LOS ANGELES — In my line of work, I see a lot of cool technology that never comes to fruition. Luckily, the Pico Neo virtual-reality headset isn't one of those. Delivering sharp graphics with negligible latency, the tangerine-colored device more than lived up to the hype.
While the Pico Neo headsets are now available for pre-order, the company didn't give a precise date for when the $550 complete system (headset and controller), or the $300 headset only, would ship.
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The Pico Neo's defining trait is its bright orange-and-black coloring, which might be off-putting to some. However, I definitely appreciate that PicoVR didn't want its device to look like anything else on the market.
Although it seems bulkier than the Samsung Gear VR, the PicoVR headset is surprisingly lightweight, most likely due to the fact that most of the vital technology (except for the accelerometer, gyrometer and dual 3.8-inch AMOLED displays) resides in the accompanying controller.
Housing a 2.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip, 4GB of RAM with 32GB of onboard storage, the controller is wider than most current game controllers. It looks like an old Super Nintendo controller dipped in orange. Similar to the SNES gamepad, the Pico Neo's controller has a D-pad, four face buttons and a single pair of bumpers. The controller also features two USB-Type-C ports, a gyroscope and an accelerometer.
I tried both the mobile and PC experiences. For the mobile demo, the headset was powered by the controller, tethered by a USB Type-C cord. It's not completely wireless, but it's a lot better than what either the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift have to offer right now.
The PicoVR launched Cosmic Wall, a simple space shooter, for my first test. The game is similar to Eve: Gunjack, albeit less graphically intense. The mission was clear-cut: Destroy the enemy ships by using head-tracking to aim and pressing the A button to shoot. The game ran very smoothly, keeping up with all of my spastic head movements. By the end of the round, I was only one ship off from a perfect score.
During the PC part of the demo, the PicoVR rep connected the headset to a MSI GT72 Dominator, which has a lot more processing and graphical power than the Pico Neo controller. Instead of the Tang-colored gamepad, I was using a regular wired Xbox 360 controller.
For this demo, I played a Terminator title in which I had to stop wave after wave of robots from overrunning my position. Once again, I aimed by looking at a target, and shot by pressing the A button. However, this time the A button was controlling a minigun (aw, yeah) and the X button unleashed a rocket attack. The action was relatively smooth during my playthrough, but there were a few instances when the game stuttered if I quickly changed direction. I'm not sure if this was the fault of the software or the hardware.
In its current iteration, the Pico Neo can play all Google Cardboard apps. According to PicoVR's VP of design, Ennin Huang, the company is exploring working with Gear VR titles as well as with SteamVR. PicoVR is also working on a room-tracking solution that would allow headset wearers to navigate a designated space, similar to the Vive.
But for now, Pico VR is a great solution to VR aficionados who want either a solid mobile experience or a PC-powered headset without having to buy a more powerful (and expensive) rig.