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Apple Vision Pro Hands-On: Far Better Than I Was Ready For

I experienced incredible fidelity, surprising video quality and a really smooth interface. Apple’s first mixed-reality headset nails those, but lots of questions remain.

Posted By Kimbo Online Store

I went inside the Apple Vision Pro.

Scott Stein/CNET

While viewing Avatar: The Way of Water in 3D last December, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is an immersive film I’d love to watch in next-generation VR.” Yes, it’s wonderful, and that’s exactly what I noticed when using Apple’s Vision Pro headset.

In a series of carefully selected demos on Monday at Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters during WWDC, I tested out the Vision Pro. I’ve been utilizing cutting-edge VR equipment for years, and I noticed that my mind was flooding with recollections of augmented reality. I’m reminded of an Apple-designed Meta Quest Pro by Apple’s diminutive, but still not small, headset. A dial to alter the rear fit and a top strap for stability were included in the back strap’s comfortable yet stretchy fit. I was immediately reminded of Ready Player One by the headset’s svelte form and bright front faceplate.

But neither you nor I could wear our spectacles throughout the demonstration. Instead of supporting glasses, Apple’s headset relies on bespoke Zeiss inserts to correct wearers’ eyesight. Apple did succeed in finding lenses that fit my eyesight well enough throughout the setup process to make everything appear crystal clear, which is not a simple task. We also used an iPhone to fine-tune the fit and spatial audio for my head, a technology that will be improved when the headset is available in 2024.

From there, I conducted my demonstrations largely while seated and was taken aback right away. This headset has a really, incredibly good passthrough video camera quality. Although not as good as my own vision, it was nevertheless sufficient for me to see the room clearly, the individuals in it, and my watch alerts clearly on my wrist. Only the incredibly brilliant but PC-connected Varjo XR-3 headgear had ever achieved this feat before, and Apple’s display and cameras felt even better.

When I press the top digital crown, Apple’s floating grid of apps emerges and places the home screen where I am looking. I set up eye tracking, which operated similarly to many other VR headsets I’ve used: I watched flashing dots while music played, and when everything was in place, I heard a bell.

A list of apps as they would appear inside of the Apple Vision Pro headset.

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

The interface was quite fluid after that. Icons and interface options appear slightly larger or less bold when you look at them. I can open an app by tapping when I’m looking at something.

On headsets like the HoloLens 2 and the Meta Quest 2 and Pro, which I’ve used extensively, a lot of hand motion is typically necessary. I might be quite lazy right now. Even with my hand in my lap, I pinched to open icons, and it worked.

My fingers squeeze and pull to scroll; this is again a rather simple process. By adjusting the size of the windows with my hand, I could pin them closer to me or fling them across the room. I simultaneously launched several applications, such as Safari, Messages, and Photos. Although occasionally I needed to pay a little more attention to my eye tracking, scrolling about was still simple enough.

Eye tracking is frequently used in the Apple headset’s UI, unlike Meta’s Quest Pro and even the PlayStation VR 2. That could be a contributing factor in the external battery pack. It seemed transformative when eye tracking was emphasized as a key component of the interface, as I had predicted may happen with VR and AR years earlier. I’m unsure of how it will feel throughout longer sessions.

Since I was unable to test the headset using keyboards and trackpads, I am unsure of how the Vision Pro will function with them. It works with Macs, Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad, but not with touchscreens on the iPhone, iPad, or Watch—at least not for now.

Dialing in reality

I browsed through a few preset shots from Apple as well as some 3D images and videos captured using the 3D camera on the Vision Pro. All of the images appeared to be extremely sharp, and one panorama that wrapped around me appeared to be a window onto a landscape that continued just outside the room I was in.

On the Vision Pro, Apple has volumetric 3D landscapes that are immersive backgrounds similar to 3D wallpaper, but viewing one truly accentuates how beautiful the Micro OLED panel is. Where the genuine coffee table stood in front of me, it appeared as though a lake was rolling up to a rocky beach.

Apple/Screenshot by CNET

I was able to see how the headset separates my hands from VR by bringing them up to my face. This trick is already available in Apple’s ARKit. Although it has some rough edges, it is nonetheless acceptable. Similar to the previous example, there is a weird new trick where anyone else in the room can ghost into view if you glance at them, a fuzzy halo with their true passthrough video image gradually materializing. It’s intended to facilitate meaningful interaction when using the headset. I pondered whether you could disable it or adjust its level of presence, but mixed reality is a relatively young field.

Reality blend is controlled via Apple’s digital crown, a tiny dial taken from the Apple Watch. I could adjust the 3D panorama outward until it enveloped me completely or inside until it only slightly emerged like a 3D window.


I nearly missed how amazing mixed reality was because it looks so effortlessly fantastic on Apple’s headset. Again, I’ve used VR headsets with mixed reality before (Varjo XR-3, Quest Pro), and I’m familiar with its possibilities. With a field of view that seemed vast and rich, Apple’s implementation of mixed reality was much more immersive, rich, and effortless on most fronts. I eagerly anticipate learning more about it.

Cinematic fidelity that wowed me

But what really stunned me was the movie demo. I watched a 3D clip from Avatar: The Way of Water on a screen in a theater as well as in-headset. In a manner similar to how the Magic Leap 2’s AR dims the outside world, Apple’s mixed-reality passthrough can also do the same. However, the Way of Water sequences gave me a slight chill. That was vivid. This was like something out of a movie. In other VR headsets, I do not experience that.

Avatar: The Way of Water looked great in the Vision Pro.

20th Century Studios

Additionally, Apple showed off its upcoming addition to Apple TV Plus, Immersive Video. The 180-degree video format is conceptually the same as others I’ve seen, but it has much better resolution and video quality. A teaser of what was to come played out in front of me, with Alicia Keys singing, Apple Sports events, documentary video, and more. I’ve never found one-eighty-degree video to be quite as sharp as big-screen film stuff, but the sports footage I watched got me wondering about the quality of future virtual Jets games. Things have advanced considerably.

Would I spend $3,499 on head-worn theater equipment? No, but it’s undeniably one of this device’s most distinctive advantages.

Convincing avatars (I mean, Personas)

Apple’s Personas are 3D-scanned avatars created by scanning your face with the Vision Pro. If you like, these avatars can appear in FaceTime chats or on the outside of the Vision Pro’s curved OLED display to indicate whether you are “present” or in an app. I didn’t understand how that exterior display operated, but a FaceTime call with a person in their Persona form was enjoyable. Again, it appeared to be quite decent.

I’ve had conversations with Meta’s Codec Avatars, which strive to create lifelike virtual reality personas. These are fantastic, and last year I saw an early version of Meta’s phone-scanned step-down version where a talking head spoke to me in virtual reality. Apple’s Persona, though a little hazy around the edges, appeared better than Meta’s phone-scanned avatar. Instead of appearing in full-screen, the woman whose Persona was scanned instead appeared in her own window.

Meta’s Codec Avatars, which aim to build realistic virtual reality identities, have engaged me in conversation. These are amazing, and the previous year I experienced a prototype of Meta’s phone-scanned step-down version where a talking head conversed with me virtually. Though a little fuzzy around the edges, Apple’s Persona looked superior than Meta’s phone-scanned avatar. The woman whose Persona was scanned appeared in her own window rather than in full-screen.


I’ve struck up a conversation with one of Meta’s Codec Avatars, which aspire to create believable virtual reality identities. These are incredible, and the year before I used a prototype of Meta’s phone-scanned step-down version where a talking head engaged in virtual conversation with me. Apple’s Persona appeared better than Meta’s phone-scanned avatar, while having some minor edge fuzziness. Instead of appearing in full-screen, the woman whose Persona was scanned did so in her own window.

Dinosaurs in my world

The last demonstration was an app called Encounter Dinosaurs, which made me think of the first VR app demonstrations I saw years ago: Just the immersive “wow” effect of dinosaurs appearing in a 3D window that seemed to open up in the back wall of my demo room was highlighted in this encounter. Slowly moving creatures that reminded me of carnotauruses entered my area through the glass.


In contrast to the other demos I gave, I stood up and moved around during this one. Again, the visual quality and how they seemed in connection to the room’s passthrough video capture were what made it feel so fantastic. This demo initially seemed like it wouldn’t be that striking. It felt fairly genuine as the dinosaur bit down on my hand. A butterfly also attempted to land on my extended finger as it danced about the room.

I smiled. But even more so, I was impressed when I took off the headset. My own everyday vision wasn’t that much sharper than what Apple’s passthrough cameras provided. The gap between the two was closer than I would have expected, and it’s what makes Apple’s take on mixed reality in VR work so well.

The battery pack comes next. Instead of a built-in battery like most others, a wired battery is required to power the headset. The fact that so many of Apple’s demos were seated undoubtedly had something to do with the fact that I had to be careful to grab the battery pack as I began to move around.

What about fitness and everything else?

I was surprised by Apple’s decision to place so little emphasis on fitness. Although no one has perfected headset design for exercise comfort, VR is already a fantastic platform for fitness. It’s possible that having that power pack will restrict movement in experiences and games that need movement. Perhaps Apple will reveal more intentions here in the future. I just had a one-minute micro-meditation that was comparable to the one on the Apple Watch as my only taste of health and fitness. It was lovely and once more a wonderful demonstration of the display quality, but I want more.

Since 2024 is still quite a ways off, most people cannot afford Apple’s headset. Furthermore, I have no idea how useful my current headset would feel if I were using it for regular work. Apple did, however, demonstrate a display and an interface that are much better than I was expecting. Who knows what more is conceivable if Apple can build on that and the Vision Pro discovers ways to increase its mixed-reality capabilities?

This was just my fast-take reaction to a quick set of demos on one day in Cupertino. There are a lot more questions to come, but this first set of demos resonated with me. Apple showed what it can do, and we’re not even at the headset’s launch yet.

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