VR is on the cusp of something special. With games like Blood & Truth bolstering the PlayStation VR headset, and mainstream-friendly projects like Doctor Who: The Edge of Time set to tempt more casual users later this year, we’re on the verge of seeing virtual reality penetrate the mainstream.
But there have traditionally been limits on the accessibility of VR that has prevented the format from really taking off: needing a complicated array of sensors installed in your house, needing a beefy PC to run it, needing a space where wires can trail freely behind you as you flail your arms around… and the price!
Premium VR experiences have traditionally set users back by well over £500. Needing a headset in which to enter virtual reality, needing a PC or PS4 to run it, needing the peripherals necessary to really make the most of the format… it stacks up and up and up.
Enter Oculus Quest. The new machine from the industry leaders in VR problem-solving goes through the list of reasons you may not want VR (“I can’t afford it, I don’t have room, I don’t have a PC”) and ticks them off one by one, leaving you with a single, simple option: Buy an Oculus Quest.
The Oculus Quest is a fully standalone device. From the second you unbox the headset, it’s clear parent company Facebook has gone all in on making this an experience that removes as many barriers as possible between you and the VR experience.
Simply open the box, charge the headset and pop it on. Pair the headset with your phone (a surprisingly painless process) and follow the easy steps that set up your boundaries in your room. Everything is visually mapped for you, so simply figure out where you can’t go and… that’s it. You’re set up. It took us less than 5 minutes from getting the headset out the box to playing.
For VR, that’s unheard of. The space it needs to operate properly is also surprising: whilst it recommends a 6.5ft x 6.5ft square, it will work adequately with less (we played mostly in a 5ft x 4ft rectangle) and accommodates sitting or standing still, with support for walking, dancing, crouching, squatting and jumping in the defined boundary.
By using internal tracking to determine your location in a room – the first-gen family of VR machines were based on external tracking – the Oculus Quest can quickly and safely locate you and warn you when you’re nearing hazardous objects. It can also save up to five locations – so if you want to play in other houses, in other rooms, in other places, you can bring the headset and set it up, no mess, no fuss.
The USB-C charger is rapid, meaning you can get about 3 hours’ worth of juice from a 45-minute charge (we also played occasionally whilst attached to a portable battery pack – an elegant solution for playing on the go or away from home).
But how does the Oculus compare to other VR headsets on the market? Oddly enough, it actually comes in with a higher resolution than the Rift, delivering 1,440 x 1,600 pixels per eye via a 72Hz OLED display. There’s more customisation for you in the physical parts of the headset too – allowing you to better adjust the hardware to the shape of your head (VR is all about comfort, after all!)
Utilising the impressive power of the Snapdragon 835 also means that this is a pretty powerful bit of kit – it’s never going to have the processing juice of a VR unit tied to a top end PC… but it’s not tied to anything, so you can forgive it for that. The only cabling you might need would come from the 3.5mm headphone jack that can be plugged into either side of the headset.
Though slightly heavier than Oculus units, and feeling less oppressive on the face than PSVR, the Quest has solved the issue of feeling like you’ve got a modem on your face by distributing the heft of the machine across the back of your head, your forehead and your cheeks.
We found smaller-faced, glasses-wearing users suffered a little discomfort with the headset, but ultimately it ranks highest in ergonomics thanks to the adjustable frame and light-but-robust support straps.
So, to put it simply: the Quest is more comfortable and performs just as well as everything except the HTC Vive. It’s coming into the VR strong. And we really can’t emphasise enough how important it is that you have no wires and no restraints at any point as soon as you’re in. It’s emancipating. It’s freeing. It’s the complete immersion you’d expect from VR, with none of the fuss.
Let’s talk games.
Oculus and Facebook have stated that the Quest will launch with more 50 games and apps. Some are new titles designed to show off the power of the device, others are rereleases of games we’ve seen on the Rift or on lower-end devices like Oculus Go.
The new titles (Journey of the Gods is a standout) are great, and feel nice and free, use the VR control gimmicks nicely. But it’s actually previous titles revised on the Quest that won us over… in particular, it was Beat Sabre that felt the most improved.
Since you’re not strung up like a marionette as you bash blocks in time with trance, hard house or whatever else, you feel genuinely free to play Beat Sabre as it was designed: like a hardcore rave-cum-workout.
In fact, we’ve been using the Quest as our workout device since we got it – our fitness tracker tells us an hour in Beat Sabre burns off the better part of 650 calories. We owe that to how the kinetic games in the Quest allow you to be so much freer, move so much more without worry, that you can really lose yourself in the experience.
The Oculus Quest is the starting point of consumer VR. It’s the most elegant solution to all of the main problems a more casual audience would have had with VR.
By delivering all the games and content you could want in a VR ecosystem that’s familiar to anyone that’s used the App Store or Google Play, Facebook has come up with a genius approach to getting you in the game. Whilst it’s regrettable that there’s no mod support on the device, everything it offers in place of that (ease of navigation, no bloatware, no need for system spec checking) more than makes up for it.
The machine will do for VR what Switch did for handheld gaming: make vast swathes of the public aware that gaming is now more accessible than ever, and can be played anywhere, at any time.
It’s game-changing, and for the £399 price point, it’d be criminal not to recommend this device to anyone with even a passing interest in virtual reality.
The Oculus Quest is the future of VR. If you want in on the first piece of truly consumer-friendly VR hardware, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
The Oculus Quest is out now.