GameCentral gives its verdict on the new cable-free VR headset that doesn’t need a PC or console but already has some of the best VR games available.
With the next generation of consoles beginning their long, drawn-out reveal process the Internet is awash with speculation on shiny new hardware advancements. But while many worry that graphics technology is suffering from a law of diminishing returns, virtual reality clearly has plenty of room for improvement.
And yet with VR it’s not so much what can be done, but what can be done for a reasonable amount of money. Headsets are expensive, especially ones with more advanced features like roomscale tracking, and if you have to add on the cost of a top-end PC you’re talking about a price tag that is out of reach for most people. Which is exactly the problem Oculus Quest aims to solve.
What is Oculus Quest?
Oculus Quest is the latest VR headset from Oculus VR, the company owned by Facebook and makers of the successful Oculus Rift headset. The Rift needs a powerful PC to work with though and so back in February the Oculus Go was released, which doesn’t need a computer. Instead, it uses technology derived from smartphones, creating a cheap – by VR standards – headset that costs just £199 and doesn’t need any extra hardware or peripherals.
Oculus Quest is an evolution of the same idea, with more powerful graphics technology, higher resolution screens, better controllers, and the roomscale tracking offered by the Rift and other high-end headsets. That means you can walk around while using it, without any cables needing to be attached to a PC or console, and whatever game you’re playing will know exactly where you are and what you’re doing, making it feel like you’re in a Star Trek holodeck.
But that means it’s twice as expensive as the Go, at £399 for the 64GB version or £499 for the 128GB edition. It came out on 21st May in the UK and this is what we think of it…
Is Oculus Quest any good?
The short answer is, ‘Yes’. With the only slightly longer answer being, ‘Yes, very’. There’s been a lot of talk about how the headset is ‘only’ running on smartphone tech but considering how advanced handheld devices are now that’s really nothing to sneer at. The hardware itself may be less powerful than a PS4 Pro, but the Oculus Quest headset is clearly far superior to the PlayStation VR – especially when it comes to resolution.
It may be a matter of preference, but we’d much rather have a clear view of the action than blurry but more detailed graphics. And when you add in roomscale tracking, which PlayStation VR doesn’t have at all, this already feels like a next gen experience.
None of which is to disparage the PlayStation VR, which is an excellent headset for the price and still the most comfortable of them all. Oculus Quest runs it a close second though, with easily adjusted straps on the side and top of your head for the perfect fit. There’s also a lens spacer you can add if you wear glasses, that makes it more comfortable.
From a design point of view our only complaint is that there’s a bit too much daylight visible just beneath your nose, with not much effort to cover it up. Although it’s easy enough to jury-rig your own solution to the problem.
How does roomscale tracking work?
Existing headsets that use roomscale tracking, including the HTC Vive, use separate devices called base stations to map out an area of the floor for you to use within a VR world. But Oculus Quest doesn’t need that. Instead you use the bundled controllers to draw out the area of your room where you’re free to move around and the headset works everything out for itself using its four outward-facing cameras.
Since this only takes a couple of seconds it means that the headset is fully portable and you can take it with you wherever you want, with the ability to set it up to use in a new room almost instantly.
The camera kicks in automatically if you stray too close to the boundary you mark out, first showing you a holodeck style grid pattern and then dissolving into a grainy view of the real world – which is intended as a safety feature but is so sci-fi all on its own that you find yourself doing it on purpose just to go ‘Oooh!’ at it.
The minimum amount of space you can mark out is 1 metre square, although it’s recommended that it be at least 2 metre square for an optimal experience. It doesn’t have to be a regular space though, as you can draw around objects on the floor and don’t need an exact square shape. Alternatively, you can just set the headset to work in sitting or standing mode if you’d rather not worry about moving around in VR.
What are the controllers like?
The Oculus Quest comes with two 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) controllers, one for each hand, which are a clear step up from Oculus Go and infinitely better than the PlayStation Move controllers – which continue to be the worst thing about Sony’s VR experience.
It’s been interesting to see how VR controllers have all slowly shifted towards a similar design over the years and these ones feature the now familiar circular tops, with an analogue stick on each controller, plus two action buttons, a trigger, and a grip button.
These are ably demonstrated by the tutorial you play the first time you turn the headset on, which teaches you to point and grip with each hand, allowing you to manipulate virtual objects with a surprising sense of realism. A shooting range is also very impressive, in how intuitive it makes aiming and firing a ‘real’ gun.
The best of these mini-games though is a dancing robot, which rather charmingly asks for your hand to dance and allows you to twirl it around with a spin of your wrist. With the in-built motion sensors and almost as many buttons as a standard joypad the Touch controllers are one of the best things about Oculus Quest.
What games are available for Oculus Quest?
Because Oculus Quest is running on smartphone tech, and not a PC, games already released for Rift aren’t automatically available for Quest. However, many of the most popular titles have already been ported over and work surprising well.
We’ll be doing a more detailed software round-up soon but some of the launch titles include well-known VR games such as Moss, Beat Saber, Robo Recall, Dead And Buried II, Super Hot VR, Dance Central, Fruit Ninja, and Job Simulator.
They all look impressively close to their PC versions, as if you’re playing the same game but just on slightly lower graphical settings. And where there are PlayStation VR equivalents they work much better on Quest thanks to the higher resolution and roomscale tracking. Being able to move around more freely with music game Beat Saber, for example, and not having to worry about the cable sticking out the back of your head, transforms it from a fun single-player experience to a proper full-on party game.
Some of the games aren’t available on PlayStation though, such as Star Wars game Vader Immortal. It’s only the first chapter of a series of releases, so lasts only 40 minutes or so, but swaggering around your living room doing quests for the Dark Lord of the Sith, as you swing your own lightsabre around, is a Star Wars dream come true.
There are also non-gaming apps as well, including the self-explanatory VR Chat and YouTube VR, plus apps to let you watch TV and movies as if you were in front of an impossibly large screen. Those are all free but there’s also a paid-for 3D paint package from Google called Tilt Brush, and VR ‘experiences’ such as an interactive Apollo 11 documentary and virtual sightseeing app Wander.
Oculus Quest: The Verdict
It’s not exactly what you’d call cheap but for the price the Oculus Quest is a very impressive piece of hardware. The roomscale tracking, without the need for base stations, works perfectly every time and means that VR goes from a clunky chore to set-up and start using to something that can be switched on and used in just seconds.
Not having half a computer shop’s worth of wires hanging down your back makes such a difference to the immersion that it’s well worth the small downgrade in visuals from a high-end PC or PS4 Pro.
It’s not perfect, with the headset being slightly heavier than a Rift and the problems with light seeping in the bottom, but the only real hardware issue is the short two hour-ish battery life. There’s not much that can really be done about that given the price and current battery technology but it’s the only real inconvenience about the headset.
What’s also a shame is that, because it’s not attached to a console or TV, there’s no way for other people to see what you’re playing, which is a real benefit of PlayStation VR. You can watch via the smartphone app (which you need to set-up the headset) though, so if you have a tablet that can help make the whole experience more social.
Importantly, the software line-up is very good too, with an impressive launch selection and cross-buy support if you already have any of the games. Which hopefully means that the pre-existing success of the Rift will mean a steady stream of Quest ports for the rest of its lifetime.
It may not be state-of-the-art in every area, but Oculus Quest feels like the most exciting thing to happen to VR since the PlayStation headset. The freedom of movement and lack of cables makes a world of difference and in the future Oculus Quest is certain to be seen as a clear evolutionary milestone, separating it from other headsets and pointing the way to the future.
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