IMAGE: BRIDGET BENNETT/MASHABLE
The demo was crude and former Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey was busy nerding out over graphic textures and the VR future that the Rift headset would unlock.
Fast forward to CES 2019 and Luckey's no longer with the company (but still very much in love with VR) and the Facebook-owned Oculus is months away from launching the Quest VR headset that aims to bring the power and immersion of the PC-based Rift to a wireless and self-contained device.
Putting aside all of the scrutiny Facebook is currently under, the Oculus Quest actually stands a chance at being the virtual reality platform's savior.
Originally teased as its "Santa Cruz" VR headset, Quest finally made its official debut at Oculus Connect 5 last September.
Quest will be Oculus's third VR headset when it launches sometime this spring and will sit between the standalone and mobile-powered Oculus Go and PC-based Oculus Rift.
The headset will be priced accordingly as well: $399 for the headset and the two Oculus Touch hand controllers. Oculus Go sells for $199 and the Rift for $399 (but you also need to pony up for a powerful PC sold separately, so the cost is actually closer to at least $1,399 for the whole setup).
While Oculus Quest is powered by the two-year-old Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile chip, it's no slouch.
The headset felt lighter and comfier to wear on my head with the weight more evenly distributed. This is largely because the strap system cradles the backside of your head more like on the Rift. There's still a rather noticeable cutout around the nose that leaks in light as on the Go, but the headset's black interior also helps reduce the amount of light reflected into the lenses.
Oculus Quest is completely wireless. No additional sensor required. IMAGE: BRIDGET BENNETT/MASHABLE
3D sound still comes through two narrow slits on the side of the headset and it still sounds clear as on the Go. I recently showed the Go to a friend who is a hardcore HTC Vive user and he was bewildered other VR companies hadn't copied the Go's built-in speaker design.
The Quest also offers a much nicer visual experience. The display is OLED displays compared to the punier Go's fast-switching LCD screen. Refresh rates in the two demos I tried (Tennis Scramble and Super Hot) were fast and I can't say I saw any latency issues — that's an excellent sign.
And that brings me to the next thing I really like about the Oculus Quest: the controllers. They're very similar to the Touch controller for the Rift with several buttons on the top and triggers on the back and sides to simulate opening and closing your virtual hands.
I had doubts the mobile chipset inside of the Quest could accurately track two hand controllers using the built-in cameras and sensors on the front of the headset, but those fears disappeared as soon as I Iaunched into a game of Tennis Scramble.
Looks pretty sleek, right? IMAGE: BRIDGET BENNETT/MASHABLE
Facing off against a cute, face-less candy-like creature, I served a variety of tennis balls that would also transform into other balls like a football or ping-pong ball or a fish. The game doesn't have photorealistic graphics, but what it lacks in advanced lighting and textures, it makes up with pure fun.
I completely forgot I was in a 20 x 20-foot hotel room as I swung my virtual racket round. At some point my tennis racket transformed into a flat-styled cricket one. You know the game's fun when you break a sweat, but you just don't want to pull the headset off.
Following Tennis Scramble, I played Super Hot. I've played the slow-motion first-person shooter many times – on PC, Mac, on HTC Vive, and even with Acer's Mixed Reality headset for Windows.
But on the Quest, the game felt entirely new again. Where I had to deal with cables tethering me to a computer with the Vive and Acer headset, the Quest was wireless and I could move freely without worrying about tripping over a cable.
Naturally, as I did my best to dodge bullets Matrix-style, I ended up in situations like this:
LOL. IMAGE: BRIDGET BENNETT/MASHABLE
Yes, that's me curled up on the floor after getting punched in the face by a virtual polygonal baddie.
But after many defeats in Super Hot, I finally triumphed and successfully socked a baddie in the groin, shattering it into a million pieces.. Take that!
Right in the nuts! IMAGE: BRIDGET BENNETT/MASHABLE
And if you're still not convinced, maybe this video clip will change your mind:
After 20 minutes in both games, my heart was pounding, my face was a salty and sweaty mess, and I had a stupid beaming smile on my face.
I cared less about about the chipset inside or the sensors responsible for tracking. The only thing that I was fixated on was the experience. In this regard, the Quest triumphs.
VR's biggest issue for years has been a technical one. Do you need a phone that clips into a mobile VR headset? Do you need a gaming PC? Can you cut the cord and go wireless? The delta between mobile VR and PC VR has been quite huge, but Quest closes the gap.
It provides a "near Rift-like" VR experience with the controllers and portability and easy-of-use of the Go.
For sure there are still many unanswered questions like how long the battery will last, but those will be made clear hopefully closer to launch. Facebook has a real opportunity with Quest to save VR from its lost ground to AR with Quest. Let's hope it doesn't fumble it.