Meta announced last week it’s set to release Horizon OS (ex-Quest OS) to select third-party OEMs, marking a monumental shift in how the company hopes to compete with Apple now that it’s released Vision Pro. While Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a range of “specialized” third-party headsets running its OS, and consequently having access to its store of XR apps, former Oculus CTO and legendary programmer John Carmack says we shouldn’t expect cheaper VR headsets than Quest as a result.

“Meta already sells the Quest systems basically at production cost, and just ignores the development costs, so don’t expect this to result in cheaper VR headsets from other companies with Quest equivalent capabilities. Even if the other companies have greater efficiency, they can’t compete with that,” Carmack wrote in a recent X post.

As Meta hopes to engage select OEMs to create specialized headsets—which for now include ASUS, Lenovo and Xbox—Carmack maintains the move to release Horizon OS is more about enabling “a variety of high end ’boutique’ headsets, as you get with Varjo / Pimax / Bigscreen on SteamVR,” which could promise spec bumps in resolution, field of view, and comfort.

Image courtesy Meta

“You could drive the Apple displays from Quest silicon. You could make a headset for people with extremely wide or narrow IPD or unusual head / face shapes. You could add crazy cooling systems and overclock everything. All with full app compatibility, but at higher price points,” Carmack says.

Carmack, who departed Meta in late 2022, issues a warning of sorts too:

This, [releasing Horizon OS] brings with it a tension, because Meta as a company, as well as the individual engineers, want the shine of making industry leading high-end gear. If Meta cedes those “simple scaling” axes to other headset developers, they will be left leaning in with novel new hardware systems from the research pipeline for their high end systems, which is going to lead to poor decisions.

VR is held back more by software than hardware. This initiative will be a drag on software development at Meta. Unquestionably. Preparing the entire system for sharing, then maintaining good communication and trying not to break your partners will steal the focus of key developers that would be better spent improving the system. It is tempting to think this is just a matter of increasing the budget, but that is not the way it works in practice – sharing the system with partners is not a cost that can be cleanly factored out.

Just allowing partner access to the full OS build for standard Quest hardware could be done very cheaply, and would open up a lot of specialty applications and location based entertainment systems, but that would be a much lower key announcement.

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There may be some hope for at least one cheaper headset out of the gate. Besides providing Horizon OS to ASUS Republic of Gamers for what could be a higher-end gaming-focused headset, and Lenovo for a work-focused device, Meta tapped Xbox to create its own branded Quest.

Microsoft’s Xbox has hasn’t revealed anything yet, however in Zuckerberg’s Horizon OS announcement video he mentioned he envisions a VR headset that is “maybe just a version that comes out of the box with Xbox controller and Game Pass, and you can immediately start playing on a big screen anywhere you go.” When purchased separately, Touch controllers cost $100, while a single Xbox One wireless controller can cost nearly half that price.

And then there’s the question of what cheap really means to Meta. Right now, a Quest 2 costs $200, although it’s very likely being phased out as a few developers have already pledged Quest 3 exclusivity for games releasing in late 2024 including Alien: Rogue Incursion and Batman: Arkham Shadow. Notably, Quest 3 is priced at $500 for its 128GB and $650 for the 512GB variant.

Reports maintain Meta is ostensibly hoping to supplant Quest 2 with the release of a prospective ‘Quest 3 Lite’ however, which is rumored to arrive sometime later this year, so there’s no telling what that ‘cheap’ floor price may be.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • ApocalypseShadow

    I’ve been saying this already. They don’t have a platform to subsidize their prices like Facebook does. $399 and up is a given and upwards to $650.

    • Christian Schildwaechter

      With the Quest 3 sold at cost for USD 499, and all 3rd party options going for the higher end, I’d say that it is more like USD 650 and up is a given and upwards to north of USD 1000.

      Meta offered dedicated business versions of their (non Pro) HMDs at double the price, with the sole difference being that they allowed for commercial use and device management. So a Horizon OS HMD by Lenovo targeting the professional market, using a more complex headstrap similar to HTC Focus 3 with quick swap paddings and battery could easily get into the regions of Quest Pro’s launch price, despite using mostly the same hardware as Quest 3.

      • ApocalypseShadow

        Basically what I’m saying. If the Quest 3 Lite or whatever it is starts at $300, expect others to be at $400. Since Quest 3 is $500 starting, expect others to be $600 or above. If they try to match in memory storage, they’ll be tacking on more dollars. No way they can match them unless willing to take losses.

        • Christian Schildwaechter

          I agree with your general statement, your examples/estimates are just way too optimistic.

          What I’m saying is that nobody other than Meta will even bother to release something like the Quest 3 Lite. And on high end phones from Samsung or Apple production cost is usually less than 50% of the retail price. About 1/3rd of the retail price as margin is a rough baseline for profitability on complex consumer electronics (= 50% markup on top of production costs)

          So a Quest 3 sold “at cost” for USD 500 implies a comparable Horizon OS HMD sold by Asus for USD 750+, not USD 600. Simplified, as sticking close to a reference by Meta/Qualcomm would decrease cost, and selling a licensed/rebranded Quest 3 like the Xbox Quest seems to be could end up even cheaper due to both removing development costs and subsidization via Game Pass subscriptions. Most companies will instead try to differentiate by adding features like eye tracking, driving prices much higher than Quest 3, targeting affluent enthusiasts and businesses.

          • Arno van Wingerde

            I think it will be more like a Quest3 with hi-res OLED screen and maybe specialized wireless streaming starting at $1000 or so, and way up from there: for instance a lovechild of a Quest3 and a Pimax Crystal, for 1500$.

  • Well, this is to be expected for now. But I guess this move is for the long game

  • ViRGiN

    I’m okay with this considering I’ll gulp any turds from Meta.

    • ViRGiN

      Gayben

    • Peter vasseur

      You didn’t have tell everyone what they already know. Quest is a turd and you gulp them.

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    3rd party options add effort for more testing and communication, and can easily lead to technical one-upmanship, tempting people to add features of questionable use that mostly make their product sheet look better than others, like AI on a toothbrush. But they also make delaying features harder.

    Carmack told about stretched out discussions whether Wifi streaming provided acceptable quality, while people were already using it with VirtualDesktop, patched via sideloading after Meta’s EULA forced removing the feature from the Quest Store app. IMHO not to protect users, but sales by keeping tetherless VR exclusive to Quest apps. Discussions would have ended quickly if a serious competitor had offered Wifi streaming, forcing Meta to react with a solution instead of blocking it. Lacking competition, Meta uses similar arguments for still prohibiting cloud streaming on Quest store/App Lab, despite people again proving it already works fine with sideloaded clients or DIY solutions.

    Unfortunately 3rd party HMDs running Horizon OS with the same EULA won’t change this, but we could see eye tracking, swappable batteries as counterbalance, higher resolutions/FoV, DP-input, padding options for different face/head shapes, configurable soft/hard/top straps, integrated myopia correction, automated IPD settings, microSD slots and more. All found on some HMDs, but not implemented/dropped again by Meta. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes because they knew customers couldn’t just switch.