Pico Neo: First look at the untethered VR headset

Pico Neo doesn't need a phone or PC to run VR
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The Pico Neo from Chinese startup Pico debuted in the US at E3 for the first time without much fanfare, but its done something no other company has successfully done before: untethered headsets. Specifically, the Pico Neo isn't powered by a phone nor does it need to be plugged into a PC at all times.

That sounds like the ultimate VR headset but it seems like Neo needs a boost in terms of content. But if Pico can find enough developers and pack its library with solid content, the Pico Neo could definitely give the Samsung Gear VR - or even PC VR - a run for its money.

Pico Neo: First look at the untethered VR headset

The Pico Neo looks a lot like your average mobile viewer except there's no phone in the front. Rather everything's powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor that's found in the controller. There's also two AMOLED lenses with 1200 x 1080 resolution per eye and 102-degree field of view. Add a 90Hz refresh rate and you have a pretty impressive spec list for the little headset. The resolution is lower than the major VR HMDs and the FOV is a little smaller but it's the same refresh rate all around (save for PS VR).

Because all the processing is done in the controller, the Pico team says they were able to make the headset pretty light at 300g. There's also 32GB of onboard storage for apps and games plus an SD card expansion slot. The 5000mAh battery gives you about three hours of gaming or video playback which is decent on paper for the VR headset.

One of the biggest problems I have with VR is fitting headsets over my glasses and comfort in general. At first, I thought the Neo was going to be one of those problem devices where I wouldn't be able to use it. However, there's a diopter on top to adjust the optical lenses which was refreshing. It's a tool Samsung has employed since its first headsets but surprisingly, not many other companies have.

Pico Neo: First look at the untethered VR headset

Another design feature I liked was how comfortable the Neo was without letting any light bleed into the headset. I don't think I've ever experienced a completely darkened VR environment. There's usually a spot above my nose and right under my eyes which is meant to allow various faces to fit into headsets like Gear VR, Rift and Vive. However the little slot is more noticeable on some devices than others (like Rift). That's why Pico Neo impressed me so much - it was both comfortable and didn't have that annoying light bleed.

I was also able to see clearly and played a space shooter demo that was created in-house, which worked really well. There were no latency issues, the controller was responsive and the head tracking was actually pretty good. The display itself was crisp and I couldn't detect any screen door effect - however it was a quick demo and I'd need a bit more time to test it out.

Pico Neo: First look at the untethered VR headset

The Neo runs on Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) as its operating system and the interface will sport an open source PicoVR app. During my demo time, the home screen looked very familiar - as in it looked just like Oculus Home. Basically, the menu was overlaid on top of a VR 'living room.' I'm not sure if that was the final iteration and what you'll get when it launches or if it was a placer for a different interface.

The controller was simple and reminiscent of a Super Nintendo controller or simple Bluetooth ones. It's actually tethered to the headset because it provides the power. You can also plug the system into a PC to play SteamVR games though which ones weren't specified.

Early verdict

The Pico Neo is full of potential but could be buried by the bigger name brand headsets. However, it shouldn't be brushed aside. The fact that it's untethered while boasting an array of head turning specs sets it apart as a device to keep an eye on. I definitely need to spend more time with the Neo to verify my first impressions, but so far, my biggest concern is a lack of good content. Both HTC and Oculus have suffered from either a lack of content or a lack of quality. Here's hoping the software will be just as as compelling as the hardware.

I previously thought the Pico Neo would be available later this summer starting in China but according to a Pico rep, there's actually no date or pricing just yet: "As of now, we don't have official details for the launch and price." This article will be updated when it's announced.


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Lily is a writer and editor specializing in tech, video games, marketing, education, travel writing, and creative fiction. 

She has over 10 years of experience covering the technology beat.

Lily has a passion for VR and AR technologies and was associate wearables editor at TechRadar US, before joining Wareable as US editor in 2016.

Lily will graduate in 2023 with an MFA in Creative Writing.

In her spare time, Lily can be found knee-deep in zine collaborations, novel writing, playing Dungeons & Dragons or hiking and foraging for mushrooms.

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