What is it?: A standalone virtual reality headset
Launch date: May 2019
Price: US$399 (64GB version)/US$499 (128GB version)
Available on: Oculus
Software compatibility: Native Oculus Quest apps/games, Oculus/SteamVR titles (through Oculus Link), SteamVR titles
Disclaimer: Oculus paid for the Quest headset used in this review.
Ready to talk VR? Luckily for me, Facebook Technologies gifted me the new Oculus Quest to review and give my opinions.
A few years ago a small startup took the gaming world by storm with their virtual reality headset prototype, a hacky head mounted display that had the backing of John Carmack himself, and would go on to raise more than two million dollars on Kickstarter. That prototype would, with time, evolve and become the Oculus Rift, one of two premium VR headsets that have shaped the virtual reality market in the years that followed. There was one specific aspect that didn’t really change all that much from the first prototypes to the 2016 Oculus Rift consumer launch though: the headset required both a beefy computer and wires going from said machine to the HMD and sensors. While this isn’t a deal breaker for some, it’s enough of a nuisance for others that the VR market hasn’t blown up as much as analysts predicted after the release of the first premium devices. One other company tried to deal with one side of this issue with a wireless adapter that helped a bit, but added even more to the cost of an already pricey accessory, while Oculus tried its hand with the Oculus Go. Thankfully, the company didn’t sit on its laurels for long, and earlier this year they released the Oculus Quest a fully standalone headset that can deliver high-quality VR content without needing a computer, and doesn’t sacrifice too much in order to achieve this. So, how does this nifty gizmo work?
- Operating system: Android
- SoC: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- CPU: 4 Kryo 280 Gold@2.45GHZ+4 Kryo 280 Silver@1.9GHZ
- RAM: 4GB
- Internal storage: 64GB/128GB
- Display: PenTile OLED 1440×1600 per eye, 72Hz refresh rate
- Graphics chip: Adreno 540
- Sound: Integrated speakers, Two 3.5mm audio jacks
- Tracking solution: Inside-out (Oculus Insight), through four wide angle sensors
- Weight: 571g
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB (type C)
- Battery life: 2.5 hours on a full charge (requires 2 hours to recharge to 100% after that)
- Two second generation Oculus Touch controllers, tracked by the Insight inside-out system.
- A thumbstick, a trigger, a grip and a menu button per controller.
- The Oculus Insight system allows for accurate 6DoF operation.
As you might have gleaned from the tech specs list above, the Oculus Quest’s US$399 starting price did not prevent Facebook from packing the headset full of premium quality parts. Its PenTile OLED displays boast an impressive 1440×1600 per eye resolution, and thanks to their OLED tech, can be used to relay very clear images, reducing the SDE (screen door effect) to a level where it would be almost unnoticeable to anyone but the most hawk-eyed user.
The FOV comes in at a respectable 100º, and while the refresh rate might seem lower than usual at 72Hz, it’s not as much of a big deal as one would expect, from my playtime with Beat Saber.
The Quest weighs 571g, (100g more than the original Rift). Contrary to my expectations, I got used to the extra weight almost instantly. There’s a chance that the lack of cable helped here (since you don’t need to be dragging 3 meters of cable behind you every time you move around the playspace), and also the strap that holds the headset in place on the user’s head is very well designed, offering a sense of security that’s hard to beat, while also being comfortable. Other headsets also require separate headphones (which are often quite bulky), while I can actually use the Quest’s built-in speakers for most games, another thing we should take into account when talking about its weight.
Aside from the head strap (which is pretty much identical to the one found in the original Rift, with three plastic bands adjusted with hook and loop), the headset also features a foam and breathable fabric interface between the hard plastic surface that would otherwise sit against our face. Users who wear glasses might also want to insert the included extra eyeglass spacer that creates a bigger space between their glasses and the lenses.
The integrated speakers work fine for shooters or stuff like Rec Room. Aside from this built-in solution, there are also two 3.5 audio jacks (one on each side) that can be used to fit our favorite headphones. There’s also an onboard microphone which offers good enough quality for multiplayer gaming.
A physical button lets us adjust the device’s lenses to match our IPD (Interpupillary Distance), a welcome feature. The IPD range for the slider is 58–72mm, though sadly the device doesn’t display this information on screen (hopefully this functionality will be added in a future update). Being able to adjust the IPD is a pretty big deal when it comes to VR headsets, as fixed solutions will always end up leaving out part of the potential customer base since not everyone has a “standard” IPD (the effects of being outside of the supported range are quite noticeable, with a significant loss of image quality, so I’m very happy that Oculus chose to go with a physical slider here).
Hardware (controllers and tracking)
The Quest’s four sensors (2 pictured) offer a far better tracking experience than other devices’ 2 camera arrangement.
Oculus Insight tracking system is one of the stars of the show when it comes to the Quest in my opinion. Instead of using tracking stations (like the older Constellation system, or the Index/Vive’s base stations), Oculus wisely chose to develop an inside-out solution that uses sensors to track the controllers. Anyone familiar with the Windows Mixed Reality headsets will have experienced what I consider to be a precursor to this system, though Oculus has improved it immensely. Instead of just two forward-facing sensors, the Insight uses four wide angle sensors situated at the edges of the headset, providing coverage to the front, sides, upwards and downwards. This eliminates tracking issues when the controllers need to move up or down. I was able to play Beat Saber songs with a far better success rate than on competing hardware, and tracking loss only happened under extreme circumstances (low light scenarios, as the sensors still require good enough room lighting in order to be able to do their work without issues).
The advantages of Oculus Insight tracking over more traditional base station setups are even more apparent when we consider that this particular headset is a standalone, wireless piece of kit, so having to carry around tracking stations every time we wish to experience VR content in a new place would get old pretty quickly.
The controllers tracked by the four sensors are also quite comfortable, building upon the original Oculus Touch controllers used by the Rift CV1. Each controller is powered by one AA battery (the headset comes with two non-rechargeable batteries, so I recommend swapping those out for a pair of rechargeable ones as quickly as possible). As expected from any modern controller, vibration provides haptic feedback (a very useful feature in rhythm games like Beat Saber). After spending more than a year playing with the WMR controllers on a weekly basis, I can wholeheartedly recommend Oculus’ over those as they provide a far more comfortable experience (in part thanks to using only one battery each, which decreases the overall weight). Build quality seems great as well, though thanks to the Guardian system I’ve avoided punching walls so far.
Software and Ease of Use
With the hardware portion of this review out of the way, it’s time to talk about two very important things: the headset’s ease of use, and the software available at the moment.
This machine is a dream when it comes to ease of use, as it doesn’t require setting up a lot of stuff before we can immerse ourselves in the virtual reality world. The setup process was as simple as opening up the box, getting the glasses spacer in place, batteries in the controllers, then downloading the Oculus app on my phone (supports both Android 6.0 or better, and iOS 10+), pairing it with the headset (a very straightforward process with no hidden difficulties that I could see), drawing the Guardian limits… and that’s it. The headset even comes with a few preloaded demos, so you can start having fun right away.
The operating system (which is based on Android, but customized by Oculus to the point where you’d have a hard time finding too many common things with the versions found on smartphones) is very snappy and responsive, and so far I’ve never encountered a soft lock or any weird issue while operating the headset. Buying new apps or games is as easy as going to the store, getting whatever you want into the cart and then paying for it, though there is no regional pricing of any kind as of today, something that might discourage people from less affluent regions who have become used to Steam in the past few years.
When it comes to the currently available games on the Quest, I’ve tried Beat Saber (since it’s a great title to compare to the PCVR experience), the SUPERHOT VR demo, and Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series. Beat Saber is functionally identical to the PCVR version, so no surprises there (it’s also still one of the best VR games I have experienced, and benefits quite a bit from the ability to play without cords restricting our movement around the play area). I wasn’t expecting the Quest to run games at the same level of detail as my computer. The resolution boost over competing headsets is also quite good at making certain things look better than one would expect (and there’s always the fact that we are playing on a wireless system, no cords to trip us over, yay!).
Vader Immortal – Episode II is a truly impressive showcase of the Quest’s power. Interestingly, here I thought that the Quest version was actually the superior choice, as Vader Immortal – Episode I has a lot of dark areas, which look far better on the OLED screens of the Quest as opposed to the LCD found in the Rift S. This is definitely a great title to showcase the hardware to someone who isn’t sure yet.
Still, the real killer app so far is SUPERHOT VR. This puzzle shooter seems to age like fine wine, and of all the versions of it I’ve played so far, the Quest one is the definitive edition in my opinion. While it might not seem like the kind of title where you’ll be doing a lot of movement in your play space, that’s actually far from the truth, and the lack of cables improves the experience massively, to the point where I doubt I’ll be playing it on a tethered system any time soon. This is the title you show to people who are already invested in a VR ecosystem but might want to pick up an Oculus Quest.
Software part 2: The PC experience
Of course all the wireless VR shenanigans are great but you are reading a PC gaming website, so there’s a pretty big chance that you stumbled upon this review looking for ways to use the Oculus Quest as your PC VR headset. If that’s the case, then oh boy, do I have news for you! Earlier this year Oculus revealed their plans to turn the Quest into a PC VR compatible headset through a new software update titled Oculus Link. This functionality has just shipped in Beta, meaning that anyone who owns a Quest and a quality USB 3.0 A to C cable can try it out, provided their computer meets Oculus’ minimum specs for the Link. Does it work? You can bet it does! Since the update shipped, I’ve been playing the copy of Pistol Whip I purchased on Steam with no noticeable issues (in fact, I’ve achieved better scores on the Quest, since the tracking in this Quest-to-PC setup is better than the tracking on my previous system). I haven’t yet tested Stormland orAsgard’s Wrath, but older Oculus Rift demos worked perfectly (since they think my Quest is a Rift S). There is some quality loss compared to the native Rift S experience, but it’s not super obvious, and the OLED screen helps a bit to mask it. Latency has not been an issue so far, though I’ve experienced a few cases of random disconnections (possibly due to the fact that the USB cable I’m using is not angled, hopefully the official Oculus Link cable will fix that).
After getting my hands on the headset, I’ve been constantly amazed at the quality of the product and have a newfound respect for what Oculus is trying to do in the VR field. The Insight tracking system is by far the best inside-out solution in the market, and the Link feature turns the Quest into a PC VR headset capable of playing the latest titles with no noticeable downsides. If all of that wasn’t enough, the company revealed this year that hand tracking is coming in early 2020.
The tagline for Facebook’s Oculus Quest marketing campaign this year is “One gift. Unlimited realities.” and I’m inclined to agree with their wording here. Right now the Quest can play native apps in wireless mode and then seamlessly switch to a PC VR mode with the Link, accessing the user’s existing collection of PC VR software with no hassle and no real compromises. As far as I’m concerned, this is the future of virtual reality.