Facebook's Oculus Quest promises a true breakthrough in the world of virtual reality. A standalone VR kit that can be played out of the box without the inconvenient (and expensive) need to connect to a PC or smartphone. No cables, no external sensors, 6DoF motion tracking, and access to a wide content library of apps and games. We had some time to play with the Oculus Quest, the VR headset on a...mission...to bring VR into the mainstream. Now arriving on the doorsteps of the first consumers, we can say that the Quest has almost all the features it needs to succeed.
- Easy to set up and use
- Excellent controllers
- Diverse content library
- Good battery life
- Integrated speakers could be better
- Noticeable screen door effect
- Battery slider slips on controllers
- Noticeable nose gap (for some)
- Closed software system
The price of freedom
The Oculus Quest, along with the PC-tethered Rift S, is now on sale. The base price is $399 for a device with 64GB storage for your apps and games, but there is also a 128GB version for $499.
An Oculus evolution
The Oculus Quest shows its ancestry and will look familiar to anyone who knows the Oculus Rift, but it's a remarkable achievement to pack so much computing power into a compact, not exactly lightweight (571g) package . The straps are adjustable from the sides and it's remarkably comfortable, In testing, I was able to go through energetic gaming sessions for about an hour before feeling pressure on the front of my face (and even then it less so than I've had with PC VR headsets).
There's a slider on the front of the headset to adjust the inter-pupil distance of the lenses, and an extra frame you can insert to create more space if you're wearing glasses. Overall, the Quest is well designed and it didn't take myself or anyone else long to find a good fit. My only complaint (and I wasn't the only one who experienced this) was that my nose didn't fill the gap left for it, thus leaving a small window to reality at the bottom of my vision. Better to have too much space than too little in this case, there'll be more people who will experience less than perfect immersion because of this, and may have to look into custom face covers.
In my opinion, Oculus has always had the best controllers of all the main VR platforms, and the included Oculus Touch controllers don't disappoint. The controllers are small and light, with two buttons, home button, trigger, grip and thumbstick all within easy reach. One issue I usually see newcomers to VR struggle with is the controls, but with Oculus Touch, every input rests close to your fingers so you don't lose your way around them. The controllers are battery-powered (AA).
One flaw that a few of our testers did find, however, is that the battery slider for the controllers rests under your thumb joint. During intense gaming sessions in which you may get excited and grip quite tightly (Beat Saber was the main culprit here), it's easy to accidentally open the battery slider. With the fabric loops around the wrist for security, it's not necessary to put so much pressure on the controls, but you know, it's easy to get carried away.
Also included in the box is a charging cable, the only tether that you'll occasionally have to plug into the Oculus Quest. The battery life of the device will depend upon use of course. We could get just under three hours with the demo games before plugging it in again.
Rather than earphones, Oculus Quest has speakers built into the headset as well as a microphone. The positional audio is decent, but not great. The built-in speakers can be good for when you also want to be able to hear other people around you or keep an ear out for your real-world surroundings. There are two 3.5mm jacks so that you can connect headphones if you want to, and this is recommended for immersive games, you'll sometimes need to use your hearing to hear your teammates or something sneaking up behind you.
Sets up like a dream
One nice thing about cutting the PC out of the equation is just how fast and easy it is to get started with the Quest right out of the box. All you need to do after unpacking is download the Oculus app for your smartphone and register an account. This just takes a minute and since, then I haven't had to check my smartphone for anything. Compared to running VR software on a Windows PC, it's an absolute dream. Just pick up and play, straight into the action.
Thanks to the four integrated tracking cameras, you can still see your real-world surroundings through the headset. Oculus calls this feature Oculus Insight and it's fantastically useful for setting up your play area with this mobile headset. The world around you appears in black and white and distances are not quite perfect—it made me feel like a ghost looking in from another dimension, but it means that you can scan your play area to make sure that you aren't bumping into the furniture of family members. Once you define this area, you're ready to play, and Quest will automatically revert to Insight vision if you step out of bounds—a handy safety feature.
The included tutorial is excellent. It introduces a play environment and simple games step by step, does a brilliant job of easing newbies into VR and getting them familiar with all the potential of the Oculus Touch controls. You handle virtual objects, learn how to grip and point, shoot and dance. I invited a few VR virgins to try the Oculus Quest, and I'd never seen anyone pick VR so fast, thanks to the elimination of many of the hurdles typical of past VR solutions.
Sharp visuals in a small package
The 1,600 x 1,440 resolution per eye on the Oculus Quest OLED panel is a significant improvement on the OG Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (1,080 x 1,200 per eye). So if you've used either of these PC-connected VR headsets before, bear in mind that the Oculus Quest can keep up.
Display resolution is one thing, but when it comes to graphics, be aware that there are limitations to what the mobile SoC can do here, and the visual quality won't match more recent PC-connected headsets like the HTC Vive Pro, Samsung Odyssey+, HP Reverb or even its own sibling the Oculus Rift S.
There is a noticeable screen door effect when viewing through the Quest, kind of like looking through a fine mesh because of the visible pixel distance. Having said that, overall visuals are clear, colors vibrant, and when you're actually playing a game, the screen door effect is hard to notice through the action and graphics looked sharp and clear throughout my play experience.
Standalone VR gaming has truly arrived
So how does the Oculus Quest manage its mission to deliver quality VR gaming in a portable package ? Based on our time together so far, Oculus has managed to make a Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM work wonders thanks to skillful optimization.
The Oculus Quest comes pre-loaded with several game demos that give new users a taste of the varied potential of VR gaming right out of the box. This includes the smash hit lightsaber rhythm game Beat Saber, sci-fi wave shooter Space Pirate Trainer, a chance to step into the boxing ring in Creed, a mystical adventure in Journey of the Gods, and a virtual tennis match in Sports Scramble.
After these tasters, customers will no doubt want to upgrade their games or take a look at the library of content for Oculus Quest.
As you can see, the Oculus Quest is primary a portable VR gaming console, that comes out the gate swinging with some established success stories like Robo Recall, Apex Construct, Moss, Creed and others. Even if the Quest is your only gaming platform, you won't be lacking for content or betting on an unknown quantity.
But that doesn't mean other things aren't possible. Google's Tilt Brush, for example, is available for creative types, there's a web browser, Virtual Desktop and you can watch videos via a YouTube app and other channels when you want a more passive experience. Social VR apps like VRchat and Rec Room and available, though curiously, Facebook's own VR social apps aren't for the moment. Then there are intriguing experiences like Vader Immortal, linear interactive stories with some 'gaming' aspects that require the user to complete some actions or engage in combat to progress.
When we tried action-heavy titles like SUPERHOT VR, Beat Saber, and Space Pirate Trainer, with players slashing in different directions and dodging obstacles and attacks, the Quest didn't feel heavy or obstructive, nor did we experience any motion sickness. For my part, I'm happy to say that the games are just as enjoyable on the Oculus Quest as I experienced them on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in the past. In fact, the Quest delivers on its promise of standalone VR gaming that lackluster attempts like the Lenovo Mirage Solo could not. A game that isn't graphically demanding but is very active, like SUPERHOT VR, is just perfect for the Quest.
The 6DoF tracking via Oculus Insight went off without a hitch, though there are limitations. As you might have guessed, the Quest will get confused if you try to hide your hands behind your head. Also, while the Quest can be used outdoors, bright sunlight will disrupt the tracking, making it either erratic or unusable depending on the light intensity.
It's true that the Oculus Quest will not be able to play the most demanding VR games of the future, but it's also important to note, as titles like Beat Saber and Superhot VR have demonstrated, that the best VR games aren't necessarily the most graphically complex. Instead, the freedom of movement that comes with being untethered can do a lot to make a game more fun and immersive.
Will you see a graphical downgrade if you're used to PC VR? If you're used to experiencing VR on the latest hardware, then yes. How it affects things depends on the game. In an interview with the developers of Apex Construct, for example the studio revealed how fewer textures were used for the port to Quest. It's a trade-off of ease of use and price weighed against the need for graphical detail, which also needs heavy investment in PC hardware.
While the content on the Oculus Quest is solid, buyers should be aware that the Oculus Store is the only way to get it. While someone using a PC-connected VR system can upgrade their hardware and keep purchases on Steam, for example, purchases made for the Quest stay within Facebook's Oculus ecosystem, although many titles feature 'cross-buy', meaning that your purchase is also valid for use on the PC-connected Oculus Rift.
A perfect introduction to virtual reality
Upon the first impression, Oculus Quest is a genuinely exciting new product that stands every chance of succeeding in its mission to bring VR to a wider audience, if not to make it a mainstay of every home. It is not the most graphically rich or powerful option on the market, but the very cutting edge of VR still remains the preserve of enthusiasts with money to burn.
Instead, what you've got here is the elimination of almost every barrier to entry to VR. No need to invest in an expensive gaming PC. No third party software or clumsy flipping between interfaces. No ugly sensors mounted in your living room. Take it to a friend's party. Take it on vacation. Quick and easy setup that just works. Quest is a VR solution for you, your child and your mom. This is the killer factor that shouldn't be underestimated. When showing VR to newcomers, they were often frustrated with the setup process and how easy it was to accidentally terminate the VR session. Oculus Quest has that 'just works' magic that will expand virtual reality out of the realm of the hardcore and tinkerers.
The VR market, with upcoming offerings from old rivals HTC Vive and new arrivals like the Valve Index, will continue to present interesting options but right now the Oculus Quest enjoys a unique position in its balance of cost, convenience and content. For entry-level VR, it's just perfect. VR enthusiasts, on the other hand, will have to weigh its convenience (and limitations) against the more expensive but powerful path of PC VR.