E3 2016: Pico VR Achieves VR on the Go

With big VR players like Oculus, HTC, and Sony PlayStation already out and about, Chinese company Pico may miss the attention it deserves. Sitting down with Pico’s Pico Neo revealed a simple, light VR headset with a controller attached to it and nothing else. When we sat down, Pico Design VP Ennin Huang made it clear that their primary objective is creating an all-in-one VR headset which hit all the current standards set by the competition while featuring portability.

The Pico Neo is based on Android 6.0 and features a 1200 x 1080 resolution panel for each eye – just like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The two panels have the same 90Hz refresh rate as the Rift and Vive, but feature a lower field of view at 102 degrees. The hardware specs of the headset itself seem up to snuff, but the hardware powering it all is actually contained in the controller. The Pico Neo controller closely resembles an SNES gamepad, with a d-pad, four face buttons, and a bumper on each shoulder. Inside the controller, however, sits a 5000mAh battery which is meant to offer 3 hours of constant play. In short, this is a working portable Android VR device.

But as with all portable devices, the biggest caveat comes in actual gaming performance, graphics, and apps. At this moment, the software support isn’t anything to write home about. There are some head-tracking on-rail shooters, for example, and they don’t look very great. Be it lighting, models, textures, effects, shaders, and framerate, the games have a long way to go but the VR part of their presentation are exactly where it should be. But even with the SDK that is planned for release along with the headset’s full launch, Pico also plan to pursue partnerships to expand their compatibility and library over to include Steam and hopefully software currently available on the Vive. But having the processing power to render an image on par with current generation VR games could be an issue. At this time, unless hooked up to a PC – which it can do – the Pico Neo relies on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SoC, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of on-board storage contained in its gamepad. In other words, it has the parts of a high-end smartphone. As is, the Pico Neo will deliver a portable VR experience equivalent to current portable gaming experiences.

Pico VR Neo Controller interior

Huang expressed Pico’s plans to release an SDK for third party developers to pick up and experiment with. But since it’s VR, Pico plan to be strict with what games they actually offer from other developers. Pico plan to ensure that all games developed externally via their SDK only see release if they minimize the risk of giving someone motion sickness or discomfort. The headset is still in beta, with add-ons like additional motion-gaming peripherals, parallax imaging, and tracking camera attachment well in the works.

It is an interesting endeavor and if Pico get the app library they need, it could be a great option of people who don’t want to settle for only having VR in a specific space in their homes. But at $550 for the whole package (and $300 for just the headset), it can be a rough sell given its competition. Those interested in flexible, portable VR are right in Pico’s target audience, everyone else may already have better alternatives. Pico VR is still in development, future partnerships and user-generated support could play deciding roles in its future.