Unlocking the Future of VR: Inside Apple’s Vision Pro Headset with Revolutionary Micro OLED Displays

The Vision Pro, the latest virtual reality headset from Apple, has the power to transport users to exotic locales like Hawaii or the lunar surface. “It displays high-resolution computer graphics a few millimeters from the user’s eyes, all while allowing the user to control a desktop-like interface using their eyes and subtle hand gestures,” enthusiasts explain. Early adopters believe the Vision Pro offers a glimpse into the future of computing, possibly five years ahead.

Priced at $3,499 to start, the Vision Pro can soar to a hefty $4,500 with added storage and accessories like straps. This price point significantly exceeds that of rival headsets, such as Meta’s Quest 3, which begins at $499 and even surpasses Meta’s top-tier offering, the Quest Pro, starting at $999. Adjusted for inflation, it even outstrips the launch prices of the initial iPad ($499) and iPhone ($499 with contract).

The Vision Pro boasts a multitude of high-end components, contributing to its premium cost. Research firm Omdia estimates the headset’s “bill of materials” alone amounts to $1,542, excluding expenses for research, development, packaging, marketing, or Apple’s profit margin. A critical component of the Vision Pro is its 1.25-inch Sony Semiconductor display positioned in front of each user’s eye.

These displays play a pivotal role in enhancing the virtual experience, offering vivid colors and lifelike visuals with their abundance of pixels and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques. According to Omdia, Apple shells out approximately $228 per unit for the “Micro OLED” displays used in the Vision Pro, with each headset requiring two – one for each eye. Sony Semiconductor declined CNBC’s request for comment.

The adoption of these advanced displays underscores Apple’s propensity for embracing novel display technologies ahead of the broader electronics industry. This trend mirrors Apple’s previous transitions, such as its switch from LCD touchscreens in the original iPhone to OLED displays in the iPhone X, which had a significant impact on industry supply chains and costs.

Jacky Qiu, co-founder of OTI Lumionics, which produces materials for manufacturing micro LED panels, emphasizes Apple’s dominance in driving display technology forward. Qiu notes that Apple’s patronage can make or break display manufacturers, as Apple tends to gravitate toward high-margin, high-spec components, thereby bolstering profitability. “In the display business, you either work for Apple and make the iPhone screens and you’re profitable, or you don’t, and you lose money. It’s as brutal as that,” Qiu remarks.

Micro OLED

Its displays are the hallmark feature of the Vision Pro. They boast densely packed pixels, offering unparalleled sharpness compared to rival headsets. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself praised the Vision Pro’s higher resolution, acknowledging its superiority over Meta’s $499 Quest 3 headset. “Apple’s screen does have a higher resolution and that’s really nice,” Zuckerberg remarked in a video on his Instagram page, while noting that the Quest’s screens are brighter.

Revolutionary Micro OLED
Revolutionary Micro OLED displays offer unparalleled sharpness and realism in Apple’s Vision Pro headset.

Wayne Rickard, CEO of Terecircuits, a company specializing in display manufacturing materials and techniques, elaborated on the revolutionary nature of Micro OLED displays. He emphasized their denser, smaller, and more compact pixels compared to conventional OLEDs found in living room televisions.

According to a teardown by repair firm iFixit, each Vision Pro display boasts an impressive resolution of 3660 by 3200 pixels per eye, surpassing even the iPhone 15’s 2556 by 1179 pixels. In comparison, Meta’s Quest 3 offers a resolution of 2,064 by 2,208 per eye. The Vision Pro’s smaller screens pack pixels closer together, with a remarkable 3,386 pixels per inch compared to the iPhone 15’s approximately 460 pixels per inch.

Apple states that the Vision Pro’s displays collectively host over 23 million pixels, making them among the densest displays ever created. Each Vision Pro pixel measures about 7.5 microns apart, with 54 Vision Pro pixels fitting into a single iPhone pixel.

Rickard highlighted the precision of Micro LEDs, noting their capability to achieve sizes below 10 microns, nearly half the size of a red blood cell. Apple’s choice of high-resolution displays aims to enhance realism in the headset’s passthrough mode, which uses external cameras to show the real world within the headset, and to improve the readability of text and numbers in virtual reality, mitigating the “screen door” effect present in other headsets.

Cutting-edge technology and precision manufacturing
Cutting-edge technology and precision manufacturing elevate Vision Pro’s immersive experience.

The production of such displays necessitates cutting-edge manufacturing techniques. Unlike typical displays built on glass backplanes, the Vision Pro employs a silicon backplane akin to semiconductor technology. The second most costly component in the Vision Pro is Apple’s main processor, featuring the M2 chip used in the MacBook Air and the custom R1 chip to manage video feeds and other sensors.

While bill of materials estimates excludes R&D, packaging, and shipping costs, they offer insight into the expense of individual components. Display technologies endorsed by Apple tend to decrease in cost as they become mainstream and attract multiple suppliers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, while not fond of cost estimates and teardowns, emphasized the extensive technological innovation in the Vision Pro during an earnings call. He highlighted the device’s 5,000 patents, years of R&D investment, and advancements in AI and machine learning driving features like hand tracking and room mapping.

Sajda Parveen
Sajda Parveen
Sajda Praveen is a market expert. She has over 6 years of experience in the field and she shares her expertise with readers. You can reach out to her at [email protected]
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