The Apple Vision Pro headset isn't arriving until early next year, but one of its premiere features looks like it's ready for prime time. And some of the people who've had a chance to test the headset seem unanimous in the verdict that you're going to like what you see.
Among the features Apple is touting for the Vision Pro is the ability to enjoy spatial videos on the headset's display. Spatial videos add an immersive 3D quality to the experience of video playback. My colleague Mark Spoonauer has had some hands-on time with the Apple Vision Pro and describes the experience of watching spatial videos as one where details, sounds and textures unfold right in front of you.
That experience was with clips that Apple provided, though. Now, Apple is offering demos of watching your own spatial videos on a Vision Pro, and a few lucky tech writers got the chance to relate their experiences with the headset.
The Vision Pro is capable of capturing spatial video on its own, but most people are going to want to record spatial videos for the headset using their iPhones. The just-released iOS 17.2 update enables this feature for both the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. Shooting horizontally, you use both the wide and ultrawide angle lenses to simultaneously capture video that's then processed into seamless footage.
View that video back on an iPhone screen, and it looks no different than any other video you might capture with your phone. But on the Apple Vision Pro, it becomes another experience entirely — at least according to the people who got the chance to try it out for themselves. Here's a summary of what these early testers are saying about spatial video on the Apple Vision Pro.
TechRadar: 'An immersive trip'
Writing for TechRadar, Lance Ulanoff came away impressed with how panoramic shots and spatial video looked when viewed with an Apple Vision Pro headset. On panoramic shots captured by an iPhone 14 Pro, Ulanoff writes that he was "startled by the quality and immersive nature of the images." But he preferred the immersive presentation of spatial videos "which erases the borders and delivers each video in almost a cloud." Ulanoff notes that he didn't feel like he was inside of the video itself, but that viewing it felt more real.
Ulanoff's write-up also includes some practical notes about the experience of using an Apple Vision Pro. For instance, the headset's face cushion comes with different curve styles to better fit the differing contours of users' faces. Ulanoff was also impressed by how easy it is to use AirDrop to move spatial videos and panoramic shots from your phone to your headset. A notification appears on your headset's display, and you simply look at "Accept" while pinching your thumb and finger to transfer over photos and videos.
"With my model train videos, the 3D spatial video effect reminded me of the possibly apocryphal tale of early cinema audiences who, upon seeing a film of an oncoming train, ran screaming from the theater. I wouldn't say my video was that intense, but my model train did look like it was about to ride right into my lap."
"I still don't know if the Apple Vision Pro is for everyone, but the more I use it, and the more I learn about it, the more I'm convinced that Apple is set to trigger a seismic shift in our computing experience."
CNET: '3D is undeniably vivid'
Scott Stein's impression of watching spatial videos on the Apple Vision Pro for CNET is highlighted by the lifelike look of the videos, appearing with 3D-like depth in front of him. Sample videos of a sushi restaurant looked "compellingly realistic," and like Ulanoff, Stein is impressed by how easy the process of using Apple's headset turns out to be.
There are criticisms, though. Spatial videos are recorded in 1080p resolution, not 4K, and the difference in quality is apparently noticeable. Also, Stein notes that spatial video recording is currently limited to Apple's most expensive phones — the iPhone 15 Pro starts at $999 — while playback requires a $3,500 headset.
"Panoramic photos were a surprise. They opened up and wrapped around me, felt like windows into other places — almost 3D, in fact."
"It's also a tiny bit disappointing that the videos can't be recorded in 4K resolution. Apple's Vision Pro headset has astounding quality and resolution, which became clear once again as I looked at iPhone photos in the headset and zoomed in on them, or viewed panoramic photos in a wraparound mode that made it feel like I was in a vivid immersive re-creation of a location, similar to a 360-degree photo. The spatial videos look really nice, but I felt the desire to see them in more fluid 60fps, 4K or both. Maybe someday."
Inverse: 'Almost brought me to tears'
Inverse's Raymond Wong recounts one of the more emotional responses to viewing spatial video on the Apple Vision Pro. He writes that it feels like being transported back to the moment you recorded the video. In Wong's case, one of the samples included a trip to a dim sum restaurant with his mother, and the depth of the images combined with the "dream-like" border of the video in immersive mode makes the experience come alive.
Wong also notes that panoramic photos look better on the Vision Pro when the images are captured with more recent iPhones at higher-resolutions. Nevertheless, he concludes that spatial video and panoramic viewing will be a major selling point for Apple's headset.
"I suspect once people have the opportunity to see their own content in Vision Pro, they’ll get a better sense of when and when not to tap the spatial video icon in the camera app on their iPhones."
"Apple Vision Pro is the best virtual big screen I have ever used. Even though I’ve only used the Vision Pro three times, each in brief sessions lasting around 30 minutes, I’m certain it’s the best (at least in a consumer product). When I say the screen looks like a proper big screen projection floating in front of you (or on your ceiling if that’s what you prefer), I mean it."
Cool Hunting: 'The nuances of spatial video come to life'
Josh Rubin's account in Cool Hunting of the spatial video features on the Apple Vision Pro largely deal with the challenges of capturing video meant for an immersive, curved viewing experience that you're recording on a flat screen. To that end, Rubin's write-up contains some helpful tips for anyone who wants to record spatial video now in advance of the Vision Pro's release next year.
Rubin talks about the impact of lighting on videos and also notes that it's best to keep the subject you're capturing between 2 and 8 feet away — that creates the most depth between the foreground and background of the shot, which pays dividends when viewing the video back on the Vision Pro. You also want to avoid too much movement.
"On a few occasions while recording the iPhone warned 'More light recommended.' I was pleasantly surprised when viewing that content in the headset: the movies still had plenty of depth and the image quality remained crisp and not grainy."
"Looking at panoramas in immersive view was also a treat, and surprisingly it wasn’t the distant landscape shots that were the most impressive: the panoramas from tighter, closer spaces — like at the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt or JR’s epic collage, The Chronicles of Miami, rendered so perfectly in the headset that they almost felt 3D, despite looking distorted here in their flat view."
Brian Tong, YouTube: 'It's really going to grab you'
Brian Tong has put together a YouTube video of his impressions recording spatial video for the Apple Vision Pro. While you'll see some of the footage he recorded, it will be in regular 2D and not the immersive 3D-like experience other people have described.
The 17-minute video contains a lot of tips on the best ways to capture spatial video as well as some impressions on viewing panoramic shots with Apple's headset. You'll also get some commentary on wearing the headset.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.