avatar, but apparently this avatar will be used in multiple applications, including “Pico Worlds,” the company’s own answer to Meta’s Horizon Worlds. The company also boasts its device’s ability to track facial muscles that will be reproduced on player’s avatars.

“He really does look like me, doesn’t he,” Hedges said during the livestream in a very stiff and uncomfortable way. Horizon Worlds recently became the butt of many jokes for just how bad it looks, to the point that CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to come out and tell everyone that his own avatar won’t look like a dead doll forever after enough graphical updates.

Pico is also sniping Meta before the company can announce its upcoming Meta Quest Pro, which Zuckerberg recently said was set to be revealed in October during the annual Connect conference. We still don’t know what kind of pricing model for the device once dubbed Project Cambria, though some leaks have hinted it could cost over $US800 ($1,111), likely positioning it around other mid-to-high tier headsets. Pico will supposedly also work on a Pro model that includes eye tracking, though we don’t know much about it at this point.

But what should also not go unsaid is that ByteDance is not the best company out there when it comes to people’s private data. It’s been surrounded by scandal in recent months after leaked internal audio mentioned that user data could be seen by Chinese government officials. All this proprietary focus on its internal store makes it somewhat concerning.

At the same time, patents filed by Meta and revealed by The Financial Times have already showed the American company’s own potential plans to sell facial expressions and more to advertisers. It’s a shame two major companies with long histories of pawning off user data are also trying to be the biggest players for devices that with the capability to track everything else about our lives, including our movements.

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