It’s been two and a half years since I tried the Google Daydream, which I felt was a disappointment. Since then, there had been nothing that sounded like it was much better. Everything was either wired into a PC, or just an incredibly entry level experience with very little reason to bother.
That was, until I heard about the Oculus Quest. A standalone device, but with ‘proper’ controls like the PC connected Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or any of the various Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets. I started to read up on it, and the more I read – the more it sounded like a winner. It had only just launched in the US, and people were raving about it online.
After a lot of consideration, I decided to order the 64gb Oculus Quest unit for $649AU (there’s a 128GB version for $799 which has no difference beyond the amount of storage doubled). That price point was probably the top I was willing to pay – $700+ just felt too expensive. There was also nowhere in Australia I could go to buy this device or check it out – Oculus has an online store, or via Amazon AU – I had to make the call to buy it unseen and untested.
I am really glad that I did. There’s not much to this – a headset, two controllers, 2 AA batteries and a very long USB-C cable for charging the headset.
This is the first ‘proper’ VR device that really is consumer friendly to the masses. You take the headset and controllers out, put the batteries in, turn on the headset and you’re ready to start setting it up.
The quick tutorials shown are easy to understand – you’ll need to use your phone to set up the Oculus Quest once (like pointing it to a wifi network) but after that, you never have to use your phone again.
Like older VR units, you’ll need to set up your ‘boundary’ – that is, the area you map out in your physical space where you’ll use VR without hitting anything. Older headsets needed you to walk a controller around the room, but the Quest (and I believe the new Oculus Rift S) improves on this greatly.
First, you’re able to see the outside world with the headset on, when it’s in passthrough mode. It will show a black and white live footage of what you’re looking at/ In this passthrough mode, you can draw on the ground where your play area is, which then creates a grid wall. The wall only shows up when you get too close to it, and the closer you are, the thicker the grids are.
You can also just set a boundary for sitting experiences, which just creates a circle around you.
Passthrough also kicks in if you go outside the boundary you’ve set up which I think is a great safety feature (or if you just want to go get a drink and can’t be bothered taking the headset off, either way).
Once set up, there’s the ‘First Steps’ tutorial for using your device. It teaches you how to use the controls, while giving you a sandbox to play around and experiment with what’s possible. This is the app to show anyone who hasn’t used VR properly before – it’s immersive, easy, and actually fun.
The graphics on the Oculus Quest are not going to match what’s possible from a PC, but they are good enough to be immersed and not think the visuals are lacking. If you came from PC VR you’d notice the downgrade in quality of course, but that’s the cost of portability.
Check out this comparison of Robo Recall as an example. It’s quite a fun game and I was more than happy with the graphics:
Most games also support streaming via Chromecast to a TV, so others can see what the headset wearer is doing – I can see this as a great small party device where people take turns, especially with a game like Beat Saber:
The controller quality in my opinion, is great. I’ve seen some online discussion around the magnet-secured battery clips falling off, but I’ve experienced no issues at all. They’re the same controllers that come with the PC powered Oculus Rift S, and have touch-sensitive controllers to know when you’re pressing certain buttons or not – allowing your virtual hand to move around a bit.
The tracking is also great – the 4 cameras on the device are enough to work out where your controllers are and what they’re doing, with a very high level of accuracy and low latency. I don’t notice any lag at all when moving my hands around in a virtual world – it’s as good as instant, while being incredibly smooth.
The biggest negative is the cost. The headset isn’t crazy expensive, but the games are. They’re generally between $20AU and $50AU per game, which is going to make you think long and hard about what you buy. It might not sound that bad, but a lot of the games don’t have huge replayability – you’ll finish once after 1-2 hours then move on. Beat Saber for example is $46.99, but at least that’s the sort of game you’ll want to play again and again while improving. There are some free games, and the store is highly curated so there’s no rubbish apps, but it’s worth being aware of.
Being the tinkerer that I am, I wanted to see what else was possible for free on the Oculus Quest, and wrote up a separate post around some utilities I’ve been using – check it out if you want to sideload apps (including custom Beat Saber songs), stream PC games to the Oculus Quest via Wifi and making Steam think it’s a supported plugged in device, or mirror everything you do on the Quest to a computer, rather than just certain in-game support.
With all of the above in mind, I still strongly recommend the Oculus Quest, as long as you don’t have a PC powered VR unit already. It’s a great all-round experience, with good-enough graphics and a lot of fun to be had. It’s the sort of thing I want to go back and play again and again because it is so different to other gaming experiences. Playing in a virtual world where you need to actually look around and react will both give you a bit of a workout, and make you forget where you are in the real world.