From a purely technical perspective, I had the same experience using the new Apple Vision Pro that most others who have tried it seem to. This headset is remarkably polished for a first-generation product: its screen looks much better; the field of view is much wider; and the gesture control is much more natural than any other headset on the market. The Vision Pro did get a little heavy on my face after a while, and obviously, all we’ve seen so far are controlled demos in a controlled situation, but there’s no doubt this is a remarkable piece of hardware.
Which brings up the other, much more interesting question: what is this thing for? Apple has a few answers: it’s for taking super-immersive videos of your kid’s birthday; it’s for adding more monitors to your office setup; it’s for staring at a 3D human heart while it beats quietly in your living room.
But I have a different theory: it’s a TV. At least at first, the best thing this headset will do is play movies and shows. And while Apple may have big ideas about immersive content and new formats for watching things, that’s all going to take a while to really catch on. But being able to fire up Netflix and watch it on a huge virtual screen? That’s going to be ready right away. For all its potential and Apple’s lofty rhetoric, the Vision Pro is a television — and an extremely Apple-y one at that.
I should say: I don’t think this is the TV Steve Jobs was talking about when he famously told author Walter Isaacson that he’d “finally cracked” the future of TV. I also don’t think this is the TV that analyst Gene Munster spent years predicting would come and never did. Apple may yet make a big screen that sits in your living room. But for the company that is forever trying to push the boundaries of what technology does and how you interact with it, the Vision Pro feels much more in keeping with Apple’s vision. Instead of one TV, one size, in one place, Apple proposes a world in which you have infinite TVs, of all sizes, everywhere, all the time.
I don’t think this is the TV Steve Jobs was talking about
Back in 2015, around the time Apple began working on headset projects that would ultimately lead to the Vision Pro, it was widely reported that Apple had shelved its plans to build a TV set. The reason was simple enough: it wanted to ship a high-resolution display and integrate cameras so you could make video calls but couldn’t figure out how to make that both compelling and inexpensive enough to win in the ruthless TV market. Back then, Munster wrote, “We incorrectly assumed that a combination of Siri, FaceTime, a TV app store, and PrimeSense based motion control could be compelling enough as a unique feature set for the device.”
Sound familiar? Eight years later, the Vision Pro puts all those things back together. The headset market gave Apple a chance to do the same thing a different way. The headset business isn’t mature and cost-sensitive — it’s so new that Apple could get away with charging a fortune for its device. High-resolution displays and video conferencing, in this case, turned out to be massive competitive advantages. All the things Apple wanted its TV to do, it could just pour into a face computer, and it would instantly seem more innovative. And that seems to be almost exactly what happened.
One of the first things Apple showed me in my Vision Pro demo was a clip from Avatar: The Way of Water, and to my eyes, the 3D footage looked almost — but not quite — as good as it did in a theater. (3D content works so well in the headset because it’s just simulated depth on the two screens in front of your eyes.) By default, the movie played on a screen floating in front of my face, about three-quarters the size of the wall in front of me. I could move or resize the window, bring it closer to my face, or plant it farther away in the room. And if I hit a button in the Apple TV app for visionOS, it launched “cinema mode,” which put the movie on a big theater-like screen and blacked out all of my surroundings.
The whole “see your movies in a virtual theater!” is not a new idea, of course. It’s a staple demo of a lot of headsets. Netflix’s app for the Meta Quest lets you watch movies on a big virtual screen in a cozy virtual cabin living room, Bigscreen built a whole digital cineplex, and platforms from Prime Video and Peacock to Starz and Pluto TV have their own apps for VR.
Even non-optimized stuff can still be more immersive on the Vision Pro.Image: Apple
Many of Apple’s other demos felt familiar, too. I saw an ultrawide clip of an NBA game, shot from just above the backboard; a soccer game from atop the goal; some rhinos being cool; and a brief moment of Alicia Keys singing in a recording studio with such a wide field of view that I could turn my head and look at the whole band and space. These are the sorts of things you see on lots of headsets, as their makers search for ways to make content that can only be experienced in virtual and augmented reality.
There wasn’t much in the Vision Pro’s entertainment offerings I hadn’t seen before. But the Vision Pro is just… better. Thanks to the 4K screen in each eye, the low-latency eye tracking, and the much wider field of view, watching movies on Apple’s headset after trying the Quests and HoloLenses of the world is like going from a standard-def TV to a 4K set. Everything is suddenly considerably sharper and more detailed. (All those pixels are also, obviously, a big part of the reason the Vision Pro will cost $3,500.) You might not get spatial audio from most content in the Vision Pro, but even the built-in stereo audio sounds pretty good. For the first time, I felt like I might actually watch a game from that backboard angle, and it didn’t feel like I was watching Alicia Keys through a screen door.
Watching movies on the Vision Pro is like going from a standard-def TV to a 4K set
As a portable viewing device, the Vision Pro is better than anything I’ve ever tried. I can absolutely see why it might appeal to frequent fliers or those who don’t have a TV in every room. Where it will struggle is in the places you already have TVs. Are you going to go through all the work of putting on and booting up your headset when you can turn on your TV with a single button click? How many times will the two-hour battery life mean you miss the climax of a movie before you stop using it altogether? What do you do with external devices like game consoles, which are crucial to the TV experience? What will happen when you’re watching something on your headset and someone wanders into the room, plops down on the couch, and wants to watch with you?
Generally speaking, people watch the most convenient thing in the most convenient way — which is why you might sometimes find yourself sitting on the couch in front of your beautiful big-screen TV watching YouTube on your phone. Nothing about strapping a headset to your face is convenient, which makes the quality bar even higher.
We’re many months away from the Vision Pro shipping, and there will be these and many other questions to answer in that time. Streaming platforms will have to decide if they want to go all in and create new immersive spaces for their apps or if they’ll just ship lightly adapted iPad apps like so many other things on the Vision Pro. Apple will surely use Apple TV Plus as a way to push that envelope, but in the early days of visionOS, I wouldn’t bet on many other streamers devoting huge resources to such a niche product.
So far, Apple hasn’t done a particularly good job of explaining why the Vision Pro is worth your $3,499 or why you might wear it for hours a day. We also don’t know anything about how it will work outside of Apple’s very specific, very controlled demos. But there’s no question that Apple just built its first TV: a screen that can be almost any size, go almost anywhere, and play almost anything.
Way back in 2016, when Mark Zuckerberg first explained his vision for virtual and augmented reality, he used TVs to help explain his vision. “A lot of things that we think about as physical objects today, like a TV for displaying an image, will actually just be $1 apps in an AR app store,” he said. So much of his vision — the glasses-like gadgets, the virtual worlds, the lifelike avatars — still feels far away. But a half-hour with the Vision Pro convinced me that I might be ditching my TV set a bit sooner than I thought.