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Apple Vision Pro: Another 3D Comeback?

Apple Vision Pro

Apple Vision Pro


  • Product Name: Vision Pro
  • Manufacturer: Apple
  • Review Date: March 21, 2024 00:20
  • MSRP: $3,500
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool

The $3,500 Apple Vision Pro headset launched in February 2024 after a significant campaign of hype and marketing about Apple’s next big thing. Reviews have been mixed, with the consensus being that the device is on the bulky and heavy side, but that the immersive experience it provides is top-notch. The headset features a breakthrough ultra-high-resolution display system comprising a pair of micro-OLED screens the size of postage stamps. Together, the tiny displays pack in 23 million pixels, along with wide color and high dynamic range, including support for Dolby Vision. The external battery pack lasts 2.5   hours between charges, but the Apple Vision Pro can run all day when plugged in via a USB-C charging cable. For an in-depth look at what the device can do, check out Wayde Robson’s article, Apple Vision Pro: The Good, the Bad and the Creepy. Of particular interest to some Audioholics readers will be the potential of the Apple Vision Pro to usher in yet another comeback for 3D movies. Because it has a separate display for each eye (and lots of onboard processing power), the Apple Vision Pro should be able to deliver 3D content with unprecedented clarity and brightness, and with virtually none of the limitations that made earlier generations of in-home 3D viewing a hard sell for many people, myself included. Even the best 3D-capable TVs and projectors suffer from drastically-reduced brightness. And active 3D glasses cause the image to flicker as the shutters in the glasses open and close. Then there’s the issue of resolution. Because the frames of 3D content are typically interlaced, each eye sees only half the resolution that the display is capable of producing with standard 2D content. All of these issues are inherently solved by the Apple Vision Pro’s basic design.

Apple Vision Pro: 3D Content

Disney 3D pic2

So, will 3D movies really make a comeback? For now, it’s safe to say that a device as expensive as the Apple Vision Pro will not become mainstream overnight. But it’s also not hard to imagine that, several years down the road, later generations of the tech will be as commonplace as iPads are today. (In 2010, I thought the first iPad seemed like a niche product with limited utility.) In any case, Apple has confirmed that movies purchased in the Apple TV app will be upgraded to 3D free of charge for Apple Vision Pro users, as soon as a 3D version becomes available. At launch, there were 150 movies offered in 3D from the Apple TV app, including Dune, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Apple uses the MV-HEVC (Multiview High Efficiency Video Coding) delivery format for 3D video.

Dune Apple TV

Although Apple has a reputation for high-priced gadgets, the company has a more generous reputation when it comes to delivering high-quality content. If you purchased an HD movie from Apple in the past, the company offers free upgrades to the 4K HDR version (including HDR10+ and Dolby Vision). This policy adds a lot of value and incentivizes Apple users to stay within the Apple ecosystem. That’s especially true when you consider that some streaming services, like Netflix and Max, charge much higher rates if you want 4K HDR video. (Similarly, Apple Music charges the same fee whether or not you take advantage of the lossless, high-res quality of its streamed audio files. On Tidal, you have to pay practically double to get high-res audio.) Now, Apple’s free upgrade policy will extend to the 3D editions of all content on the Apple TV app. So if you’re a fan of 3D movies and you have a large library of Apple purchases, you might suddenly have a healthy 3D movie collection without spending a dime. The upgrade to Dolby Atmos is also free of charge for previous purchases, and is delivered via Spatial Audio on the Apple Vision Pro. The headset uses audio “pods,” which don’t cover the ear as typical headphones do. Each pod includes a pair of individually-amplified drivers to deliver “Personalized Spatial Audio” based on the user’s own head and ear geometry.

Users can access 3D versions of eligible movies when they become available to rent or purchase from the Apple TV app, and users who own or purchase movies with a 3D edition will be able to access that version on Apple Vision Pro at no additional cost.

— Apple

Apple Vision Pro also comes with a new entertainment format called Apple Immersive Video, which features 180-degree 8K content, filmed in 3D, with spatial audio. The format launched with a curated selection of immersive films, including Prehistoric Planet Immersive, Alicia Keys: Rehearsal Room, and Wild Life, which offers an up-close look at nature’s most interesting inhabitants. I am curious to see whether other creators embrace the Apple Immersive Video format. On the one hand, it appears to offer a uniquely high-quality and immersive experience — I imagine that someone like James Cameron would have a field day with the technology. But on the other hand, the potential audience is limited to Apple Vision Pro users, and that’s a pretty small group of people (for now anyway). Many filmmakers might hesitate to put effort into creating something that so few people can watch.

Apple Vision Pro is the ultimate entertainment device. Users can turn any place into the best seat in the house, enjoy personal concerts and adventures with Apple Immersive Video, interact with lifelike prehistoric creatures in Encounter Dinosaurs, and even land on the surface of the moon using Environments. It’s unlike anything users have ever seen before and we can’t wait for them to experience it for themselves.

— Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing

Apple Vision Pro: Disney+ in 3D

The Apple TV app isn’t the only place to find 3D video content to enjoy via the Apple Vision Pro. In the latest example of a long-standing history of collaboration between Disney and Apple, the Disney+ streaming service is now offering subscribers a growing collection of 3D movies via the Apple Vision Pro. Available at no extra charge beyond the regular monthly subscription fee, there are currently “dozens of popular movies in 3D” on the Apple Vision Pro’s Disney+ app, according to Disney. These include Avengers: EndgameStar Wars: The Force AwakensElementalEncanto, and Avatar: The Way of Water. More titles are reportedly in the pipeline, and will be announced at a later date. Like the Apple TV app, Disney+ uses MV-HEVC encoding to deliver UHD resolution in HDR, including Dolby Vision. Disney has also said that “several titles” will be delivered at a high frame rate in order to ensure that “the filmmakers’ creative intent is fully preserved and reflected.” A number of the world’s most famous directors, including James Cameron, Peter Jackson, and Ang Lee, prefer to shoot in higher frame-rates than the standard 24 frames-per-second established nearly a century ago by film cameras.

Disney 3D

One interesting feature of the Disney+ app for Apple Vision Pro is the option for viewers to transform their space into one of four Disney+ environments: the Disney+ Theater, inspired by the historic El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Blvd; the Scare Floor from Pixar’s Monsters Inc.; Marvel’s Avengers Tower overlooking downtown Manhattan; and the cockpit of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder, facing a double sunset on the planet Tatooine. According to Disney, each environment includes animations, sounds, and Easter eggs. These environments were created using the Universal Scene Description (USD) format originally developed by Pixar before being made open-source in 2016. Pixar, Apple, and others created a group called The Alliance for OpenUSD to standardize the USD format across the industry.

At Disney, we’re constantly searching for new ways to entertain, inform, and inspire by combining exceptional creativity with groundbreaking technology to create truly remarkable experiences. Apple Vision Pro is a revolutionary platform that will bring our fans closer to the characters and stories they love while immersing them more deeply in all that Disney has to offer. We’re proud to once again be partnering with Apple to bring extraordinary new Disney experiences to people around the world.

— Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company

Apple Vision Pro: The Downsides to 3D Viewing

As I mentioned earlier, the Apple Vision Pro solves many of the problems that made in-home 3D viewing unappealing for many. But Apple’s forward-looking headset also creates new problems, some of which are inherent to any product of this type. A typical 3D TV shipped with 2 pairs of glasses, so you and a friend or partner could watch your favorite content together. Additional glasses were usually available for purchase, so it was possible for the whole family to watch together without spending a fortune. By its nature, the Apple Vision Pro experience caters to just one user. Its brand of high-isolation entertainment might be great for a long-haul flight, but it’s no help on date night. Plus, the device itself is heavy, and may not be conducive to long movies, not to mention marathon sessions of binge-watching. If you wear glasses, you have to buy expensive prescription ZEISS Optical Inserts that can be used with your Vision Pro. And if your prescription glasses contain a “prism” value (which mine do), you’re out of luck. At this time, ZEISS cannot manufacture Optical Inserts based on a prescription containing prism value.

Explore the Cosmos

It remains to be seen whether Apple Vision Pro and other devices of this type will eventually become an ordinary part of high-tech life. Assuming the size, weight, and cost will become more manageable in future generations of the product, it certainly seems possible. But if virtual reality and augmented reality headsets do become commonplace, does that necessarily mean that 3D movies will finally have the chance to shine? It’s true that Apple Vision Pro can reproduce today’s 3D movies better than any previous technology, but it’s also possible that 3D movies might simply be superseded by a newer technology — perhaps something like the Apple Immersive Video format, or even full virtual reality. What do you think of the Apple Vision Pro? Do you think it could usher in a new golden era for 3D movies at home? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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