Pico Reportedly Laying Off Hundreds Just Months After Pico 4 Launch

Pico is laying off hundreds of staff, South China Morning Post reports.

The report cites “two people familiar with the matter.” One of those people reportedly said the cuts represent a “substantial portion of Pico” with some teams seeing as much as a 30% reduction. The other person reportedly said even some higher-level positions are affected.

No reason for the cuts is given, but a November report from Sina Technology claimed early Pico 4 sales weren’t meeting expectations, leading the company to reduce production orders. However, Pico claimed preorders had seen “unprecedented” demand, and Pico 4 was by far the fastest growing headset on SteamVR in November.

A spokesperson for Pico provided the following statement: “While we continue to hire as a business globally, we are streamlining our team and, as a result, parting ways with a small number of colleagues. We greatly appreciate these colleagues’ contributions and are working closely with those impacted to support them through this time of change.”

Pico is no newcomer to VR – it revealed its first headset in 2016. In 2021 it was acquired by ByteDance, the Chinese tech giant behind TikTok. Pico always sold to Chinese consumers, but elsewhere it had previously focused on businesses. This changed last year with the launch of Pico Neo 3 Link to European consumers. However, that was pitched as a “beta program.” Pico 4 is its first serious consumer play and the first serious competitor to Meta’s Quest 2.

Pico 4 is powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 1 processor used in Quest 2 but has a range of improvements: a slimmer and lighter design, higher resolution, wider and taller field of view, color passthrough, precise motorized lens separation, and improved controllers. However, content is king – while a significant chunk of Quest’s content library has been ported over, ByteDance has yet to offer standalone exclusive titles to match the likes of Meta’s Beat Saber, Resident Evil 4, Population: ONE, Onward, and Iron Man VR. Pico announced its first major exclusive, Just Dance VR, last year, set for a 2023 release.

Pico 4 isn’t sold in North America. However, last year the company posted a job listing for a position that would be “responsible for the sales and marketing of Pico’s overall product in the US consumer market,” suggesting that approach might change in the future. 

Report: TikTok Parent Lays Off Hundreds at VR Subsidiary Pico Interactive, Tencent Scraps VR Plans

TikTok parent company ByteDance is reportedly laying off what South China Morning Post maintains will be “hundreds of employees” working at its VR headset manufacturing subsidiary, Pico Interactive. A separate report from Reuters also maintains Chinese tech giant Tencent is scrapping its plans to release a VR headset.

According to two people with knowledge of the Pico layoffs, a substantial portion of the VR headset maker is expected to be affected. The report maintains that some teams will see as much as a 30 percent reduction, while some higher-level positions are also expected to be affected.

After being acquired by ByteDance in August 2021, Pico job postings revealed the company was making a sizable expansion into the US to presumably better compete with Meta on its home turf.

Shortly afterwards, the China-based company then released its latest standalone headset, Pico 4, in Europe and Asia to consumers. Seen a direct competitor to Meta Quest 2, Pico 4 still isn’t officially sold in the US; the headset is currently only available across Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and most countries in Europe.

It was also reported by Chinese tech outlet 36Kr that Tencent, the massive Chinese multinational, was disbanding it 300-person strong XR unit. The company has since refuted this claim with Reuters, stating instead it will be making adjustments to some business teams as development plans for XR hardware had changed.

Citing sources familiar with the restructuring, Reuters reports that Tencent is abandoning plans to release a VR headset due to a sobering economic outlook.

This follows a widening trend of layoffs which have affected nearly every big name in tech, including Google, Meta, Amazon, and Microsoft. Microsoft recently announced it was shuttering its social VR platform AltspaceVR in addition to its XR interface framework, Mixed Reality Toolkit. Meanwhile, Microsoft has also had trouble fulfilling its end of a US defense contract which uses its HoloLens AR headset as the basis of a tactical AR headset.

It was also revealed late last year that Meta was planning to cut discretionary spending and extend its hiring freeze through the first quarter, alongside a layoff which affected nearly 11,000 employees, or around 13 percent of its overall workforce.

Report: China’s Tencent Forms XR Unit to Build Its Own Metaverse

Tencent, the China-based multinational known for WeChat and a host of mobile games, reportedly announced to staff that was creating a unit dedicated building out its XR offerings.

As reported by Reuters, Tencent allegedly told staff on Monday about the official formation of a unit tasked with building up its XR business, which is said to include both software and hardware projects. The internal XR unit was supposedly launched in secrecy earlier this year.

Tencent Games Global’s Chief Technology Officer Li Shen is said to head the unit, and it will be a wing of its Interactive Entertainment business group. It’s also said the company is aiming to hire over 300 staff members to fill various XR roles.

The report maintains that Tencent founder and chief executive Pony Ma views the XR unit as a passion project, underling the importance of the metaverse by dubbing it in 2020 an “all-real internet.” Tencent has yet to comment on the information alleged in the report.

This follows continued downsizing by Tencent, first announced in May. At the time, it was said the Shenzhen-based company would reduce its headcount to between 10%-15% this year alone.

At least within China, it seems Tencent is primarily looking to compete with TikTok parent company ByteDance, which acquired Chinese VR headset creator Pico Interactive for an estimated $775 million in August 2021.

However with ByteDance pouring millions into VR developer support, it’s clear the target is a wider launch in Western markets, with the company’s Quest 2 competitor, Pico Neo 3 Link, now available in Europe and coming soon the United States.

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ByteDance Expanding Pico Interactive’s VR Plans Into the US

May saw Pico Interactive finally take its first steps out of the consumer market in Asia with a limited release of the Neo3 Link headset in Europe. Up until this point, Pico had only focused on enterprise customers globally. Now the company is looking towards the US market as job listings on ByteDance’s website show a range of positions available across the West Coast.

Pico Neo 3 Link
Image credit: Pico Interactive

First spotted by Protocol, there are more than 40 vacancies ByteDance is looking to fill for Pico Interactive’s expansion. With the website saying ByteDance has: ““tons of money” for VR games and experiences”, the listings mainly focus on the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and San Diego.

Looking to fund lots of new content through Pico Studios, positions available include Head of Pico Studios, Head of VR Game Strategy, Head of Consumer Sales, Head of Overseas Content Ecosystem and an Operation Manager. There are also plenty of engineering roles across systems, optics, and other disciplines.

While nothing official has been announced regarding a consumer launch in the US, Pico Interactive is certainly looking to increase its presence there to compete with Meta. The Pico Neo3 Link is seen as one of the very few competitors to the Meta Quest 2, sporting a very similar specification list and videogame library. Titles such as SUPERHOT VR, Puzzling Places, After the Fall, Walkabout Mini Golf, Elven Table Tennis, and Demeo are all natively supported by the device which is also compatible with StereamVR.

Pico Neo3 Link

Nothing is likely to happen in the US until Pico has completed its European role out. Pico has continually said that the European release of Neo3 Link is a “beta Launch”, where only one headset can be purchased per customer. The headset is available in Germany (where the Quest 2 isn’t available), France, Spain, The Netherlands and now the UK for £399 GBP.

Whether ByteDance and Pico can compete with Meta is another question entirely, with the latest IDC figures putting Meta Quest 2 sales at nearly 15 million. Attracting more developers, as well as funding original content, might help Pico but the Neo3 Link’s biggest draw could be not having to connect it to a social network.

As Pico Interactive reveal further details, gmw3 will keep you informed.

ByteDance’s Pico Interactive is Expanding to the U.S. to Compete with Meta

Pico Interactive has recently taken a significant step outside of Asia with the release of its Neo 3 Link in European consumer markets, a €450 standalone headset that hopes to compete with Meta’s Quest 2. Now Pico is aiming its sights on the US market too, as Protocol reports the China-based company has posted several US-based jobs there.

Pico, a subsidiary of TikTok parent ByteDance, is assembling a team on the US West Coast, which Protocol says has “a major focus on content licensing as well as marketing its hardware to U.S. consumers.”

ByteDance is also ostensibly courting VR developers, and is reportedly willing to splash “tons of money” for VR games and experiences, Protocol reports.

According to ByteDance’s job portal, there’s currently over said 40 job listings for Pico positions in the Bay Area, Seattle and San Diego, with many looking to fill positions related to the company’s AR/VR content producer, Pico Studios.

Listings include a head of Pico Studios, head of VR Game Strategy, head of Overseas Content Ecosystem, and operations manager. Technical roles related to VR hardware and software development and R&D are also on offer.

Image courtesy Pico Interactive

This isn’t really such a big surprise. Pico stated in October 2021 that it would put greater emphasis on its fleet of Neo 3 headsets outside of China, as they would be “built for businesses [and] be available in the West, including North America and Europe,” the company said then. This was only two months after the ByteDance acqusition which saw Pico go for a reported ¥5 billion RMB (~$775 million) sales price.

Late last month, Pico launched Neo 3 Link in Europe, a headset which straddles the PC VR and standalone headset segments by offering built-in PC streaming over either Wi-Fi 6, or tethered DisplayPort connection.

To attract consumers, the company has essentially feature-matched a few notable Quest 2 specs with its Neo 3 Link, such as its Qualcomm XR2 chipset and ability to tether to a PC to play SteamVR content, albeit through DP 1.4 and not Quest 2’s USB-C. It also features a standard 256 GB storage and a 5,300 mAh battery located in the headset’s strap, the latter of which is similar to Quest 2’s Elite Battery Strap in terms of balance and ergonomics—at no added price.

Moreover, Pico Neo 3 Link supports a number of standalone VR games including SUPERHOT VR, Puzzling Places, After the Fall, Walkabout Mini Golf, Elven Table Tennis, and Demeo. If ByteDance is truly throwing “tons of money” at VR developers to bring their games to the Neo 3 platform, it would essentially represent the biggest overt push by a company to break the Meta market monopoly on consumer VR standalones.

It’s not certain whether Pico would indeed launch its Neo 3 Link in the US, as it may well be using the European market to test out general sentiment. Still, the headset is currently listed at $400 on the Neo 3 Link order page, which is the same price as a commensurately speced Quest 2. The company has insisted it hasn’t launched into the US consumer market yet though, so that price may not include taxes or import duties, so we’ll need to take it with a grain of salt for now until Pico makes its next move towords Meta’s home turf.

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Chinese Analyst: Pico Will Release High End Headset Soon Before Meta

A Chinese VR analyst who’s been reliable in the past claims Pico plans to release a high end headset before September.

In a note posted to WeChat, the analyst 黑毛警长008 suggests the ByteDance-owned brand plans to intentionally beat Meta’s Project Cambria to market with a very similar product. Just as Meta stated that Cambria isn’t a Quest 3, the analyst claims Pico’s headset isn’t a Neo 4. Instead the name “may be Pico Pro, Pico Neo 3 Pro+, or a new name series for it” suggesting it will be sold alongside the current Neo 3 line, not replace it.

The current Pico Neo 3 also has remarkably similar specs to Meta’s Quest 2. Like Cambria, Pico’s high end headset will apparently use pancake lenses for a slimmer and lighter form factor and feature higher resolution, eye tracking, face tracking, and advanced controllers which ditch the tracking ring in favor of onboard tracking cameras.

The hardware cost of this product will be “far higher” than the Pico Neo 3 the analyst says, which was announced as launching to European consumers last week for €449. Meta has hinted on multiple occasions that Quest 2 is sold at or below what it costs to make, and the analyst claims the same “very aggressive subsidy policy” is happening for Pico Neo 3 and will continue with the new product too.

The analyst also claims Meta’s Project Cambria will launch in September, and that ByteDance will intentionally adopt a strategy to ship its headset earlier than Meta. If true, the product should launch within the next four months.

Pico described the Neo 3 Link consumer launch as a “beta program”, and made an unusual offer of giving buyers a 35% discount on a future model “should there be another product that comes from Pico within the next 12 months”. If this analyst’s report is to be believed, that offer may be referring to this high end model rather than a Neo 4.

Pico Neo 3 Link vs Quest 2 Specs: What’s The Difference?

This week Pico announced the Neo 3 Link is launching to European consumers. It’s essentially the first real Quest 2 competitor, and the specifications are remarkably similar.

The Specs

Quest 2 and Neo 3 Link have the same chip, the same amount of RAM, the same resolution, the same type of display, and the same lens separation control mechanism. Both have four tracking cameras mounted in identical positions.

Here’s how they both compare to HTC’s Vive Focus 3 on a spec sheet:

Quest 2 Neo 3 Link Vive Focus 3
Display per eye  1832×1920 LCD 1832×1920 LCD 2448×2448 LCD
Refresh Rate 60 Hz / 72 Hz / 80 Hz
/ 90 Hz / 120 Hz
90 Hz 90 Hz
Lens Separation 3-Stage (58mm / 63mm / 68mm) 3-Stage (58mm / 63mm / 69mm) Granular 58mm-70mm
Chip Snapdragon XR2 Snapdragon XR2 Snapdragon XR2
RAM 6 GB 6 GB 8 GB
Cameras 4 4 4
Hand Tracking Yes No Yes
Price & Storage €349 (128 GB)
€449 (256 GB)
€449
(256 GB)
€1404*
(128 GB + microSD)

* includes 2 year business license, extended warranty, and support

The Differences

Storage Pricing

Quest 2 is available in two models, one with 128 GB of storage for €349 and another with 256 GB of storage for €449.

Neo 3 Link only comes in one model: 256 GB for the same €449 price as a 256 GB Quest 2.

Weight Balance & Included Strap

While Neo 3 Link is priced the same as the €449 Quest 2, that doesn’t mean they offer the same hardware value out of the box.

 

Quest 2 comes with a soft strap which doesn’t offer any counterbalance to the headset’s front-heavy weight. Meta will sell you an “Elite Strap” accessory for €49, or an Elite Strap with an extra battery built in for €109.

Neo 3 Link comes with this “elite” style of strap, and the battery is built into the rear. This gives it superior weight balance, and therefore comfort, without any extra costs.

Wired PC VR Connection

Neo 3 Link and Quest 2 are both standalone (essentially VR consoles) but also support PC-based VR if you have a gaming PC, letting you play the VR content on Steam and elsewhere.

Both headsets let you do this wirelessly over your home Wi-Fi network. But Wi-Fi has considerably less bandwidth than display cables meaning the video stream has to be compressed, reducing the quality and adding a small amount of latency. Further, problems like network congestion and signal degradation can cause stutters and hitches.

Both headsets also support wired PC VR – but Pico Neo 3 Link’s unique feature is how its connection differs from Quest’s.

Quest’s wired PC VR support works via USB. This avoids the problems of wireless but it’s still a compressed video stream, since even USB 3.0 has considerably less bandwidth than display cables. It also can introduce new issues, as not all motherboard USB controllers can handle this kind of use case.

Pico Neo 3 Link’s wired PC VR mode uses DisplayPort, with a 5 meter cable included in the box. Just like PC-only headsets such as Valve’s Index this delivers an uncompressed video stream with no extra latency and no USB issues. The Neo 3 is both a standalone headset and a “real” PC VR headset, in one product.

Controller-Free Hand Tracking

Both headsets have extremely similar controllers; with a thumbstick, two buttons, index trigger, grip trigger, and menu button, tracked by a ring with infrared LEDs under the IR-transparent plastic.

But Quest 2 also supports controller-free hand tracking. In games such as Hand Physics Lab, ForeVR Darts, Unplugged, Cubism, Waltz of the Wizard and Vacation Simulator you don’t need to pick up controllers at all.

The hand tracking quality isn’t perfect, but it’s a unique experience that lets you use the full dexterity of your fingers instead of being restricted to buttons, triggers, and sticks. And in social VR it can let you express yourself in new ways.

Max Refresh Rate

Pico Neo 3 Link’s display refresh rate is 90 Hz, meaning 90 frames per second are displayed.

Quest 2 gives developers five choices of refresh rate: 60 Hz, 72 Hz, 80 Hz, 90 Hz, and 120 Hz. On the Quest Store and App Lab, 60 Hz is only allowed for 360 degree video content, not apps, virtual environments or games.

That 120 Hz mode isn’t practical for most games to reach as it only gives 8 milliseconds for each frame to be rendered. But titles like Eleven Table Tennis use it to give extra responsiveness and lower latency than is possible on Pico or HTC standalones.

Pico Interactive Acquired by TikTok Owner ByteDance

Pico Brand image1

After rumours began to appear last week that ByteDance – the owner of social video platform TikTok – was going to acquire Pico Interactive, this week they’ve been proved correct. Outlet’s including CNBC have confirmed that ByteDance has decided to delve into the world of virtual reality (VR) by purchasing the Chinese hardware manufacturer.

TikTok - London

Pico Interactive is one of the worlds largest makers of VR headsets, with its current lineup of products including the Neo 3 Pro and the Neo 3 Eye, both sold as consumer products in China but as enterprise-only devices across the rest of the world. Thus avoiding direct competition with Facebook’s Oculus Quest platform.

Details regarding how much ByteDance paid haven’t been officially revealed but rumours suggest it’s in the region of ¥5 billion (~$775 million). That makes it quite a sizable investment in the VR market although ByteDance has yet to confirm how it might leverage this investment in relation to its other products.

In a statement provided to CNBC ByteDance said that Pico’s: “comprehensive suite of software and hardware technologies, as well as the talent and deep expertise of the team, will support both our entry to the VR space and long-term investment in this emerging field.”

Pico Neo 3 Pro

While Pico has avoided competing with Oculus, under ByteDance that might change as the company looks to diversify its current business model. Earlier this year the company acquired mobile developer Moonton for a reported $4 billion, best known for its multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) Mobile Legends.

Pico Interactive’s latest Neo 3 headsets are its flagship standalone devices, featuring Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 processor, inside-out tracking, and 6DoF controllers, with the Neo 3 Eye also featuring built-in eye tracking. Both are currently available for pre-order with a launch expected in Q3 2021.

As further details regarding ByteDance’s future plans for Pico arise, VRFocus will let you know.

Confirmed: TikTok Owner ByteDance Buying Pico VR

Last week’s rumors have been confirmed – TikTok owner ByteDance is set to acquire standalone VR headset maker, Pico.

CNBC reported the news (which was first confirmed by Chinese publication Nweon) noting that the financial details of the deal had not been disclosed. In a statement issued to the publication, ByteDance said that Pico’s “comprehensive suite of software and hardware technologies, as well as the talent and deep expertise of the team, will support both our entry to the VR space and long-term investment in this emerging field.”

Pico Acquisition Confirmed

There was not, however, any confirmation that ByteDance will be growing Pico’s business outside of the Chinese market. Currently the company sells its Pico Neo 3 standalone VR device as a consumer product with games in China, but only as an enterprise-focused ‘Pro’ device in North America and Europe. There’s also an upgraded eye-tracking model named Pico Neo 3 Eye sold to businesses too.

All the same, a company the size of ByteDance — which has seen huge success with TikTok — investing VR could present the first significant competition to Facebook’s Oculus Quest. Other companies like Sony, Valve and HTC all make great VR headsets, but they’re either tethered to more expensive machines like PCs and consoles, or exclusively sold to the enterprise market.

We haven’t tested the Neo 3 ourselves but its specs are very close to that of the Oculus Quest 2, and the headset even has some of the same games that feature on that device where it’s sold in China.

What do you make of ByteDance acquiring Pico? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Pico Confirms Acquisition by TikTok Parent Company, Rumored $775 Million Purchase Price

Following rumors that it was poised to be acquired by TikTok parent company ByteDance, VR headset maker Pico has confirmed the purchase, according to reporting by Chinese VR publication Nweon. The acquisition price hasn’t been officially announced but is rumored to be ¥5 billion (~$775 million).

Update (August 30th, 2021): After rumors began swirling late last week, Chinese VR publication Nweon says that an internal Pico memo has confirmed the acquisition by ByteDance. VR Tuoluo is reporting a rumored cost of ¥5 billion (~$775 million) for the acquisition, though an official figure hasn’t been confirmed.

At $775 million the purchase would still be well short of the $2.4 billion Facebook paid for Oculus in 2014, but it would still be a landmark acquisition in the history of VR.

The original article, which covers the initial rumors of the acquisition last week, continues below.

In a move that in some ways parallels Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014, TikTok parent company ByteDance is looking to buy Pico—the VR headset maker behind headsets like the standalone Neo 3 and G2 4K—according to a report by Bloomberg citing a source “familiar with the matter.”

According to the report, talks about an acquisition are ongoing and a final decision hasn’t been made.

Chinese VR news publication Nweon reports that due diligence for the deal was happening as far back as June. If that’s true, and the deal discussion is still ongoing, it suggests the deal is quite far along and could be nearing a conclusion.

Founded in 2015, Pico claims to have more than 300 employees around the world. The company has raised some $66 million in venture capital to date, with its most recent round just earlier this year.

While the Pico is best known in the Western VR market as a maker of enterprise VR headsets, the company has ambitions to compete with Facebook and the likes of Quest in the consumer market as well. A consumer angle seems like the likely approach for ByteDance which is largely built around consumer-focused applications.

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