When the Oculus Rift arrived in 2016 it marked a turning point in the videogame industry, offering a new entertainment medium that opened the door to exciting virtual worlds that could be physically interacted with. But there were limitations and as we know it’s not been quite as big a success as virtual reality (VR) advocates had hoped. To break into that mainstream appeal Oculus released the Oculus Go last year, and for 2019 it’s the turn of Oculus Quest, upgrading the standalone experience even further with a device which does just about everything right.
Straight out the box the Oculus Quest has the look and feel of a proper high-end piece of kit – and it should for $399/£399. There’s a nice mix of fabric and plastic so the headset doesn’t come across as one big nasty lump of black plastic. The same does for the rest of the presentation, from the box to the controllers and the setup, it’s all as smooth and fluid as you’d hope for this price bracket – which is important when it comes to new VR customers (more on that later).
Oculus wants the Quest to have a much broader appeal than anything it has created previously, helping drop those barriers that have been holding the industry back. One could say that strapping a computer to your face is the main obstacle but we’ll ignore that as demoing a decent experience can help to overcome initial hurdles.
The headsets’ two main features are certainly its trump cards, an all-in-one system and inside-out tracking. Straight away it’s easy to tell Oculus Quest is easy to use. With no PC to deal with and no sensors to arrange around a play space all that’s required is a clutter-free area to enjoy some VR gaming in; around 2m x 2m is fine for roomscale. There’s also a stationary option for those times where you just want to sit or stand, in one spot.
Oculus Quest can’t be set up without the accompanying app but rest assured its pain-free – especially if you already have an Oculus device. Once connected over WiFi you then have to set up the Guardian system to help avoid walking into walls which has been improved over the previous iteration on Oculus Rift. Rather than having to actually walk around your play area, the Oculus Quest’s cameras provide a pass-through black and white image so you can use a pointer to mark the area with the Oculus Touch controllers.
Those lenses also provide the highly important inside-out tracking called Oculus Insight. This was one of the most important features to get right, and it’s safe to say Oculus has done a very good job. While you do have to be careful that greasy fingers don’t touch the lenses and impede their performance – which is easy to do when taking the headset on and off – they do manage to track a very wide area, and at a decent speed. And this is full 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) tracking which makes the Oculus Go’s 3DoF look antiquated.
If you’ve ever used an Oculus Rift then you will find Oculus Quest to be a little front heavy as it does contain all the computing and battery power. That being said, get all the straps correct and comfortable for your head and the extra weight (it’s 571g) isn’t uncomfortable, even on longer play sessions. Anyway, there’s also the small matter of it being battery operated. Actual battery duration is slightly imprecise as it depends on the operation but for gameplay sessions it lasted for just over two hours with Oculus claiming 3 hours for general media content, films and such. The USB-C charging lead is fairly long but what’s the point in using a wireless headset cabled. Don’t worry, as a full charge doesn’t take too long, from 5% it took 1 hour 45 minutes to get to 100%.
Now it’s time for the good stuff, the visuals. A VR experience is only as good as the screen and lenses, and these have seen a decent boost. Featuring an OLED panel with a resolution of 1440×1600 per eye (Oculus Rift had 1080×1200 per eye for comparison), the screendoor effect is greatly reduced (not eliminated). The lens clarity is superb for a headset at this price point, and the manual IPD adjustment makes fine tuning the visuals a doddle.
From the improved Oculus Go menu system to the videogames themselves, the colours are crisp and vibrant, with titles like Beat Saber and Dance Central suitably popping out from the screen. Even running at 72Hz on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor there are no horrendous latency issues that would make VR players nauseated in any way.
Visuals are only one part of the whole VR experience, audio plays a vital role in creating an emotional response. Oculus has used the same sound-pipe technology found in Oculus Go for the Quest, channelling audio down the arms of the headstrap. This works perfectly well, even managing to provide positional audio so you can hear where shots are fired from or where your teammates are located. The neat solution does have the drawback that any outside noise can enter your ear, which can be distracting and immersion breaking. A decent set of headphones are always recommended with a 3.5mm jack located on either side of the device, so long as you don’t mind the cable.
Oculus Quest might be good, but it’s nothing without some decent input, and the redesigned controllers help to seal the deal. Lighter than the previous model, the most obvious difference is the band which now goes over, rather than under the controller so it can be tracked.
They feel just as easy to use as before, with the wrist strap always a must for the more frantic videogames. The button and stick layout are the same, and you can perform the same hand and finger gestures as before.
The only real issue that I found was with the battery compartment lid. This was a much bigger cover than the previous model making it easy to replace the singular AA battery. However, on a couple of the more energetic titles like Creed: Rise to Glory and Sports Scramble, the cover did begin to open. The design still has the two magnets inside to hold the cover, but they do seem weaker, making the compartment easier to open than before.
Oculus has revealed the 50+ titles for the launch of Oculus Quest on 21st May. for the review a decent sample of experiences were made available (some in preview form, others whole), including Journey of the Gods, Thumper, Racket Fury, Beat Saber, Dance Central, Ballista, Apex Construct, Wander, Bait!, Rush, Dead and Buried II, Virtual Virtual Reality, Space Pirate Trainer and several more.
Before trying out the new ones like Ballista and Journey of the Gods, a port test had to be done; whether titles like Apex Construct and Creed: Rise to Glory would work on the portable system. It safe to say that they do, for the most part. Where you might think it’s the visual side that would struggle it isn’t, actually it’s the tracking. Yes, there’s a drop in the visual quality, but nowhere near what you’d expect, with all the studios doing a fine job of squeezing these videogames onto Oculus Quest.
They do however test the tracking to its max. For example in Apex Construct the bow would glitch across the screen when my hands were too low (near my waist), coming back into place when raised. The tracking also struggled with the speed of Creed: Rise to Glory. As a boxing sim, the controllers were right in front of the headset, between all the sensors. Even so, it couldn’t quite keep up with a flurry of punches. But it’s unclear whether it’s Oculus Insight’s fault or the software’s. In comparison, Beat Saber which is known for its fast gameplay didn’t miss a beat (pun intended). There was no issue whatsoever when playing a song on Expert (Expert+ is just too fast for me), with the tracking working beautifully.
So does this mean Oculus Quest is a game changer when it comes to VR? Well yes and no. The all-in-one design is ideally suited to welcoming new players into the fold. Being able to take a device that can display experiences that are almost Rift quality anywhere might just tip the scale in Oculus’ favour. However, for those who already own an Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest doesn’t quite make for a suitable purchase. Yes, there are a growing number of titles with cross-buy support so you’ve got an instant portable library, but you’ll miss that outside-in tracking.
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