Oculus Quest might be the first “must have” VR

When Oculus Quest hit back in May, it was a big question mark, but some new features coming in the next year are turning the cords-free headset into a must-buy. The Quest cut the cord on virtual reality, but with some notable compromises. Oculus Link takes the Quest closer to its high-end siblings. Hand tracking and new passthrough tech, meanwhile, bring the Quest closer and closer to that Holodeck-like fantasy of VR that so many of us have been entertaining in our minds since Oculus Rift hit Kickstarter (or since Lawnmower Man hit theaters, if you’re old).

Before I get into what I mean, I want to say that no, the Quest isn’t perfect and yes, it still makes some compromises when compared to “premium” VR experiences like the Valve Index.

The trouble with VR

Virtual reality has always had a few problems: Buy-in, Setup, and Space. Buy-in is the first problem. To get a “true” VR experience before the Quest, the least expensive way to get into VR was the PlayStation VR, which runs somewhere around $700 – $800 for a new from-scratch setup. The cost climbs quickly from there with the introduction of building or upgrading a PC to make it VR-ready.

Setup is the second. The PlayStation, again, was the easiest one to get up and running. The HTC Vive offered arguably the best experience but required an incredible amount of setup thanks to its Lighthouse technology. And that’s ignoring all the configuration that happens inside games.

Space is the third. Again, PlayStation won this one, while Valve and HTC basically expected anyone who might buy a Vive to have a room just for VR. I know people who have or had rooms for VR or had complicated setups to make transforming a room more reasonable. Even the best setups, though, are permanently tethered to a base station, and the optimal version of this I’ve seen had the user running their headset cord along the ceiling. It’s imperfect, for sure, and a configuration better suited to arcades than homes.

Oculus Quest joins the fight

Oculus Quest Headset

That’s where the Quest comes in. At just $400, the quest nearly halves the price of the cheapest buy-in. Setup involves using the passthrough camera and wands to trace out the bounds of your room. The minimum space for many games is just three square feet, and the lack of wire for Oculus Quest-specific games means that you can hop into VR anywhere you feel confident you’re not going to get a suitcase wedgie for doing so.

The compromise is that just doesn’t look as good as those premium VR headsets. And how could it? There’s a reason that the highest-quality VR experiences involve being wired into a high-end gaming PC. This stuff is complex, and making it look really good requires powerful hardware. The Quest offers acceptable visuals on portable gear.

But it seems that with a few changes announced last week, the Quest is both going to allow us to get the best of both worlds and maybe even put the wands away.

Oculus Link

The Oculus Link is a cable that connects your Oculus Quest to a PC, allowing you to play full-sized Oculus Rift games on the headset.

“Your Quest is basically a Rift, now, too,” said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the Oculus Connect keynote. Oculus Link connects through “most high-quality USB 3 [Type-C] cables” according to Oculus, though the company also plans to release a $79 5-meter fiber-optic cable for best throughput. The purpose behind building its own cable, Oculus says, is to have a longer, lighter-weight cable that has additional quality-assurance on top of it, but this cable is not a requirement. $79 is a hard pill to swallow, and it’s easy to dismiss it as Monster Cable-style snake oil, but time will tell whether or not that cable offers any real benefits over a standard USB Type-C cable.

Hands-on experiences say that this really does work.¬† The latency is imperceptible to most of the members of the press who have reported on it, and the visuals are noticeably better as you would expect. Again, a compromise had to be made here. There’s an encoding layer between the headset and the game, and the outer edges where your eyes are unlikely to be looking will be less detailed. That could be an issue for some games that make extensive use of heads-up display information, but it seems like most games will be very playable through this.

This seems like a great compromise that allows both the “magical holodeck” experience of Oculus Quest and the premium “amusement park ride” feel of higher-quality VR, and it also gives people who need the cheaper buy-in of Quest a pathway to get into those big VR games. The more people that play VR, the better off the VR community is as a whole.

Next-Gen Features

While the Oculus Link feature is the headliner for hardware enthusiasts like us, other new features coming to the Oculus Quest could prove to be literal game changers. The newest controller for the Oculus Quest is… your hands. Just your hands. Oculus is adding hand-tracking functionality. This functionality could improve in the next-generation version of the Quest, and it could even come to the Rift S. Oculus didn’t mention anything about the Rift S and hand-tracking, though, so we’d only be guessing. This is likely a feature we’ll see improving in leaps and bounds over the net year or two, but it’s a big step forward.

Oculus is also bringing a Rift S feature called Passthrough+ to the Quest. Passthrough+ provides a stereo-correct, real-time view of their surroundings. That means that glass-topped table is exactly where you think is. The isolation and vulnerability of putting on a headset are both big barriers to entry, and this should ease that. Passthrough+, coupled with hand tracking, also seems to open the way for true augmented-reality gaming on a more accessible headset than the Magic Leap or HoloLens.

Finally, the Quest will also add Oculus Go apps and will soon allow you to turn off all the fancy space tracking technology in case you want to watch a movie.

These new features are huge

In case it’s still not clear, these new features are huge steps forward that all work toward solving some of the biggest headaches in VR. While the Rift S, HTC Vive, and Valve Index will still offer more premium visuals, the Quest is turning into the best way to experience VR, and it might be the first must-buy VR experience.

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tommy
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tommy

Wow, i cam here to learn something new, and i actually left knowing less by reading it. Congrats.

Tropic
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Tropic

I think Quest is Great now it’s Better than the Oculus Rift s to play Pc Games and to have similar hand tracking like leap motion feel sorry for the Rift S Owners who Basically got Ripped off and left with crap limited Vr head set with no ipd adjusmemt and no oled display and think Oculus Dont care about Rift S owners in general to focus on the Quest

Kevin Kendig
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Kevin Kendig

As a new Quest owner, I agree with everything you just wrote … BUT, I have to say that utilizing Virtual Desktop to stream Rift games wirelessly is FAR BETTER. Still no wires, and I was shocked to find there is no perceptible lag using my 5GHz wi-fi router connection. Having previously tried the Oculus Rift, the two things that put me off were having wires always in the way and not knowing if you were about to bash a wall or a desk … these both break the immersive nature of VR. Quest solved them both with no wires… Read more »

aggies11
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aggies11

Great point. Interestingly enough what Oculus is doing with “Link” (the cable) is already the majority of what Virtual Desktop wireless streaming does (actually they do a bit extra in addition), except for the last step where instead of streaming it out over a wifi connection, they stream it over a USB cable. The downside to the Virtual Desktop (and it’s alternatives) is that the experience tends to vary widely, and not everyone has a smooth experience with it.(Wifi setups can differ dramatically) And so you can see why, at this stage, Oculus is going the wired (more consistent experience)… Read more »

Sam
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Sam

Tried this with ALVR the other day on 5ghz wifi with the headset next to the router and the PC hooked up via gigabit. There were a lot of issues with image quality and latency, but ALVR has a neat trick to work around head movement latency: stream a larger frame than is visible and let the head tracking simply pan through it. If you turn quickly enough, the effect breaks. Overall, wifi streaming will work for some games and break for others. It takes massive amounts of bandwidth and pipeline optimization to make this work, and anything short of… Read more »

psuedonymous
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psuedonymous

Even with a dedicated wireless network (and using a nice Unifi WAP), the lag and quality drop of a WiFi stream to the Quest vs. direct connection to Rift S is immediately noticeable. Moving from WiFi to a cable will alleviate this, but you’re still packing a 10gbps stream into a <5gbps pipe. While on-HMD rotational warping can compensate for some latency, it cannot perform ASW and cannot compensate for interaction latency (e.g. hand motion). And even with the described in-frame variable compression scheme (really neat on its own) you;re going to have visible artefacts during VOR head rotation as… Read more »

Bob Barker
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Bob Barker

Last I heard Oculus was still owned by facebook. do not want.

aggies11
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aggies11

This makes the quest quite attractive. As a day 1 Vive owner, I’ve been casually looking for a cheap second headset for the occasional local co-op experience. Been fence sitting on getting a discount Windows Mixed Reality headset when they go on frequent sale. But life’s been busy as of late, and for whatever reason VR tends to have more mental barriers to overcome compared to traditional gaming, when sitting on the couch the idea of spending 10-15 minutes getting it all set up again, updates, re configuring the room bounds since last played etc, and I’m usually just too… Read more »

KZBFFELF
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KZBFFELF

Apart from all that, great effort they put in content curation really paid off… It’s really the main factor that made earlier VR fail.

highlandr
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highlandr

So you’re saying there’s a cheaper way to play Beat Saber? That and Dirt Rally are the only 2 times I’ve thought: “Hey, this would be better in VR.”

Ryan Montgomery
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Ryan Montgomery

Only if you like 72 Hertz displays.

Prestige Worldwide
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Prestige Worldwide

72 Hz also has me leaning towards nope

chuckula
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chuckula

Occulus Quest: Only worth it if it can play Peasant’s Quest.

Krogoth
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Krogoth

TROGDOR!

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