You don't need a smartphone or a computer to power this virtual reality machine.
The Pico Neo VR hopes to be the virtual reality headset for those who want in on the action but don't necessarily want a new computer or smartphone to power it up. No cables. No tethering. Just a USB-C port for plugging in a charger and a companion controller that isn't even required to play a game. It's just as fun and immersive as the full-size HTC Vive or even Daydream View, too. Its only drawback seems to be that there's no pricing or availability yet, which will ultimately determine if it's a worthy replacement for other VR solutions.
Entry-level virtual reality
The Pico Neo VR isn't as flashy as the Oculus Rift, nor does it come with a heaping of controllers. Its one controller is as small and simple as the Daydream View's, but since the Pico utilizes inside-out tracking, you don't have to use it if you don't want to. The headset relies on a combination of accelerometer, gyroscope, and camera measurements coupled together with robust software to orient itself. If you're in a game without a controller, for instance, you'll see a proximity warning to let you know there's something in the way.
Inside, the Pico Neo VR is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor — the same chip you'll find a variety of smartphones on the market today. Its software is built on top of Qualcomm's virtual reality SDK. It also features two 3K AMOLED displays, 4GB of RAM, and SD support to 128 GB, as well as built-in hi-fi speaker powered by the AM3D 3D spatial rendering engine.
During my brief time with the Pico Neo VR, I had an attendant walk alongside me as I had one of these things strapped to my head. I was crawling on the floor and maneuvering my body in an effort to avoid touching the harmful lasers presented in the demo—apparently, this is a nod to Catherine Zeta-Jones' training regiment in Entrapment. The demo was an effort to showcase the Pico's "Six degrees of freedom" abilities, essentially validating the idea.
I'll be honest: unlike the HTC Vive, which keeps you safely contained within the confines of a maximum 15 x 15-foot room, the Pico feels like you're taking a risk with your virtual reality life. You have to maintain quite a bit of trust in the environment you're playing in, in addition to ensuring that there's enough room for you to hop around. "Theoretically, you could walk around forever," said Paul Viglienzone, Pico Interactive's Vice President of business development. While that's certainly a neat concept to fantasize about, it sounds like it would be better suited for an augmented reality situation, rather than one that completely blinds you to your actual surroundings.
Regardless, I liked the freeing nature of not being tethered down with the Pico Neo VR. My first time with the Vive, I actually got caught in the cord connecting my headphones to the PC. However, I'd still likely stay in a confined environment with the Pico Neo VR, to avoid any casualties.
Promising tech without any titles
Pico Interactive hasn't announced any titles for its virtual reality headset, though Viglienzone assured me that there are plenty of developers who have signed on for the SDK. "We're all about the grab and go experience with casual, easy gaming," he said about the Neo VR. "We'll have a variety of content offerings, but our focus isn't hardcore gaming."
It's likely that the Pico Neo VR's title library will be somewhat akin to the variety available for Daydream VR in the Google Play Store. Pico Interactive also announced an SDK to get Unity developers on board to port over their titles.
"It's about getting an affordable, true VR solution, with no complex entry for the consumer," said Viglienzone. The Pico Neo VR headset should be out later this year online and in select markets, including North America, Japan, and parts of Europe.