Is Apple’s $3,500 headset really a good deal? We did the math

Is Apple's $3,500 headset really a good deal? We did the math 1

There’s no question about it:  The biggest announcement out of WWDC 2023 was Apple’s new Vision Pro headset. It’s not just an Augmented Reality (AR) headset, according to Apple, but an entirely new computing platform. Sounds exciting, as long as you’re willing to fork over the $3,500 Apple is asking for the device.

It’s an insane price, but if you ask Apple, it’s actually a good deal. The company says it’s a “new state of the art TV, surround sound system, powerful computer with multiple HD displays, high-end camera, and more.” We did the math to see if Apple’s claims hold any water.

A surround sound system — $250

Apple AirPods Pro 2 sitting beside iPhone 14 and charging case.
Simon Cohen / Pro Well Tech

I’m not going to be generous to Apple here. A surround system could easily cost two or three times as much as the Vision Pro on its own, and although we don’t know how the Vision Pro sounds right now, I’ll wager that it won’t sound like Klipsch’s The Nines or the SVS Prime Wireless Pro speakers. The claim here is all about Apple’s Spatial Audio, which you can find on the third-generation AirPods.

I’m adding a little more to the cost with the AirPods Pro, assuming the Vision Pro has better audio quality than what you’ll find on standard AirPods. It’s worth noting that the Vision Pro doesn’t include any in-ear audio — there are speakers on the headset itself. But if you want to watch a movie or listen to music with Spatial Audio, which is what the Vision Pro is pitching, you can do so with the AirPods Pro.

A powerful computer — $1,100

The screen of the MacBook Air on a table.

We can draw a pretty clear line between the Vision Pro and a computer with similar power. The headset is powered by Apple’s M2 processor, and due to the fact that the headset doesn’t include a fan, the closest product to it is Apple’s M2 MacBook Air.

This one actually pulls double duty considering it has one of the best laptop displays you can buy. I’ll get to the “new state of the art TV” part next, but the MacBook Air M2 fulfills most of what the Vision Pro can do, and almost everything it can do when combined with a few accessories.

On top of that, the MacBook Air M2 delivers all of the app and productivity support the Vision Pro is promising. We don’t really need to add an iPhone, Apple Watch, or iPad to the stack because you can use those apps on a MacBook Air, short of a few exceptions that likely won’t be supported on the Vision Pro, either.

A new state of the art TV — $1,300

The LG C2 OLED home dashboard.
Dan Baker/Pro Well Tech

What does Apple mean by a “new state of the art TV”? An OLED TV. I’m going with LG’s 55-inch C2 OLED, which is one of the highest-rated OLED TVs we’ve reviewed. The price can vary quite a bit here, though, and that’s where the Vision Pro starts to look a lot more impressive.

The 55-inch model is fine for most people, but you can save some money with a 42-inch model or spend exponentially more on the 77-inch one. The Vision Pro doesn’t make you choose, allowing you to resize the screen in the headset, as well as overlay it with other apps or dismiss the background for an immersive experience. Apple says you can make screens as large as 100 feet wide.

LG’s 97-inch G2 OLED TV costs $25,000. That’s not to mention the fact that the Vision Pro supports 3D content, which is a trend that fell out of fashion in the world of TVs years ago. I’m adding $1,300 to the total for the purposes of this thought experiment, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the Vision Pro offers much more than what a standard OLED TV can deliver.

A high-end camera — $1,000

Deep Purple iPhone 14 Pro with Beats Studio Buds+ in Transparent
Christine Romero-Chan / Pro Well Tech

There isn’t anything comparable to the Vision Pro headset in the camera world. For now, I’m jotting down an iPhone 14 Pro as the closest thing in what we can probably expect in terms of image quality. I suspect the Vision Pro will be closer to that than something you’d get out of a DSLR. This is pretty generous to the Vision Pro as well — I’m basically adding the cost of a new iPhone just for the camera and ignoring everything else you can do with it.

However, there’s a very big aspect of the Vision Pro that basically no device can account for. It’s capable of spatial photos and videos, allowing you to capture and replay 3D content from the device. For that, you would not only need a 3D camera, which is hard enough to find, but also a display capable of showing 3D images. Again, that would go way above the price of the Vision Pro on its own, but we need to see what the Vision Pro is actually capable of with 3D content before making that judgment.

Is the Vision Pro worth $3,500?

Apple Vision Pro provides virtual screens for your Mac.

Adding up Apple’s list, we come to a grand total of $3,650, which is shockingly close to the price Apple is asking for the Vision Pro. There are a couple of very important differences here, though. For starters, the Vision Pro is an AR headset. You can add up the price of all these different products, but the Vision Pro also seems to deliver the productivity and entertainment experiences of something like the Meta Quest Pro — a device that, on its own, is $1,500.

There are several areas where the Vision Pro is fully unique, too. Spatial photos and videos are among them, but the Vision Pro is also capable of scanning your face to create a virtual avatar, rendering 3D objects you can interact with, tracking your hands and eyes without external controllers, and delivering more than a 4K TV’s worth of pixels to each eye.

It’s safe to say that the Vision Pro is worth it, not only when you look at the tech inside, but also what it’s capable of doing. When you add up everything it does, $3,500 doesn’t look expensive — it looks like a downright deal.

But then there’s the other side of the coin. Sure, we can run through a thought experiment about the Vision Pro being worth $3,500, but are all these little extras actually worth thousands of dollars leaving your pocket and going into Apple’s? That’s a different question, and one that we won’t have a clear answer to until early next year when the Vision Pro actually releases.

My guess is that if you weren’t sold on something like the Meta Quest Pro, the Apple Vision Pro isn’t going to change much for you. It has some important innovations, for sure, but this is still a prohibitively expensive product that has a lot of growing to do before it’s ready for the mainstream. You can start saving your pennies now, but I’d wager that the Vision Pro won’t be worth jumping on for a few generations.

One thing is still certain, however. Apple clearly understands the shortcomings of AR right now, and the Vision Pro seems to dismantle the issues with the tech piece by piece. It’s insanely expensive, and it’s only for a select few early adopters. But from what we know right now, that group will likely be very pleased.

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