Visions of the Future

When Apple first announced the Vision Pro mixed reality headset, it set off a chain reaction of responses and predictions. There are those who’ve been waiting for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology to mature, to manifest as a genuine leap forward, as the iPhone did upon its release — back when physical keyboard lovers scoffed at the notion of an all-screen phone.

There are, of course, many applications for Apple’s new toy. However, its steep price point is notable for a first-generation, strictly personal device. Still, its extremely high-resolution OLED display holds promise for entertainment experiences like movie watching, which as an activity is comparatively passive and old-fashioned. Can a personal device visually surpass what’s achievable with a traditional TV screen or projection system?

3D Returns
For fans of 3D, the answer is unequivocally “yes” because VR and mixed-reality headsets are already 3D-capable. VR games are 3D. It’s the same old divide between those willing to wear something on their face to experience 3D and those not. And so it is not a huge surprise that IMAX recently announced it is bringing 3D movies to the Vision Pro.

Of course, you need sound to go with the vision. This is an area where the headset cannot compete with a dedicated theater. No matter how good the visuals are, the built-in sound can’t compete with a dedicated home theater’s sound system. It begs the question, would you watch a movie wearing a Vision Pro, but do so while listening to a full-size surround-sound system? Is that a bridge too far or would combining the very best visuals and sound be worth the effort?

3D skeptics need to keep in mind that video games are already effectively 3D in nature. I have the Play Station VR2, which does not come remotely close to the Vision Pro’s resolution but delivers a compelling 3D gaming experience nonetheless. It seems to me that kids always enjoy 3D, it's the adults who stop loving it.

Virtually Beyond 4K
Even without 3D in the mix, the prospects of per-eye resolution beyond 4K combined with OLED color and contrast is a potential dream come true for AV enthusiasts pursuing the perfect picture. Just like earbuds unlocked the world of full-range, audiophile-quality sound for the masses, personal displays derived from the technology found in the Vision Pro ought to democratize the high-end dedicated home theater viewing experience. Fingers crossed it actually does!

Coming to my Senses
I have not yet tried the Vision Pro and I admit that a reason I avoid it is, to quote Michael Antonoff, because I’d also “come very close to making the biggest impulse purchase of my life.” What got me was his comment “I felt like I’d time traveled to the second half of the 21st Century.” That’s a feeling I’d pay $3,500 to experience at will.

Back to Reality
While the Vision Pro is a real, new product you can buy, the same chunk of change gets you some very cool tech that lets you enjoy music, movies, and/or video games. In fact, the cost of entry for highly immersive experiences keeps dropping. Take as an example the Samsung HW-Q990D Atmos soundbar system John Sciacca recently reviewed. It’s good enough that he and others wind up comparing it favorably to an AV receiver with speakers and a sub. It leaves next to nothing on the table when it comes to a $2,000 surround-sound system.

Speaking of sound, I recently reviewed the GoldenEar T66 tower speakers, which have built-in active subs and are an all-around upgrade in looks and performance over the Triton series. Now that AudioQuest owns the brand, the T66 points to where it’s going.

And, in case you missed them, recent audio reviews worth checking out include Jim Wilson’s in-depth evaluation of the Starke Sound SW15 subwoofer (actually two of them) and Leslie Shapiro’s two-for-one take on Arcam’s latest hi-fi duo, the A25 integrated amplifier and ST5 streaming media receiver.

On the vision side of the equation, Tom Norton’s review of the Hisense U8K mini-LED 4K TV is essential reading if you’re in the market for a TV that delivers an impressive picture at a very reasonable price. When it comes to high dynamic range (HDR), the U8K managed to dazzle him like no other TV.

More Henninger Hits:

Bowers & Wilkins DB3D Subwoofer Review

The Big Picture

Marantz AV10 15.4-Channel AV Preamp/Processor Review

Sound & Vision CES 2024 Editor’s Picks

State of TV: CES 2024 Hot Take

4K Projector Buyer’s Guide

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