Apple’s Vision Pro is a TV. It’s not even out yet, but that feels well established at this point. While it can play games and do VR experiences and mimic AR through terrific feats of engineering, the use case with the most traction so far is you can strap it on your face and effectively have a 100-plus-inch 4K HDR TV set without the need to find wall space in your house.
But while it’s clear Apple has crafted a gorgeous content consumption device that should have incredible displays that could potentially replicate the quality of a high-end television like the LG C2 OLED or the Samsung QN90B, let’s be serious. This thing ain’t replacing the TV anytime soon.
Some people would claim it’s not supposed to. That it will instead be a supplement, similar to the 3D TV that returned to the scene in 2010 and disappeared a few years later because the majority of people don’t actually care that much about basketballs and arrows popping off the screen and into their vision. Like the 3D TV, the Vision Pro even requires you to wear special glasses and has limited usability for those with vision issues. But also like the 3D TV, it will face massive content challenges. Part of the reason the 3D TV failed was because not nearly enough studios, TV channels, and sport organizations adopted it.
Apple showed off plenty of exhilarating sports examples in its carefully controlled demo, but given we can only get very select NBA games in 4K and only on DirecTV, I’m not really confident courtside 3D is just around the river bend.
So let’s focus on it just being a 2D content consumption device because it will take quite a few years for Hollywood and the sports world to catch up — even if this thing is a runaway hit and sells millions in months.
Instead of a TV in every room, you could put on the Vision Pro and have the content follow you in a little corner of your vision while you cook meals, do laundry, or shitpost online. But the Vision Pro starts at $3,499. That’s the same price as approximately six 32-inch Samsung The Frame TVs. The quality of the Vision Pro will likely be superior to the 32-inch Samsung TV, but one can be enjoyed by anyone in the home and blends in on the wall like art. The other is a pound of face computer your neck and shoulders must carry from room to room and isolates you from everyone around you.
That isolation has given people pause. Others can’t enjoy the Vision Pro’s content alongside you unless they have their own Vision Pro. We have plenty of examples of other gadgets that have similarly isolated people. From the Game Boy to the phone you might be reading this piece on, there are a lot of devices that are intended to be operated and enjoyed solo. Notably, TVs are not one of them. Televisions are typically communal devices. You like to call out the heinous antics on Netflix’s The Ultimatum to the person sitting on the couch next to you or laugh at the creepy CGI in the latest live-action adaptation of a Disney film. On the Vision Pro, that isn’t happening until you both have your own and also the Vision Pro streaming apps support watch parties. Given how long it’s taken streaming services to support watch parties on the web or set-top boxes, you’ll forgive me if I don’t see this happening at launch for most services.
But the thing really holding the Vision Pro back from replacing TVs isn’t price or weight or the inherent loneliness of using a face computer. It’s that the Vision Pro won’t support all the same media a TV can. Instead, it’s the walled garden of a phone.
To play the PS5, you wouldn’t be able to hardwire it in; instead, you’d need to use Remote Play, hope your local area network is robust enough, and pray there’s no heavy pixelation as the stream from your PS5 is heavily compressed to travel along Wi-Fi and into your headset with minimum lag. I currently occasionally play my PS5 on my Steam Deck and on my iPhone, and while it can be a good-enough experience, it is in no way as crisp or clean as when I play it on my TV. Because the Vision Pro lacks HDMI ports, I’d be stuck with the same experience there, only on a virtual 105-inch TV. That doesn’t sound great!
The same holds true for the Xbox and other cloud gaming services. Apple, notoriously, isn’t a fan of allowing cloud gaming on its iOS platform, and to get it working, web apps have to be employed. Why on earth would I want to play a lower-resolution web app version of the upcoming Starfield on a virtual 105-inch TV when I could whip the headset off, give my neck a break, and play on a TV, sans web app and severe compression?
As a gadget nerd, I know why. Because new and novel forms of content consumption are fun. I’m okay with using junky Android E Ink tablets to read books or $3,500 VR headsets to watch movies because I will happily suffer all the issues and weirdness and tradeoffs for the experience of something new and different.
Most people (present company excluded) aren’t. People want things that are easy, and they want things that are fast, and they want things that are affordable. A $3,500 VR headset that’s arguably as good as a $1,500 OLED TV is going to be a hard sale for the vast majority of people, and even when the price eventually comes down or the nearly as good but significantly cheaper Apple Vision is inevitably released, this thing still won’t be replacing the TV in the majority of homes.