The Oculus Quest gives you the freedom to move around in VR. IMAGE: OCULUS
From my very first demo two years ago, back when it was called Santa Cruz and had a fan and processor strapped to the back, I've been impressed with the headset. Last year, I saw an even better demo that convinced me the future of VR is wireless.
Now that I've seen the product fully realized, I'm even more certain: the Oculus Quest feels like what VR should have been all along — mobile, wireless, and about the same price as a gaming console.
For Facebook, the Oculus Quest ($399) rounds out its VR lineup, with the Oculus Go ($199) at the low end and Oculus Rift ($399, plus the cost of a powerful PC) at the high end. Oculus Quest, by comparison, is a kind of compromise that attempts to offer the best of both worlds: the portability of the Go with games worthy of the Rift.
These types of trade-offs often don't work that well in practice. (When was the last time you got excited about a mid-range smartphone or television?) But with VR, the strategy makes more sense because the "middle ground" option actually improves on both the high and low end in meaningful ways.
Like the Oculus Go, the Oculus Quest is a self-contained headset. However, it's noticeably less bulky than the Oculus Go. It's also more comfortable than the Oculus Go, which tends to feel heavy and awkward. I only wore the Quest for about 20 minutes, but it felt much lighter than the Oculus Go.
Most importantly, though, it's completely untethered. There are no wires or PC required, and yet its room-detecting abilities mean you can move around freely. There are four sensors positioned around the front of the headset, which allow it to scan your surroundings and alert you when you get close to an object.
I tried out two different games on the Quest and walked away impressed with both. The first was a game called Face Your Fears 2, a hidden object game featuring lots of jump scares. The demo was in a small cubicle, without much space to walk around, so I mainly used the touch controllers' joysticks to walk.
The effect was slightly dizzying at times (which is normal for me in VR games with lots of motion), but I appreciated the option to both walk and control my movements with the controllers. Each time I got close to a wall or piece of furniture, the lines showed up as expected to let me know to back up.
The second game was called Tennis Scramble, a cartoon-like tennis game that periodically swaps your tennis ball and racquet for other items, like beach balls or cricket bats. I played in a much larger area than the first demo, which was set up like a miniature tennis court.
This meant I had to actually move around quite a bit in order to return volleys from my opponent. If you can imagine Wii Tennis but in VR, that's pretty much what it felt like. But what stood out most was how comfortable I felt moving around. I spent nearly 10 minutes chasing after VR tennis balls and wildly swinging my arms around and I never once worried about bumping into something.
Just like with my other demo, each time I got close to an object, the grid flashed so I knew to move away. If I was playing in my house, I would probably still move some larger furniture out of the way to minimize tripping hazards, but the tracking really feels quite capable.
What about content?
As good as it is, there are still lots of unanswered questions about the Quest. Namely, how much content will be available. Oculus Go has a decent number of apps (Facebook said today there are more than 1,000), but it does't have the same prestige games that the Rift does. Oculus announced that the Quest will have at least 50 titles available when it launches, but its eventual success will no doubt largely depends on whether it can get developers to buy into another VR headset.
There is some good news, though. Oculus is trying to ease the process for developers looking to bring Rift games to Quest.
"We tried to make it as easy as possible," says Facebook's Sean Liu, head of hardware product management for Oculus. "From Rift to Oculus Quest, it's largely an art thing. You have to make art to run not on a GPU but on a PC running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon [processor]."
For developers with Oculus Go titles, though, the process is more involved, he says. "It's more about the gameplay and interaction. You have to redesign your game and think about the controllers."
That may sound unnecessarily complicated, but my impression is Oculus is anticipating more developers moving between Rift and Quest than Quest and Oculus Go. And that alone should be enough to get enthusiasts excited.
Think about it: For about the same price as a console (or a little more than a Nintendo Switch), you can get a standalone VR headset that's truly untethered. It could be just the thing to make VR catch on.