We’re still not sure what the future of VR looks like. Oculus, HTC and Valve are focusing on systems based around powerful gaming PCs. Sony will use its PlayStation 4 as a standardized base for PSVR. Samsung wants you to slot a flagship phone in front of your eyes. Chinese company Pico has a different idea. Its Pico Neo is an all-in-one system that offers an Oculus-like headset, but gets all of its computing power from a controller.
Inside that controller is a chip you’d find inside a flagship many smartphones: the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC. That means you’re getting a quad-core 2.2GHz CPU, an Adreno 530 GPU and a Hexagon 680 DSP. That’s paired with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage (expandable by MicroSD).
The headset itself has a pair of 1,200 x 1,080 panels (one for each eye), which matches the resolution of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Those panels refresh at 90Hz; on pare with the Vive and Rift, but slower than PSVR, and 102-degree field of view — less than the Vive and Rift, but more than PSVR. While specs don’t tell you much about a device’s quality, on paper the Neo matches up with its contemporaries.
This all sounds pretty good so far. But then you look at the controller itself. It’s… pretty simplistic, offering a SNES-like layout with a D-pad, four action buttons and a pair of shoulder bumpers. Pico has added a little more flexibility with the super successful backtouch feature from the Vita, and also movement sensors, but the decision to not include analog thumbsticks is strange given VR experiences are almost universally in three dimensions.
There are analogs on the optional add-on TrackingKit and Beacon, which appear to be a straight clone of Sony’s PlayStation Camera and Move controllers. It’s not clear where you’re supposed to stash the controller with the processing power inside while you’re holding onto them.
One advantage the Pico Neo has over the Vive, Oculus and PSVR is freedom of movement: with a 5000mAh battery inside, you can apparently get 3 hours of gaming or video playback untethered, after which you can use a Quick Charge 3.0 charger to top up.
One disadvantage it has is compatibility. The Pico Neo is unlikely to see widespread support. It’s based on Android 6.0, so you’d expect a reasonable amount of games can be played, but it’s not clear if head tracking or controller support will require additional coding from developers. Pico says you can also just plug the headset into a PC to play more games, but support there also seems questionable — and it kind of negates the main selling point of the Neo in the first place.
The Neo Pico will launch this summer for 3,399 Yuan ($525) with controller and headset, or 1.899 Yuan ($295) if you just want the headset to use with a PC. We can’t imagine many gamers are going to be dissuaded from their Rift, Vive and PSVR headsets by the proposition, but it’s an interesting idea that we might see implemented by other companies soon.