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I watched an hour-long TV show on Apple Vision Pro and it was glorious, unusual, and tiring

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David Gewirtz/ZDNET

This morning, for the first time, I watched a full, hour-long TV show on the Apple Vision Pro. It was both glorious and kind of crappy, all at the same time.

Part of my mission here at ZDNET is to help you understand, viscerally, what this new spatial computing paradigm is like, without you necessarily having to go out and plunk down nearly $4,000.

Also: How to order Apple Vision Pro: Tips, tricks, and my secret to a good face scan

I haven’t really been using the Vision Pro as a media consumption device. I’ve focused most of my time on understanding how to do specific things with it so I can write helpful how-to articles. I’ve used it a lot, but mostly five and ten minutes at a time, dipping in to grab a screenshot or take a quick video, and popping out again to write about it.

I’ve been testing the Vision Pro mostly in our family room, which doubles as our primary co-working space for our work-from-home jobs. That’s nice, because I sometimes get to use my La-Z-Boy as my desk chair, and my pup can sit on my lap while working.

Last weekend, it was early, and I wanted to watch some wake-up TV. Denise was going to be using the room’s big TV for a Zoom meeting, so that meant I’d either have to watch car shows on a small monitor or… lightbulb… I could watch something on the Vision Pro.

I’ve been wanting to rewatch the entire four seasons of For All Mankind, the alternate history space race drama on Apple TV+. It’s that good. So, I decided I’d watch the first episode while she was in her meeting, and I’d do it inside the spatial computing cocoon of the Vision Pro.

Apple TV+ on the Vision Pro

The Apple TV+ app provides a couple of viewing options on the Vision Pro. The first is just a window in passthrough mode, where you see the show floating in space, with whatever your room is as a backdrop. That didn’t interest me at all. I wanted full immersion.

Also: What apps will be on Apple Vision Pro? Not these two major ones

For full immersion, there are two options. You can choose to watch in one of the full 3D environments (like Mount Hood, which is my favorite). Or, you can watch in Cinema mode, which makes your entire field of view black, and puts a screen in front of you with a gray virtual floor and a slightly textured virtual ceiling.

I chose Cinema mode.

You can also choose your seating: Front, Middle, or Back, and whether you’re on the floor level or balcony. Balcony is weird. Everything is low and you have to look down. Floor level puts the screen right in front of me, which is nice when sitting in the recliner, so I chose Floor.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Now, let’s talk about screen placement. If you choose to be seated in the Back, you get a screen that looks like an 80-inch or so TV screen. Big, but not that big. If you choose Middle, you get a screen that’s bigger.

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The Vision Pro doesn’t allow the taking of screenshots of TV and movie content. This image asset was provided by Apple and represents the Back size of the cinema view.

Apple

But, my dear friend, if you choose Front, you get a screen that appears to be at least 15 feet tall and probably 25 or more feet wide. I was suddenly in a darkened space that was substantially bigger than the actual room I was in, watching a screen that would have had to punch through the ceiling and blast into the laundry room next door.

If you’ve ever gone to a real movie theatre and sat in one of the first four or five rows, that’s what it felt like to me.

It. Was. Glorious.

Also: Apple Vision Pro tricks: How to take perfect screenshots and recordings (and avoid weirdness)

Image quality was, for the most part, spectacular as well. For All Mankind isn’t in 3D, but it’s a very visually compelling show. That said, the quality of the skin on the actors’ faces, rendered 15 feet high, was spectacular.

Unfortunately, I did get some weird edge blurring and smudging. I’m using prescription lens inserts. Despite me having cleaned them just before watching, the streaking was still present. I’m not sure whether that was a light leak or a streak on the lenses, but it was distracting.

It wasn’t distracting enough for me to stop the show, but it was one of those annoyances I just wished wasn’t there.

And yet, watching the show was incredible in that environment.

The reality of virtual reality

But it wasn’t all vintage 1969 Corvette Stingrays and Apollo 11. There were some problems. The first was audio…

1. AirPods ala mode

Through previous experiments, I knew that the Vision Pro’s native speakers could be heard in the room. So I planned to use my AirPods Max instead. Unfortunately, as soon as I turned on the show and put on the AirPods Max, I felt a tapping on my knee.

“Honey, that’s awfully loud. Can you fix it?”

For some reason, the AirPods Max had not properly connected, and the sound was still coming out of the Vision Pro. I later figured out that, although the AirPods Max are automatically bound to the Vision Pro through my iCloud account, they hadn’t connected automatically. I had apparently missed tapping the Connect button when it flashed on the screen.

Also: 7 hidden costs of the Apple Vision Pro to factor into your XR budget

Instead, I switched to my AirPods Pro, and that prevented her and her Zoom colleagues from hearing the audio of my TV show.

But there was another gotcha. I couldn’t get the AirPods Pro to turn on noise canceling mode. Even though I dug all through the Vision Pro’s Settings menu and the Control Panel, I found nothing that seemed to allow any mode change to the AirPods.

So, while she couldn’t hear me, I could hear her. For the entire show. That was unfortunate.

As it turns out, you can turn on noise cancelling. After a bit of Googling, I found the answer. First, go to Settings and then the Bluetooth tab. Next to AirPods Pro, tap the little Info button.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

You’ll get a whole dedicated AirPods Pro settings panel. Go ahead and tap Noise Cancellation.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

There’s also an option at the bottom of the panel to change the Noise Control setting via a tap on either the left or right AirPod. Tap the AirPod you want, and then choose the action you’d prefer.

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

So, yes, you can turn on noise cancellation. I just didn’t know how to do it on my first run.

Just because I love you folks and want to give you the complete story, I later forced myself to watch the second episode of some of the best TV ever made, on what is probably the most intense giant TV screen I’ve ever watched. And yeah, both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max worked just fine.

2. Eyestrain and itchy itch

I watched the first 20 minutes of the show in entertainment center bliss, but then my eyes started to hurt and my face (the part inside the headset) started to itch.

I made sure to close and blink my eyes throughout the viewing experience, but by about 40 minutes in, I found myself alternately wishing the show was over and enthralled by how awesome the video was.

To alleviate the itching, I stopped the video a few times, loosened the headset, and scratch it. That’s a bit of an immersion killer.

3. No coffee for you

Did you know you can’t drink inside a Vision Pro? To be fair, you also can’t drink inside of a Meta Quest 3. Basically, you can’t tip the cup without it hitting the headset.

Also: Apple Vision Pro review: Fascinating, flawed, and needs to fix 5 things

I wound up drinking my coffee through a straw, but that was also a bit of a problem because I was in full VR, so finding the coffee cup was the first adventure, navigating the straw to my mouth the second challenge, and putting the cup safely back on a surface was the third hurdle.

After trying this once, I waited until the times I needed to scratch itches to take sips. Not ideal.

4. Jumpy-jump, flail, flail

There’s supposed to be a people detection feature in the Vision Pro that opens a bit of a portal if someone walks up to you and stands in front of you. But when my wife reached across the couch with an insistent tap, there was no such warning.

It wasn’t as much that it was startling. It was more that it took some coordination and in-air finger flailing to find and stop the playback, loosen the headset band, and rip the headset off my forehead, all without overly yanking the battery umbilical cord.

I’m sure it looked ridiculous to her, and I know it was somewhat stressful to me.

5. Oh, my furrowed brow

I did notice brow pain while watching, but the entertainment experience was so enthralling that I put up with it. After finishing the show and safely stowing the Vision Pro, I noticed that my brow, where the Vision Pro apparently transferred most of its pressure, really hurt.

To be fair, it’s not a terrible level of hurt, like when you stub your toe. But it’s painful enough that it’s worth remarking about. The pain went away after about ten minutes.

6. In VR, nobody can hear you stream

I can confirm the sense of isolation some Vision Pro reviewers have reported. To be fair, I was purposely going for the isolation, because I didn’t want to be involved in my wife’s Zoom meeting.

But when my pup came over, I could feel him and pet him, but he couldn’t look at my face and I couldn’t see him. It wasn’t a terrible moment, because he has prodigious lap-sitting skills, but I wanted to look back at his little face and couldn’t.

Is it worth it?

That’s really two questions, isn’t it? Is it worth spending $3,500+ on a Vision Pro? And is it worth the annoyance and slight pain to watch something like For All Mankind in a super-cinema environment?

No, unless you’re rolling in cash, it’s not worth spending $3,500 to watch TV on a very big screen. But when this device comes down to $1,500 and is far more comfortable, oh yeah. That will be the ticket.

I still prefer watching TV on my TV, mostly because of the annoyances described above. But I will dive back into this environment any time my wife needs the room and I don’t need to have my face buried in my computer screen. Now that I’ve watched the first two episodes of For All Mankind this way, I want to watch the whole series that way.

Also: Itching to try Vision Pro’s Travel Mode? Here’s what to expect before you go

Let’s put this into perspective. It feels like I have this astonishingly spectacular private cinema where I have the entire theatre to myself and can watch almost anything I want on the huge screen. The only requirement is that I have to do it while wearing uncomfortable scuba goggles that also somewhat compress the field of view.

It’s weird, not yet perfect, and a bit uncomfortable. But it’s also so very damn cool.

There is no doubt this is a really awesome entertainment paradigm. I’m guessing some of it will get better as Apple releases new versions of its still very new OS. And yeah, it’s worth enduring some of the pain, and even the lack of coffee accessibility, simply because the experience is just so insanely great.

I definitely don’t advise you to run out and buy a Vision Pro just for this. But if you have one, don’t hesitate to set up Cinema Mode in its largest screen size in the Apple TV+ app and stream some video. It’ll knock your socks off.

Do you have a Vision Pro? Have you watched anything in Immersive Cinema Mode? Have you seen For All Mankind? Let us know what you think in the comments below.


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