I first tried VR with an Oculus Development Kit (the DK2) several years ago. It was a mind-blowing experience, unlike anything I’ve tried before. But somewhere along the way, the shine of being immersed into a video game world got lost. One Oculus Rift and PSVR later, they’re both sat gathering dust somewhere, barely used. One of the reasons for that is the mass of wires that you need for both, and adequate space by your PC or PS4.
It’s a pain to set up every time; plugging it in, rearranging a room or moving a PC tower somewhere else to make sure you’ve got a big enough area. If it’s a game you can’t play while sitting down, it’s a no-go. Not to mention with Rift, the numerous sensor bars that need strategically placing around the place. It’s a lot of hassle for a play session that’ll undoubtedly last about 20 minutes until I start feeling nauseous.
Enter the Oculus Quest, a completely wire-free VR headset, with all the sensors built in. The only setting up involved is putting the thing on your head.
It’s not the first wireless VR headset from Oculus. There’s been the Samsung Gear VR that worked alongside various Galaxy smartphones, and following that was the Oculus Go, an all-in-one headset with the screen built in with no need for a capable smartphone. And while their tether-free nature was a step in the right direction, they were held back by their limitations – namely, they don’t have the best visuals, and they don’t work with the Oculus Touch controllers. Quest changes all that. And after spending a few days with a headset for review, courtesy of Oculus, it’s completely changed how I feel about VR.
Oculus Quest specs
- Display panel: OLED
- Display resolution: 1440 x 1600 per eye
- 72Hz refresh rate
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
- 4GB RAM
- Lithium ion battery with 2-3 hours playtime
- 6 degrees of freedom head and hand tracking
- Weight: 571g
I’ll talk about the Oculus Quest’s potential drawbacks first. Its Snapdragon 835 processor is, obviously, a mobile SoC, the same one that’s found in a Google Pixel 2, Razer Phone, and Samsung Galaxy 8. It’s not the newest or most powerful mobile processor, but it does pack in enough beef to make the Oculus Quest a very capable device. It’s got an octa-core CPU with a clock speed of 2.45 GHz – i.e. it’s pretty powerful for a little chip.
It’s, however, obviously not as powerful as an Oculus Rift (or the newly-announced Rift S) can be, which harnesses its power from your PC. And considering the recommended specs call for a GTX 1060 or higher, the Quest is substantially lagging behind. But I’m not sure exactly how much of a problem that is. Sure, if you want to play some of the most intensive VR games available – Skyrim, for example, or DOOM VFR, you’re probably not going to be able to have that experience on a Quest. And so for hardcore virtual reality gamers, the Quest probably isn’t the best choice. But massive games don’t make up the bulk of the best VR experiences. And for showcasing the capabilities of VR, especially to an audience who may not yet be familiar with the technology, Oculus Quest is a fantastic starting point.
Oculus Quest is surprisingly comfortable, given the extra weight it’s carrying. Understandable, considering it has a battery and a full (albeit tiny) computer on board. But with a strap that’s easily adjustable, it’s easy to secure in place over your eyes and stays securely in place while you’re dancing around, bobbing up and down, or whatever your VR game of choice has you doing.
More impressively, it’s comfortable to wear with glasses. My frames are pretty large, and using Oculus Rift is a pain as the headset doesn’t correctly fit over them. And my eyesight being as bad as it is, I can’t adjust the headset’s optics enough to compensate my vision. But with Quest, there’s been no problem. There’s a glasses spacer in the box, allowing extra space between your face and the headset if you need it, but even without this, Quest comfortably accommodated my glasses. It’s a simple thing, but a big win in my book.
There’s not much else to say apart from: Oculus Touch is fantastic. The controllers that come packaged with Oculus Quest are the same that you’ve likely used alongside Oculus Rift. One for each hand, they track in real time, with six degrees of freedom. In layman’s terms, the headset knows where your hands are at all times, and more impressively, they know what your hands are doing, too. Rest your fingers on the controllers’ buttons – not actually pressing them – and the headset knows your fingers are bent around. Stretch them out, and your hands will relax in-game too. Obviously, different games and apps will utilise the controllers’ functions slightly differently, but the base level of interactivity is excellent.
The controllers are a large part of what makes VR with Oculus Quest so immersive. Being able to pick up objects in game by moving your hands as you would naturally is brilliant. In comparison with Oculus Go, where you simply have one remote control-like input device, the difference it makes to how immersed you feel in the VR world is like night and day.
Aside from the controllers, one other key area of Oculus Quest sets it apart in terms of immersion: its screen. With each eye having a resolution of 1440 x 1600 and an OLED screen, the clarity and sharpness is unlike any other Oculus device to date. In comparison, the current Oculus Rift headset has a resolution of 1080 x 1200 per eye, so the Quest is even outperforming that. (It’s worth noting the upcoming Rift S has a total resolution of 2560 x 1440, and it drops the OLED screens for a single fast-switch LCD – we’ve not tried it, but Oculus claim it’s the best visuals across all its devices.)
The clarity of images from the Quest is brilliant. Whether you’re just in the menus, travelling the world in Wander or playing a game, the resolution is crystal-clear, and it really does help to feel like you’re really there. So much so that while playing Bait, a fishing game that sat me on the edge of a crystal-clear lake, I just wanted to take off my socks and go dip my feet in. No such luck. Maybe next time I’ll play it with a bowl of water at my feet…
Oculus Quest’s advertised battery life of around 2-3 hours is going to be a bugbear for most people. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it’s more than adequate for any play session – few people are going to want to spend more than two solid hours inside a VR headset. It just means you have to remember to charge it each time after use so it’s always ready for you when you want to play. But if it’s not, it’s not the end of the world – a full charge takes two hours, so even a 15-20 minute charge will give you enough power for a few quick games of Beat Saber, or whatever you want to do (but once you’ve played Beat Saber, you’ll probably not want to do much else with your headset (more on that in a bit…).
Exactly how much life you get out of your Oculus Quest on a single charge depends what you do with it. You’ll get closer to the three hour mark if you’re using it to watch media, but if you’re solidly playing games, you’ll more likely get just under two. Again, not ideal – but it’s a small price to pay to be completely wire free.
Unlike the last iteration of Rift, Oculus Quest doesn’t come with built-in headphones. It has integrated speakers, which are surprisingly good quality. Positioned in a way that makes you feel surrounded by the sound, it’s crisp and clear, and feels like it’s direct to you. Of course, anyone nearby will also hear it, but it’s somewhat duller than it is to the person wearing the headset.
The headset is compatible with any 3.5mm headphones, too, if you’d rather connect your own and block out the sound from anyone who happens to be nearby.
The fact that Oculus Quest has no wires is a clear selling point that doesn’t really need much in the way of explanation, but it really is revolutionary. No more being stuck in front of your PC, or having to lug your PC tower to another room to make some space. You can play Quest anywhere. Even in your garden, if you wish to give your neighbours a good laugh as you swing around your imaginary lightsaber. And considering all you have is a headset and two controllers, it’s easy to transport anywhere. Take it over to a friends house. Or to your gran’s, to really blow her mind. It really does make VR so much more accessible and appealing.
Of course, you still need to have a space of a certain size in order to experience VR to its full potential. When you first use Quest, you’ll be asked to set a guardian boundary – you’ll draw a shape on your floor to map out a “safe zone”. If you go too near the boundaries of that safe zone, you’ll see the outline appear on your screen, and if you leave the boundary altogether it’ll take you out of your game/app and the camera will let you see exactly where you are. It’s a good safety feature that means you don’t need to have someone else there shouting “watch the TV! You nearly whacked it!” while you’re flailing your arms around. But if your space is too small, you’ll constantly be near those boundaries, and the constant warning can be irksome.
Apps and games
There’ll be 50 games available when Oculus Quest launches, but there’s no doubt plenty more will be added shortly after. I had access to some of those apps, including:
- Angry Birds VR
- Apex Construct
- Beat Saber
- Creed: Rise to Glory
- Dance Central
- Dead and Buried 2
- Face Your Fears 2
- Journey of the Gods
- Space Pirate Trainer
- Sports Scramble
- SUPERHOT VR
I’m not going to go into much detail about each of the games, but needless to say even with the brief selection I was given access to, there’s plenty of variety. I copied the dance moves of some impossibly skinny Keira Knightley lookalike in Dance Central, and played some tennis in Sports Scamble – although this proved to be slightly dangerous as I twatted the living room light with an overzealous overhead serve. Maybe make sure you have a pretty high ceiling before doing any overhead serves, kids.
Wander is worth a mention, too. While it’s nothing new – it’s been available on other Oculus platforms since July 2018 – it’s a fantastic tool that utilises Google Earth to let you travel literally anywhere in the world. The viewpoint is like being on an open-top bus of any locale that’s been mapped by Google. I started in Times Square, before visiting my own home, jumping to a random place (I got taken to a residential street in Kazakhstan), then visiting my old uni town. I could’ve spent hours in there, seeing the world.
The coolest feature is probably the time jump feature – like the Internet Wayback machine, it stores the data from each time Google has mapped a location, and at the touch of a button you can jump backwards and forwards in time. It was pretty cool seeing how my street has changed over the last 12 years. (Spoiler: it hasn’t. At all. My neighbour even still has the same damn car on the drive. Ah, life in the suburbs is exciting!)
The killer app so far for me, though, has to be Beat Saber. Again, it’s nothing new. The games press has been singing its praises for some time, but it really does live up to the hype. A music rhythm game, you’re given two differently-coloured lightsabers, and your task is to hit matching blocks in time with the music. It’s simple to pick up but difficult to master – and a great workout once you get into it. Naturally, you look like an idiot to anyone in the outside world, but hey. Inside, you’re wielding dual lightsabers, so who cares what they think?
Once again, being free of wires makes all the difference. While most of these games you play stood still, it’s very freeing not to have to worry about jerking too suddenly and disconnecting something, or tripping yourself up if you step backwards. With complete freedom of movement, the likes of Beat Saber are completely brought to life with next-level immersion.
Away from games, the Quest will launch with a suite of apps that’ll allow you to watch videos and media inside your headset, like a personal cinema. And for the first time, I’d say that’s a viable option, considering the higher resolution of the headset offers such an impressive visual quality.
Perhaps the main downside to Oculus Quest is its price. It starts at $743 (for a 64GB model, there’s a 128GB model available for $929), which is quite a steep jump up from the £199 Oculus Go. The Quest is a headset that could really sell VR to those who have yet to take the leap, but that price point is likely to put people off.
For what you get, though, I’d argue it’s worth it. It’s the same price as the Oculus Rift S – but you also need to have a $1000+ PC in order to use Rift. The difference being free from cables makes is extraordinary. Until now, VR has always been a bit of a pain to use, but with Quest, it’s just a case of putting the headset on your head, and you’re taken to another world – with better visuals than the old Rift can offer. I’m finally excited about VR again, and I hope Quest is the first stepping stone of it becoming as mainstream as we hoped it would back in 2015.
Pre-orders for Quest are live now, and the headsets will begin shipping on 21st May.
- All-in-one VR, free from wires or extra tracking sensors
- Being tether-free is incredible!
- Fantastic resolution (1440 x 1600 per eye) makes images super clear and sharp for extra immersion
- Battery life is a little disappointing around two hours when playing games, up to three hours for watching media
- A little expensive at $743/$929
- Limited library of games available at launch, but some killer apps in there.