Today sees the start of pre-orders for the new Oculus Quest headset from Oculus VR and it could actually be the game changer that everyone’s been waiting for.
Sitting in the middle of their range of headsets, this mid-level entry is firmly targeting the a group of consumers that want the best VR experience but without the need to have cables, sensors and a PC running it with beastly specs and a price tag to match.
In fact, ditching cables and computer is practically the main selling point of the Quest.
I was lucky enough to gets hands on with the Oculus Quest for a few days ahead of pre-orders opening and here I’m going to run you through how I got on.
Cards on the table, I love VR but it doesn’t always love me.
Whenever I’ve had a choice to get hands on with one of the ‘pro’ units like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive something always goes wrong.
My lounge isn’t big enough, my PC isn’t fast enough or Steam doesn’t like the kit – always something that just leaves a bad taste to getting proper VR.
As I got into 360 video and photography, I kept going back to the final steps of viewing and distributing. The along came the entry level Oculus Go. A wonderful VR headset with great resolution and no PC required.
It’s got a few games, couple of experiences, you can watch Netflix on a virtual cinema screen. But the Oculus Go is still a pretty passive experience. You can look around, but you can’t move around. Games for the Go are simple point and click.
Cut to 2019 and the Oculus Quest is about to hit the market solving the problem of the Go’s passive experience and the sheer cost of creating a full rig for Oculus Rift.
So we’re ditching the cables of the ‘pro’ system, building on the entry level Go.
And one key thing – this headset is not a passive experience – it’s actual VR. Finally.
Pop on the comfy headset, whizz through a quick setup on the companion app and you’re good to go.
The headset comes in at around 571g, so you do feel it but it’s not heavy enough to put a user off. It’s over head straps are easy to change so that you get a fit that’s right for you. At the side of straps are stereo speakers, volume sliders, USB-C charging port, lens width adjustment slider and then the bit that makes all the movement possible… front facing sensors that map your environment.
Using a system called Guardian, you can see your real environment and map a safe playing area – just to make sure you don’t fall over an object or fall down your stairs. Once you created this border, a grid-like system pops around you that is like the closest thing I’ve seen to a holodeck.
Throughout your use, Guardian knows where you’re standing in that space and also where the hands holding the controllers are. Get too close to the edge, and the red grid lines fade into your experience keeping you safe. And it’s an incredibly responsive system that takes away VR fear.
Included with the Quest are two touch controllers that become your virtual hands for moving around the Quest system, pick up virtual objects, aim, shoot, etc. And again, it’s incredibly responsive meaning no lag at crucial moments.
The ‘operating system’ for the Quest is a pleasant and user friendly affair – a floating menu system inside a glorious penthouse under the Northern Lights. Using the onboard storage, you can download a range of apps and games (more on that later) that are available for the Go or specifically designed to make the most of the Quest.
But you can see Oculus – while heavy on gaming – want you to be doing more in their virtual offering. Integrated support for Facebook (which makes sense as they own Oculus) brings social networking and VR parties with your friends.
Internet browsers, YouTube to watch 360 videos and library of content to consume.
Can VR reach the point where I might do a day’s work in there? Maybe productivity is the next wave for the consumer. But this headset is firmly trying to charm gamers into parting with some money and for that you need a decent lineup.
When the Oculus Quest was first announced, they had some big name games on the list for Day 1 release. And while the flagship game Star Wars: Vader Immortal hasn’t got a release date just yet, its Day 1 list has impressive titles designed or ported for the Quest.
Angry Birds VR, Beat Saber, Dead and Buried II are among their heavy hitters alongside SUPERHOT VR.
With only a few days to play, these are the stars so far.
Angry Birds VR takes the usual catapulting game to a new dimension as you can move around the structures looking for hidden weaknesses to bring down the Green Pigs. As you stand facing the game play area, your little army of Angry Birds sit adoringly next to you waiting for their turn to jump in your slingshot. You can even bend down and get a closer look, or look at them in your hand.
I never thought I would get sucked in by another Angry Birds game but this is pretty awesome – both graphically but also the puzzler/aim elements get a total refresh.
Beat Saber is a VR rhythm based game that see you whizzing through psychodelic environment as you hack and slash away to hit your marks. Think Dance Dance Revolution, using your hands as swords to create combos as you fall through space.
SUPERHOT VR takes the mechanic of the original – time only moves forward as you move – and makes it an awesome and unnerving experience.
Because now time moves when you do and the Quest knows when you move a muscle. Turning to check for bad guys sneaking up on you counts as progression and physically dodging bullets and attacks in replicated in game.
I managed to dodge bullets Matrix style and hide behind cover to avoid getting hit.
Also worth an outing is glider racing game RUSH – which after a brief tutorial on how to fly through the skies, rather scarily starts your race by putting you right at the edge of a launch platform before throwing you off with dizzying effect.
It’s a well built, responsive and enjoyable bit of kit.
Bringing movement in VR environments without breaking the bank is a smart move and the $399 (aprx £305) price tag for the 64gb model is actually pretty decent.
A games console can set you back more than that, while you’re saving a ton off pro systems by not factoring in overpowered PCs to drive it.
The Oculus Quest absolutely nails what I want from a VR device and that’s making me feel part of the experience not a viewer of an experience.
A few days with the Quest and I’m absolutely loving it but Oculus will have to keep on driving new games and apps – and again, productivity could be a whole new frontier.
And personally, I’d love a drone maker to link up with the Quest so that I can fly in the real world and control the drones movements with my movements. But we’re not quite there yet.
Pre-orders for Oculus Quest are available now , with units shipping from May 21