I’m more and more convinced that the Apple Vision Pro will be the breakthrough device that Apple promises when the $3,500 “spatial computer” launches early next year.
Yesterday I had the rare opportunity to try Apple Vision Pro for the third time since its announcement at WWDC 2023. The situation was the same as last time: a short viewing session to look at spatial video, panoramas, photos and videos. The difference this time, however, was that I got to bring along my own content – including spatial video shot with an iPhone 15 Pro – and take a look at them with the visionOS Photos app.
I got emotional
Since the release of iOS 17.2 developer beta 3 for iPhone last month, I’ve been storing spatial videos taken with my iPhone 15 Pro. If you own an iPhone 15 Pro or 15 Pro Max and want to learn how to record your own spatial videos, I recommend reading it because you need to enable the feature in the camera section of the Settings app.
As I noted last time, shooting spatial video with an iPhone 15 Pro is easy once you turn it on. You simply tap the Apple Vision Pro icon that appears in the regular video mode, then tap the record button. Videos are saved as regular 2D videos in your camera roll, but watch them in Vision Pro and they have the depth of any 3D video.
Before my viewing session, I was encouraged by Apple to record spatial videos that would have sentimental value to me – family, friends, pets. These are the kinds of things you’re more likely to appreciate in 3D than, say, the hamburger you had for lunch two weeks ago. While I included content that had a higher chance of choking me, I also included some spatial videos that were a little more mundane – like walking through a train station tunnel or a short clip of my colleagues at a pizza shop – Just for to see how it would look.
The first thing after going through a short setup process (using an iPhone to scan my face as you would set up Face ID and also eye and hand tracking in Vision Pro) was AirDropping my content to Vision Pro. I got to bring 15 photos, videos, panoramas and spatial videos in total. I AirDropped my content from my iPhone 15 Pro to an Apple representative’s iPhone, which then AirDropped to the Vision Pro I was carrying. AirDrop on the Vision Pro is a similar experience to existing Apple devices. An AirDrop icon appears at the top of the “screen” and you look at it and pinch your thumb and index finger together to “click” it. A glassy transparent control center will then appear with the option to accept the AirDropped content.
I’ll start watching the non-spatial video content in a second. It’s not that they didn’t evoke strong emotions or anything, just that they appear as regular 2D in Vision Pro. On the other hand, spatial videos hit differently. Maybe it’s because they have a subtle depth — I noted in my viewing session last time that 3D has just the right amount of depth, not too strong or too weak — or because you can watch them in an “immersive” view where the limit of the video becomes glowing and dreamlike to give it the character of a memory. Anyway, spatial videos feel Live. The dreamlike memory border sells that feeling quite well.
I kept tilting my head a lot, almost in disbelief at how surreal it was to see my mother in spatial video.
In a spatial video, my mom and I were having dim sum at a restaurant and I explained to her what the Apple Vision Pro is and what it does. It was recorded last weekend so the memory was fresh in my mind. When we watched the video inside the Vision Pro again, it was as if we were transported back to the restaurant, sitting across from each other across a dining table. I kept tilting my head a lot, almost in disbelief at how surreal it was to see my mother talking, laughing and eating in spatial video. It was my mother who got me interested in technology and I don’t think I would have a career writing about new consumer technology if it weren’t for her interest in it. For me, these convos are very precious to me, so to see them replayed with a sense of presence really tugs at my heartstrings. At one point I fought back a few small tears just because there were three Apple representatives sitting next to me. Self-conscious about EyeSight and the possibility that they could see my tears, I asked if they could see my eyes on the Vision Pro’s external display. I was told they couldn’t. Pre-release software, you know? I obviously couldn’t confirm that myself as a Vision Pro wearer. At a certain distance and window size, spatial videos can look real. But even when I “pushed” the video window further away (activated by looking at the bar at the bottom of the window and then dragging it closer to me), seeing my mother in 3D made me emotional. I even laid back on the couch and placed the virtual video on the ceiling.
I think Apple was right when they suggested I capture sentimental content in spatial video. As cool as it was to see my colleagues in the office and a bar with a bit of the third dimension, I don’t think it had the same impact on me as it did on my family watching those clips. I suspect that once people have the opportunity to view their own content in Vision Pro, they’ll get a better feel for when and when not to tap the spatial video icon in the camera app on their iPhones.
Viewing panoramic images in Vision Pro is its own thing. I included some specific panoramas to see if it would feel like I was transported back to the locations. The first was a shot at Arthur Ashe Stadium during the 2019 US Open. The match was between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and the POV was from the middle of the seats. Shot with an iPhone XS at 32 megapixel resolution, the Vision Pro made a slight deviation for the panorama to bend it in front of me. It looked nice and expansive but not nearly as surreal as a spatial video. I could use two hands to pinch and zoom in and out of the photo.
But even bigger and higher resolutions, taken with newer iPhones, look even better. Two others—a 51-megapixel panorama from the top of Bear Mountain in New York and a 38-megapixel panorama from Apple Park last year—were wider and, as a result, wrapped more to the sides and almost behind me, giving me more horizontal pixels to turn your head and look at. If you haven’t taken panoramic shots of epic sunsets and beaches and landscapes, I highly recommend you start.
As for 2D photos and videos — they display as they would on a computer, either in a smaller window or as a full-screen experience. I looked at some pictures of our family Yorkie, who we had to put down earlier in the year, and although I tried to hide it, I felt a few waves of sadness looking at pictures of her on such a large virtual screen. Mostly because I miss the little puppy every day, but still the clarity of the virtual screen in Vision Pro is captivating. Which brings me to…
The best virtual big screen
I’ve said it many times before and I’ll probably say it again until it’s released: Apple Vision Pro is the best virtual big screen I’ve ever used. Although I’ve only used the Vision Pro three times, each for short sessions of about 30 minutes, I’m sure it’s the best (at least in a consumer product). When I say the screen looks like a real big screen projection floating in front of you (or on your ceiling if that’s your preference), I mean it. It’s not like other VR headsets or video glasses, where they claim a screen similar to one that measures a hundred-something inches, but in reality it just looks like a much smaller TV screen or monitor. It also makes the virtual display inside the PlayStation VR 2 look budget.
Apple Vision Pro is the best virtual big screen I’ve ever used.
While I’ve spent most of my Vision Pro sessions looking at the Photos app, I have no doubt that the mixed reality big screen experience will translate really well to watching other types of content like movies and games. Honestly, I think everyone is so focused on comparing the Vision Pro to the Quest 3 that they’re missing the point of what the Vision Pro really is: it’s going to disrupt the TV and projection screen industry. Why would anyone spend $3,000 on a cutting-edge TV when the Vision Pro will give you a resizable screen that’s also portable and can easily display all your content?
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