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.

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.

The post Former Oculus CTO: Don’t Expect Cheaper VR Headsets Than Quest After Horizon OS Release appeared first on Road to VR.