If virtual reality wants to keep growing its relevance in the gaming community, it needs the new Oculus Quest headset. The Facebook-owned company has proposed a roadmap to leave hardware behind and focus on affordable, practical gadgets everyone can access. To that end, their new inside-out tracking technology is superb, providing complete freedom of movement. It might include a mobile processor, sure, but it has still got plenty to offer.
We were loaned a headset by the company and, as we discovered, the device was a good fit at home, not only for general VR entertainment but also as a gaming platform. Of course, the new Touch controllers are a great help when it comes to playing games (more on that later).
Oculus wants people to see the Quest and immediately compare it to more high-end headsets, as is demonstrated in the design and packaging. Upon opening the box, all you find is a headset and a pair of controllers. Everything looks perfectly neat, with no wires or cables to be found.
Our first impression was great thanks to the classy grey fabric finish, and the front cover is black, imitating that of the Rift. The Quest's four frontal cameras quickly caught our attention, as they look like tiny all-seeing spider eyes. The design is made to hide everything, including the volume and adjustment buttons, as well as the charging port, all of which are located on the underside of the headset. In addition, you might not realise that it's got built-in audio either, at least until it starts blaring.
With regards to stability and comfort, we found a slight downside. The design is good: there are adjustable handles for the strap, and it's easy to both take it on and off and adjust for comfort. The front foam feels comfy and blocks out all light (and there's wiggle room for those who wear glasses), and using the Quest hasn't made us too sweaty or uncomfortable. The overall headset is comfortable and there's no risk of it falling off, although it does feel a bit heavy and loose.
Setting up the headset won't take you too long, as you only need a mobile app which shows you how to use the equipment and everything you can do with the controllers. Although processing capacity might be limited, this app shows some of the experiences this equipment can deliver.
The Guardian system is a safe virtual space where you can forget about anything and everything and focus on the VR experience. A 2x2 metre space is the recommended size, but you can choose your boundaries, as long as you make sure there's nothing you can trip over. The setup process is quick, as you use a laser to establish your boundaries, as well as the walls around you. Once it's done, you can go in and out as you like. If you're inside, the screen will display the virtual world, the menu or any app you're using. Then, when you start to approach the edge of your space, the screen will warn you in blue and then in red. Finally, if you leave the play space, the screen will automatically show you everything that's happening in the outside world via an external camera. We have to admit it's not high-quality vision, and it's black and white, but it's enough to grab a water bottle or text your friends back. The Guardian system is a genius idea that allows you to free your mind and stop worrying about the real world.
This system, however, would be nothing without movement sensors. The Quest's breakthrough is the inside-out tracking, which is designed to help you forget about cameras and other nuisances. All movement tracking is quick and complete, with no visible lag (as far as we can tell). It's so great it even works perfectly during more demanding games, such as Beat Saber.
This new version of the Touch controllers is just as amazing as the headset. Handling is comfortable, and they replicate hand movement very precisely and with no lag. The six degrees of freedom tracking follows the slightest wrist movement, and can also read where your fingers are placed on the controller. Button positioning feels natural, especially the trigger, so grabbing, dropping, throwing, and punching all work just as well.
We haven't tried the previous Oculus Touch model so we can't compare, but the new model easily eclipses the old Move controllers for PSVR.
We still had doubts about its performance, and that's why we've chosen not to compare it to any other headsets. The freedom that's gained with this kind of independent, lightweight equipment makes up for the loss in power though, as there are no PC or consoles to do the heavy lifting. We must make clear that Rift/HTC Vive games are not supported, as we're working with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, which was originally intended for mobile phones.
Keeping this limitation in mind, the results were good. Quest suffers no slowdown and loads all apps and videos (nothing 4K), as well as a number of games. The wonderful Beat Saber works perfectly, and we've also had the chance to enjoy other sandbox adventures, such as Journey of the God and Apex Construct. Upon release, around 50 more games will arrive as well, and some are even exclusives, like Vader: Immortal.
The headset stands out in these games thanks to its player movement management, which facilitates immersion. Whether you aim with a bow or a gun, you can adjust the camera by moving your neck, or you can grab, drop and twist objects with your hands, squat down, or step to the front or side; it tracks every movement and mimics them perfectly. Remember, there are no cameras or external sensors - it's all built-in and constantly processing.
As expected, for this level of freedom we have to sacrifice visual quality. Starting with the fact that Oculus has opted for Diamond PenTile OLED panels with 1440x1600p resolution and a 72Hz refresh rate, it's already quite limited when it comes to gaming. Furthermore, we can clearly see the low texture resolution and limited item loading that software creators have to resort to in order to avoid saturation. In comparison to the smoothness of games like Beat Saber, we've suffered through a blurry Game of Thrones intro in 360p, and don't even think about draw distance.
Watching the video was one of a couple of occasions where we actually felt some dizziness using the Oculus Quest, and it was because of the terrible image definition. The refresh rate is key for the brain to remain comfortable in VR spaces, and this headset can't always deliver on that front.
We can't leave without mentioning the audio. The sound system is the same as in the Oculus Go, including strong built-in stereo speakers with surround sound that aren't too loud. Virtual reality, however, calls for a great noise-canceling headset, hence the headphone jack and Bluetooth connection.
This headset is great for games, media content, surfing the web, and even social media. While lounging on the couch, you can play, watch movies, create content, or even livestream. You can export your screen into a mobile phone with the app, or onto a TV with Chromecast, so others can see what's going on too. This function is still beta and our test didn't go super well, so we'll wait and see how this one shapes up.
In comparison to the Oculus Go, another headset with a mobile processor and no wires, both image and performance have been improved, and it is way better when it comes to motion tracking and the controllers. These add to the versatility of the headset, especially when it comes to video games and other interactive apps. Nevertheless, it costs double what the Oculus Go does and it seems to be around the same price as Rift S.
Oculus Quest fulfills its promise of physical freedom thanks to its stunning built-in movement sensors and controllers, all while protecting users in a safe space that facilitates greater immersion. Despite its limited power, there's enough here to run all kinds of apps, both video and games, although the library isn't stellar and image resolution could be better. For now, affordable mobile technology doesn't allow for a powerful, independent, wireless VR headset. Until then, Quest is a solid attempt, and the most well-rounded we've seen so far.
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