Introduction

In this blog post I will review the new Pico Neo 2 Eye VR headset, which is currently the only standalone VR headset with integrated eye tracking.

My name is Shachar Weis and I’ve been a software developer and entrepreneur for 25 years. I own almost every VR and AR headset on the market and I’ve used VR daily for the past 5 years. Leveraging that experience, I aim to write a concise and pragmatic review of this interesting new headset. Let’s begin.

Specs

Display: 4K 3840*2160 pixels – 5.5 inch TFT panel
Refresh rate: 75hz
FOV: 101 degrees
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Weight: 695 gram
ROM: 128gb
RAM: 6gb
Tracking: 6DOF using two front-facing cameras
Controller: 6DOF tracking using an electromagnetic positioning system

In The Box

The Pico arrived in a no-frills packaging. The box consists of one headset, two controllers, and a small box with controller straps, cleaning cloth, and two charging cables.

 

The controller charging cable is a split head USB-C cable, which I’ve never seen before. For some reason, I found this amusing.

Headset Ergonomics

The good: The headset battery is located at the back, which is a smart design. The weight distribution is excellent and the headset feels lighter than the Quest (even though it’s 100 grams heavier). The ratchet on the back is another great design choice and works very well.

The bad: The face padding is plastic and non-breathing material. It got hot on my face pretty quickly and the lens fogged up often (which doesn’t happen to me with any other headset).

 

 

The top strap is rubber and only has three holes.

 

Controller Ergonomics

The controllers are more comfortable than they look.

In your hand, they feel similar to the Vive controller but these are lighter and the grip button is easy to press (unlike the Vive controller). The downside of this design is that it’s sometimes tricky to find the right orientation just by feel, they are too rotational-symmetrical. You have to keep turning them in your hand until you find the right orientation. Unlike the Quest, the joystick on these controllers doesn’t have click or pressure sensing. The grip button does click though (the Quest / Rift-S grip buttons do not).

Ports and Plugs

Top: USB-C and power button
The right side has three buttons: Back, Confirm, and Home.
Bottom: A single audio port, volume control, microphone and an SD card slot (which is a nice touch).
The back part has a single port that is labeled as “3.5mm power jack”. The box doesn’t contain a cable that fits in there, but I assume it’s an alternative way to power/charge the headset. This is a useful feature to have in a commercial environment.

 

Display and Optics

The good: The headset display has almost zero screen-door effect and is very sharp, with great colors and good contrast.

The bad: The headset has quite a bit of pupil swim and chromatic distortions at the edges.

Pupil swim is the phenomena where moving your head in VR causes objects to sway slightly, and distort (shrink / expand). Many things in VR are highly individual and pupil swim is correlated to eye and face physiology. However, comparing to the Quest, the Pico has considerably more pupil swim.

Audio

The Pico has built-in speakers embedded in the head strap.

I don’t have much to say about these. At full volume, they are quite loud. Not amazing quality, not terrible.

Headset & Controller Tracking

The headset tracking is OK. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, nor is it the best. Jumping between the Pico and Quest I can tell that the Quest tracks better and smoother, but the difference is not big. Many will not notice it.

UPDATE: I have been told that other people are experiencing much less controller lag. I have contacted Pico and waiting for a reply. I will update this when I know more. 

The controllers however are a different story. The controller tracking is magnetic, which allows them to be small, light, and not require a halo as almost every other VR controller on the market. However, the downside is that magnetic tracking is laggy and less accurate, and I felt this immediately. The controllers feel sluggish in your hand, and the VR controllers don’t match exactly the position of the physical controller. It’s close, but not as close as other headsets.

If you look at this video, in the first few seconds I’m holding both controllers against my stomach and doing a half-step forward and backward. In real life, the controllers and headset are moving almost perfectly in sync. In VR, you can clearly see the controllers lag:

At the 0:15 mark, I’m holding both controllers in one hand and rotating my wrist 90 degrees. You’ll see a lag in rotational tracking as well (it’s smaller, but still there).

 

Build Quality

This headset is very “plasticky,” which makes it easy to sanitize (more on that later) but it’s not going to win any prizes for appearances.

The controllers also feel cheap, the buttons are a bit “mushy”. In the set that I received, the right controller joystick is a few degrees off-center in the resting position.

 

Sanitation

The face padding comes off in a single piece. The back padding does not detach. This headset was clearly designed with sanitation in mind because everything is plastic. Fabric is pretty much impossible to sanitize, not to a level that is acceptable in most medical institutes (and the Quest is covered with it).

Software – Launch screen, home and menus

The Pico home screen is straightforward and simple. A standard curved menu with some store apps, and your installed apps to the right.

The store is pretty much empty at this point, and with this being an enterprise device I don’t expect it to ever contain more than a handful of demos.
Behind you is a nice sofa and some bookshelves, none of them interactive in any way. Also, you can’t teleport in this home environment so you’ll need a really large play area to be able to read those books.

 

Software – Guardian and room setup

Setting up the guardian is similar to the Quest and Rift, you first choose between stationary (standing or seated) and room-scale, then you set the floor and then you draw the room boundaries. The Pico process is a bit clunky but it works. The floor is not always automatically detected and you have to look down for 5 to 15 seconds before it does. You can also set it manually with the controller. For whatever reason, the software always chopped off the corners of my playspace after I marked it here. See the video below.

Another problem I found is that the headset could never detect my room and was constantly forgetting the boundary. I had to set it every single time I put on the headset.

Eye Tracking

The most unique and interesting feature of this headset is the built-in eye-tracking. The Pico Neo 2 Eye uses a Tobii eye-tracking module, seen here:

Those two black strips to the side of the lens house the tiny IR cameras that are used to track your eyes. There is a set on the other lens as well. According to Tobii’s website, the Pico eye tracker runs at 90Hz and has a 0.5 degrees accuracy (incidentally, Tobii’s website has more specs for the Pico headset than Pico’s website). The data coming from the tracker includes gaze (where each eye is looking) and also if the eyelid is closed or opened.

Eye-tracking requires calibration but I’m not sure how often. In my testing sometimes it worked well without having to re-calibrate and sometimes the tracking was off and I had to do calibration again. Also, on at least two occasions the eye-tracking stopped working and I had to restart the headset to get it running again.

In this video, you can see the calibration process and the eye-tracking demo app. The app doesn’t come installed on the headset, you’ll need to download the Unity project from here, and then build and sideload it.

Eye movement is very jittery, and seeing visual feedback for gaze takes some getting used to. Accuracy is sometimes very good and sometimes a bit off. In this video, you’ll see that the first time I ran calibration the results were way off. The second time it was much better.

Something that affected me personally was that I got this message every time I calibrated the eye tracker:

It seems that my natural way of wearing the headset is not optimal for the eye-tracking to work, and I need to move it down, to a position where it’s slightly uncomfortable for me. This of course is highly individual, but something to take into account.

 

Software – Developer SDK

Pico has a developer SDK for Unity and Unreal Engine. Unlike Oculus, Pico gives you complete control over the headset. It has kiosk mode, you can replace the launcher, you can disable guardian, connect to Bluetooth devices, and do anything at the operating system level. I will do a deeper dive into the Unity SDK and EyeTracking SDK in a future post.

Conclusion

The most important thing to note is: This is an enterprise headset and not a consumer device. You should not buy this headset if you are a gamer, a consumer, or a VR enthusiast. I am really happy that Oculus is getting competition in the enterprise market. The Quest is an excellent device however Oculus has been flip-flopping about commercial use for years. They finally released the enterprise version of the Quest (8 months late), but despite the high price ($1000 for the headset and a $180 yearly subscription per device) it has a lot of limitations (can’t replace the launcher, not allowed to add external tracking hardware, etc).

The Pico is clearly aiming for the enterprise market. The Neo 2 is priced less than the Quest and the integrated eye-tracking opens so many interesting doors and possibilities. If they can improve the controller tracking and offer some accessories, this will be a good Quest alternative for many commercial projects.

Pros: 

Sharp display
Open system with few or no restrictions
Well balanced due to rear placement of battery
Excellent ratchet design
Easy to sanitize
Standalone eye tracking is unique on the market (as of Jun 2020)
Expandable (SD Card, power plug, Bluetooth support)

Cons: 

Controller tracking is laggy
Pupil swim and some edge distortion
Plastic face pad
Software still needs polish and debugging
Feels cheap and “plasticky”

 


Written by

Vice

Vice

Shachar "Vice" Weis is the founder and CEO of Packet39, a developer of Virtual & Augmented Reality custom software and hardware solutions for the manufacturing, power and aerospace industries.