It has been more than three months since virtual reality (VR) developer Pico released its Pico 4 headset in over a dozen markets, the first product launch since the company was acquired by TikTok owner ByteDance in 2021, and early reviews are providing a first glimpse of user reception for the new gadget. Pico 4 was seen as an alternative to the bestselling Quest 2 VR headset from Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook. Both are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 chips, and priced around US$500. After TikTok’s overwhelming success in the social media world, VR has become the next battlefield for ByteDance and Meta. Weeks after the Pico 4 announcement, Meta unveiled the Quest Pro, a high-end device priced at US$1,499.99. Neither ByteDance nor Meta were willing to reveal sales or shipment figures for their new products, but their Amazon product listing reviews provide a hint of their popularity. AI, flying cars and virtual reality top the bill at CES 2023 in Las Vegas Pico 4, which started shipping in 13 European countries in mid-October, has had almost 440 ratings from verified buyers in Germany and 170 in the United Kingdom. The Quest Pro received 14 and 40 such reviews, respectively. Pico 4 and Quest Pro “are not likely to match the Quest 2’s success”, said Eric Abbruzzese, who leads research efforts in VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) at ABI Research. Total shipments of stand-alone VR devices last year reached 10.6 million, down from 13.6 million in 2021, and the Quest 2 accounted for more than 80 per cent, according to estimates from ABI Research. “For the Pico 4, Pico simply does not have the reach and established brand recognition that Meta has, especially globally”, Abbruzzese said. “The [Quest] Pro price point almost entirely removes the broad consumer market from the equation”. The year ahead will be critical for both Pico and Meta as Apple is set to join the competition. The iPhone maker considered pricing its first VR headset at more than US$3,000, The Information reported a year ago. Apple’s anticipated product “will challenge the Quest Pro, but will not likely impact the lower priced Quest line”, said Abbruzzese, adding that Apple’s “real threat to the VR space likely comes after [its] first-generation high-end device”, when it is expected to introduce a mass market version. But Apple’s progress is behind schedule. TF International Securities analyst Kuo Ming-Chi, who tracks Apple’s supply chain, tweeted that volume shipments of its new headset may be postponed from the second quarter to the second half of the year “due to issues with mechanical component drop testing and the availability of software development tools”. Virtual reality investment ‘exploded’ in China in 2021, government says Kuo estimated that Apple’s VR headset shipments this year would likely be less than 500,000 units, lower than the market consensus. Apple aside, Meta’s Quest and ByteDance’s Pico are still the top two brands in the market. Meta holds 90 per cent of the VR headset market, followed by Pico with 4.5 per cent, according to a June report by market intelligence firm IDC. Users have posted reviews on the pros and cons of the two budget VR headsets on social media. “Quest 2 has a very heavy front. Pico 4 is very balanced from front to back because we have a battery on the back and it doesn’t press on your face at all”, said Tyriel Wood, who hosts the Tyriel Wood – VR Tech YouTube channel. Chris Barraclough, a tech reviewer with a YouTube channel called Tech Spurt, said the Pico 4 incorporates an RGB (red, green and blue wavelengths) camera in the centre, giving users “a proper full colour view of the world … as opposed to the grainy monochrome effect you get on the Quest 2”. However, unlike the Quest 2, “there is no headphone jack on the Pico 4, so if you do want to hook up some headphones you’ll have to go Bluetooth”, Barraclough added. Both reviewers agreed that the Quest 2 offered more variety when it came to content. Barraclough said that the number of games and apps in the Pico Store was about “half the selection you’ll find on the Quest 2 VR headset”. The Quest 2 has been available for more than two years, “so developers really have time to create games”, said Wood. “If you jump [into] a Pico 4, you have to be aware that you’re at the beginning of a new generation of consumer headsets … Right now there is not even competition. The Quest 2 has many more games and a variety of games to enjoy”. However, Pico has been enriching its content, such as introducing the popular horror game The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution in late December, weeks after the title was available on the Quest Store. In January, Pico also held its first virtual concert, featuring Scottish DJ Calvin Harris.