Pico 4 next to Meta Quest 2 & Oculus Go

Experiencing Metaverse: Pico 4 Review - A new VR device from Bytedance


Is Pico 4 better than Meta Quest 2? My impressions, hands-on comparison and verdict

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This is a general review. I also made a full in-depth technical analysis that's available here.

The Pico 4 is a new headset from Bytedance. It was released in October 2022 and targets the same audience as Quest 2, emphasizing gaming, entertainment, and fitness. It is priced at £379 (slightly lower than Quest 2's £399.) The similar price range shows Pico Interactive's confidence, but also means Pico 4 will face extensive scrutiny and comparisons to Quest 2.

So, which one is better? After spending over a month with the Pico 4, I feel qualified to answer this question.

First Impressions: Judging a book by its cover

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If we were to decide by looks alone, this would be a pretty one-sided contest. The design feels familiar yet sleek, the big glossy front looks modern without being overly futuristic. When picked up, the headset’s slim form factor is also highlighted. Overall, it does a great job of making it clear that the Quest 2 is already two years old, making the Pico 4 feel like an upgrade, even before opening the box.

However, aesthetics are subjective, and some may still prefer the Quest 2's recognizable design.

Comfort and Ergonomics

The Pico 4 has a rigid strap and battery placement at the back where it doubles as a cushion, making it more comfortable and balanced. Putting on the Pico 4 is quick and seamless and the knob at the back ensures the headset stays tight and in one place.

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Overall, the Pico 4 offers a noticeably higher degree of comfort compared to the un-modded version of the Quest 2 and allows for extended periods of use without fatigue. Some of it is due to weight distribution, slim visor, better ergonomics, fine-tuned IPD range and some of it due to optics .

Despite all this, after using the Pico 4 continuously for more than six to eight hours, it did start to pinch my nose — an issue not observed with the Quest 2. The default nose-flaps were ineffective, and after 30 more minutes, I had to take a break as it became too painful to continue.Even with the nose-pinching, the Pico 4 still fared much better than the Quest 2 when it comes to ultra-prolonged use. Staying in virtual reality for eight hours might seem like an exceptional scenario, but with VR headsets being increasingly marketed as work and productivity devices, it doesn’t seem all that outlandish.

 

It’s important to note that the Pico 4 is only two months old, so its durability remains to be seen.

Controllers

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The Pico 4 employs familiar technology that uses infrared tracking to map their locations. The headset has an additional system button on the right controller intended to make screenshotting and video recording faster, but in practice, it’s unused most of the time. It also has system buttons on both controllers, which benefits left-handed users. Other than that, the button layout is nearly identical to other VR headsets which is good news. What’s different is the shape and arrangement of the tracking emitters. Instead of a ring, they are oblique, resembling some sort of cutlass handle. This, in theory, allows users to perform a wider range of motions on the Pico without risking bumping controllers into each other.

The controllers require two AA batteries instead of one. The battery ejection mechanism is a nice touch, making swapping batteries easy, as this process can be a bit cumbersome on the Quest.

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Overall, the Pico 4 controllers do their job well. They follow a proven script with a bit of a twist. The bottom is slightly textured, giving users a good grip. The controllers feel firm in hand, comfortable to use for longer periods and lightweight.

Optics and Image Clarity

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On paper, the Pico 4 is a step up in almost every category except for refresh rate.

The most talked about improvement is usually the resolution. The Pico 4 enjoys a combined resolution of 2160 x 2160 and to make this possible, it’s been fitted with two LCD panels instead of one. In theory, that’s a ~33 per cent increase over the Quest 2, made even bigger by the fact the Quest 2 uses only one screen, so a big portion of the panel remains invisible, with part of the pixels lost to the space between the lenses.

Another big difference is the lens type. A lot of older headsets rely on fresnel lenses while the Pico 4 has already made a switch to pancake lenses. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, pancake lenses promise to reduce artifacts caused by Fresnels, while also being much smaller in size and in turn allowing for lighter headsets.

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In practice, yes, the Pico 4 appears to be free from typical visual artifacts, but it does have some new ones, such as the 'dirty lens' effect caused by light bouncing between the lens layers. Rather than appearing as glare, it looks more like a smudge. At first glance one may be tempted to wipe the lenses, hence the name, So while the Pico 4 lenses show a significant improvement, they aren't completely artifact-free.

One of the most pleasant surprises when it comes to the Pico 4’s optics is its large sweet spot. A narrow sweet spot can be a real nuisance as it forces users to keep their pupils aligned with optical centre of the lenses or everything loses sharpness, but in the case of the Pico 4, clarity always remained impressive regardless of how randomly I decided to put the headset on. It’s practically a non-issue on the Pico 4.

When it comes to the field of view, the Pico 4 holds a modest advantage over the Quest 2. Here are the measurements according to Sebastian Ang (MRTV):

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Overall, all these improvements add up quickly. On their own, each parameter is only slightly better: slightly higher resolution, a slightly bigger sweet spot and a slightly wider FOV. Combined, however, they do offer a leap. It’s easier to spend longer periods inside virtual worlds when using the Pico 4, and my eyes felt less fatigued as a result.

Performace

The Quest 2 and Pico 4 are powered by the same Snapdragon XR2 chipset, but use it to different extents. After the recent firmware upgrade, the Quest 2 is running the XR2 chipset at 525Hz while the Pico 4 can run the clock at 587hz. This extra horsepower comes at the cost of battery life and more heat. As a result, a fully charged Pico 4 will only last marginally longer despite having a much larger battery. The Pico 4 also needs heavier airflow to ensure proper heat dissipation. From time to time, it’s possible to feel a slight breeze hit your nose.

The Meta Quest 2 holds a slight advantage when it comes to the maximum refresh rate, which can go up to 120Hz. A higher refresh rate reduces any chance of flicker and there are a good amount of apps and games on the Quest 2 that support this mode. Meanwhile, the Pico 4 only supports up to 90Hz.

An increase in image fidelity is not just tied to optics. Nothing illustrates it better than this breakdown made by Red Matter 2 developer Vertical Robot. It highlights some of the biggest differences between the Quest 2 and the Pico 4 versions of their game.

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Foveated Rendering, Subsampling, Anti-aliasing, Eye Buffer, Clock speed — all play a role. Some games will look much better on the Pico 4 but some might look worse if the port is done poorly.

 

Cameras - Tracking and Pass-through mode

Both headsets make use of the inside-out tracking system that uses built-in cameras and machine learning to make estimates about how the user moves through space. Hardware-wise, the Pico 4 has one additional camera in the middle. This extra camera is placed in the middle and supports 16 megapixels and full RGB, which is why the Pico 4 has high-quality color pass-through.

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Pico’s tracking has so far performed without any hiccups. It's not afraid of the dark and will work even in dimly lit rooms. Of course, I haven’t used it nearly long enough, so this observation comes with a caveat but the early signs are very positive. It seems their proprietary tracking system, SLAM, is delivering on its promise.

Setup, Accounts, Privacy

It looks like Pico Interactive decided to draw heavily from the work already pioneered by Oculus and Meta, so do not expect any originality. It’s basically a copy of what already works. Users are asked to pair their companion app, pair the controllers, watch a couple of introductory videos and then set up the guardian boundary.

With the Quest 2, users must set up a Meta account. In the case of Pico, they must create a Pico login. Seems similar, but there are some notable differences. A while back, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta. Starting the 1st of January 2022, users no longer have to use Facebook. Instead, they can set up a Meta account. This represents a non-trivial improvement but let’s make no mistake — to register for a Meta Account, users will have to enter their name, email address, phone number, payment information and date of birth. A Meta Horizon profile is obligatory and users can have only one Meta Horizon profile per Meta ID. There’s a lot of fine print attached and users can expect to have their data collected through Meta Accounts Center.

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Pico Interactive seems to suggest they care about user privacy and will not record keyboard input

Accounts on the Pico 4 are more nominal, but there is a catch. It’s no secret that Pico Interactive is a subsidiary of Bytedance — the company behind the popular social app TikTok, which is known for its highly invasive and data-driven terms and conditions. It’s completely reasonable to assume Pico Interactive will remain hesitant to do anything controversial as long as its user base is still growing, but might become more invasive if its dominance grows.

App Library and Content

The Pico 4 ecosystem has just launched. And to say they are playing catch-up would be an understatement. A lot of popular applications like YouTube VR or VRChat are missing. Media content feels pretty lackluster and uninspiring. To make up for that, the Pico 4 allows for less curated content, making available titles hit-and-miss. There’s no refund option, so the most reasonable option for players is to stick with Quest 2 ports, which in some cases (like the aforementioned Red Matter 2) are superior to their counterparts, but often feel rushed and done without effort.

By comparison content remains the Quest 2’s strongest point. The library of games and apps available to its users is vast. It includes many first-party titles and titles funded or acquired by Meta. For instance, Meta owns Beat Games, the studio behind the hugely popular Beat Saber. And it’s not just games, but also social VR applications, creativity tools and media applications. There’s a lot of high-quality award-winning content available through Meta Quest TV, both curated and in-house. Meta has also released their secondary non-curated app store for Quest 2 called the “App Lab”. The number of App Lab titles has already surpassed 1,500.

Of course, there are good games and apps available on the Pico 4. Pico Interactive keeps investing substantial amounts to bring developers on board and its store appears to be maturing at a good pace. Pico Interactive will likely continue to put money into their ecosystem despite facing some pretty intimidating competition from Meta’s storefront.

The verdict!

So, after all is said and done, which headset is better, the Pico 4 or Quest 2?

The answer is: Pico 4 without doubt. It’s not only a worthy challenger, it actually dominates in every key area. It’s more powerful, has better optics and a higher resolution. It’s more ergonomic, more lightweight and all of that at the same price point as the Quest 2. From a hardware perspective, it’s a no-contest pick.

However, when it comes to software and content, the Pico 4 cannot come close to the breadth of Meta’s ecosystem, and it’s not certain if it ever will. While Pico Interactive plays catch-up, Meta will continue to grow their own offerings, making it impossible for any competitor to fully close the gap. Games like Beat Saber that are owned by Meta might never be available on the Pico. As a result, the Pico 4 might be a better headset, but as a gift, the Quest 2 still seems like a better choice.

So who might benefit from purchasing the Pico 4 the most?

  • PCVR enthusiasts who are interested in using the Pico primarily as a hybrid headset for wireless streaming. There’s a built-in streaming solution available on the Pico 4 as well as the widely acclaimed Virtual Desktop by Guy Godin.

  • VR users who value hardware improvements and are willing to overlook skimpy software propositions or enthusiasts who want to foster competition and are interested in establishing a separate app library on a rival ecosystem.

  • Users who, for whatever reason, have a problem with Meta but not with Bytedance.

Have a great day!

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MatPawluczuk
MatPawluczuk

Tech Writer, VR Enthusiast, Backpacker, Activist


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