Oculus Quest is the real first step for commercial-grade virtual reality. I wrote this statement in my original preview of the Oculus Quest back in April, and spending time this week with the device has firmly cemented that opinion. Previous devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive had been dutifully keeping VR development alive and providing great experiences for the enthusiast crowd. The PlayStation VR was a cheaper experience, but still too cumbersome to be something everyone could use. And standalone or smartphone-based VR, like the Oculus Go or the Google Daydream View, is a little too cheap, better suited to passive VR rather than gaming experiences.
The Oculus Quest slots in between the high-end and those cheap mobile models, taking the best aspects of each to make a platform that’s quite compelling. Internally, the Quest is a lot closer to the phone-based VR headsets. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, the same chip found in the older Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 phones, with a sparse 4 GB of RAM. There’s an OLED screen behind the lenses, with a display resolution of 1440 × 1600 per eye, which is higher than the original Rift and way higher than the PlayStation VR. The Quest has a 72Hz refresh rate, which is lower than the Rift and PSVR, but I didn’t notice any hard ghosting.
Set-up is a little annoying right out of the box, if only because the standalone headset isn’t entirely standalone to start. You’ll need an Android or iOS smartphone with the Oculus app, connecting the phone to the headset, and the headset to the controllers and your wireless network. Once that’s done though, you don’t need your phone to use the headset, and it’s actually somewhat helpful to use the app to download games and apps to the headset without having it on. The first day I had the Oculus Quest, I actually installed a few games while I was out at the store, and they were ready when I came back.
Storage-wise, you’re stuck with smartphone storage. The base Oculus Quest has only 64 GB of storage for $399, which I think is probably still $100 too expensive for the mainstream. There’s an upgraded model offering 128 GB of storage for $499. I think most will be generally fine with the storage, as the games themselves are smartphone sized. Dance Central and Star Wars: Vader Immortal were the largest games I downloaded at 2.8 GB and 2.7 GB respectively, while Beat Saber is a tiny 333 MB. (The app and the headset Home menu list two different sizes for games, so I default to what’s listed on the headset itself.) That’s 21 of the largest games before you’d have filled up your Quest, and sadly, there’s no microSD card slot like the Nintendo Switch.
In practical use, the Oculus Quest is easy to get on and off. The headset itself is 1.25 lbs (571g), slightly heavier than the Rift, but lighter than the PlayStation VR. In a design misstep that’s probably related to cost, it uses the old Velcro strap design of the original Rift as opposed to the mechanical strap on the new Rift S, which is cribbed straight from the super-comfortable PlayStation VR. It’s still workable, but not as simple to get a perfect fit like the PSVR. For visual set-up, you only have a few options. A plastic spacer that goes under the facial interface foam provide room for glasses, and there’s a slider on the underside of the headset for eye spacing. That means there is an upper and lower limit to glasses size and interpupillary distance (IPD), but the Quest should fit most folks.
Once you’re inside, you can set up this really cool feature called the Guardian system. Unlike the Rift, HTC Vive, or PlayStation VR, the Oculus Quest tracks movement in physical space without the need for externally-mounted sensors. Instead, it uses four cameras on the outside of the device to keep track of movement and the Touch controllers. With the Guardian system, you can set up your play space for movement or stationary play, actually drawing the specific boundaries on the ground. If you step beyond those boundaries, it shows you a fuzzy black-and-white view of reality. This is great for interacting with the real-world without removing the headset, and frankly, it’s a fantastic feature for long-term play.
The games built for the Oculus Quest have a lower visual fidelity than the Rift, as there’s only so much the mobile processor can do. But if you’re fine with smartphone gaming or the Nintendo Switch undocked, Quest’s games are definitely good enough. Beat Saber without any wires is fantastic and tracking of the Touch controllers is nearly perfect. (They can occasionally get a little twitchy outside of the cameras’ viewpoint, which is behind you.) You can slash, duck, jump, and even spin if you’re bold enough. Beat Saber was the game I showed off to my friends, easily sliding the headset on their faces and letting them take a spin in VR. It’s much easier to do this with the Quest than any of the other enthusiast-level headset thanks to the lack of cords.
Dance Central is equally fun, though it has more movements that take the controllers out of perfect tracking range. For both rhythm games, it’s also useful to use headphones for audio. The Oculus Quest doesn’t have built-in speakers, instead piping the audio through the side headstraps. This actually works for most games, but Beat Saber and Dance Central have enough bass that it causes a bit of reverb. Instead, you can take any basic set of headphones and plug them into the 3.5mm jack.
Superhot VR might be the crowning showcase of the little headset that could. The first-person shooter has the hook of “time moves when you move,” allowing you to stand still to freeze time in its tracks. You feel like The Matrix’ Neo, stepping to the side and watching bullets glide past you, or John Wick, using everything at your disposal to kill your targets. Ducking under a shotgun blast, punching a guy in the gut, taking his shotgun out of the air, and using it to kill his friends? That never gets old.
Vader Immortal is fantastic narrative experience, feeling a little bit like a theme park where you have to solve the occasional puzzle. You play a smuggle brought to the Dark Lord’s castle on Mustafar, putting you face-to-face with Vader himself. You don’t really get how tall Vader is until you have to look up at him. Vader Immortal is almost part-film, but there is the dojo, where you can practice your lightsaber skills, and simple 3D puzzles. This is only the first episode of the experience, but it was an enjoyable hour for me as a Star Wars fan.
“Hour” is key, because the Oculus Quest has a rated battery life of 2-3 hours. During my playtime, I generally leaned on around two hours of sustained play before I need to plug the headset in. There is a way to extend it though: recently I picked up a battery pack for traveling with my Nintendo Switch, and I tested plugging the Quest’s USB cable into it. Then I slid it in my pocket, extending my play beyond the rated time.
The overall selection on the store isn’t as big as modern consoles or the Rift, but the available games are excellent proof-of-concepts for the future. If developers want to support the Rift S or the Valve Index, by all means, but the Quest is where it’s at. It’s powerful enough for great VR games and untethered to allow for freedom and easy set-up. Knock another $100 off the price and I think you’d have the perfect VR headset for mainstream consumption. This is virtual reality’s real contender. I can’t wait to see where it goes in terms of games for this version of the Quest, and what happens with future versions as chipsets become more power efficient. If you have $400 and want to get into VR, I can emphatically say Quest is the one you want.