If you haven’t been paying attention to the status of VR these days, you might still think it’s just a rich man’s game, and that it’s not really ready for general consumption. However, VR has evolved by leaps and bounds since Palmer Luckey and the Oculus company first put the original Rift up on Kickstarter all the way back in 2010.
And while many may suggest that the 2014 acquisition by Facebook was a negative, it can also be argued that Facebook has done quite a lot for the Oculus brand, particularly with regards to bringing the headset to a wider market.
The 2018 release of the Oculus Quest saw Facebook show their hand for the first time – this was a fully standalone device that didn’t require an expensive modern PC in order to play games. Still the company iterated on the Rift device, which did require a tether to a PC, while they slowly tinkered away on improvements.
This brings us to 2020 and the release of the Oculus Quest 2. Not only is this device an improvement on the previous Quest model, but it is also intended to be a replacement for the Rift devices, allowing owners to use the device as either a standalone, completely wire-free room-scale VR experience, or, tethered to a PC for more graphically intensive titles – effectively the best of both worlds.
Is now the right time to jump on board the VR hypetrain?
Right from the get-go, the Oculus Quest 2 aims to make an impact. The box is modern and simple, using quality materials and an internal layout designed to wow. It’s an “Unboxing” Youtuber’s dream. However, it’s also clearly something else – a game console. Turning the box over to look at the back, there are a number of highlighted titles displayed prominently, not unlike Xbox and PlayStation boxes. Oculus (and thus, Facebook) knows who they are targeting here.
The headset itself is surprisingly small. It only comes in white, which is more of a very light grey, if I’m honest, with a light foam facial insert and an elastic cloth head strap. It’s not much bigger than a modern smartphone with some lenses attached, so I applaud the hardware design. However, this small space includes all of the requisite compute and cooling components, as well as a battery, so it’s heavy. As a result, it weighs heavily upon the face.
The head strap, of course, is designed to counteract this, and for all its simplicity, it works. It’s comfortable (I’d advise wearing the strap OVER the ears, otherwise it may weigh down on your earlobes and cause some discomfort), easy to tighten, and slips on and off with a simple motion. However, as there is only one large loop to go around the side of your head, and a single strap to go over the top, it doesn’t do a great job of counter-balancing the weight on the front. Oculus does also offer an Elite Strap, and having used this as well, I can confirm it is an extremely worthwhile investment. That said, there are likely to be several third-party offerings over time, so keep your eyes open.
Having only used PSVR before, the controllers came as not only a surprise to me, but also a godsend. There is of course one controller per hand, and each has a similar layout – a single analogue stick (with clickable button input), two buttons per thumb, a single trigger button, and a single grip button. Plus, the strange ring at the top houses a number of InfraRed sensors that can be seen with the four cameras on the outside of the headset. As a result, it sits comfortably in each hand, although I would suggest using the wrist straps, as the immersion of VR may influence you to open your hand… at which point you will drop the controller. It hasn’t happened to me, but… it might.
Apart from that, the box contains a charger (including a short type-C USB cable – definitely not long enough to facilitate PCVR), and a spacer to allow for users that wear glasses.
The lenses are thick and chunky. They’re lenses. As such, they are fairly fragile – only use a dry microfibre cloth to clean. You have been warned – anything else may scratch the lenses, or smear them with damaging fluids.
The screen itself is a single LCD panel, so ensuring the right distancing between lenses is very important in order to avoid a blurry image. This is done by grabbing one of the lenses between thumb and forefinger, and moving it to the side to one of three presets – the first is set to an IPD of 58cm, the second to 63cm, and the third to 68cm. While this is an adequate (and I expect more robust) solution, players in between these ranges may find the view is not completely optimal. I am one of those people (I sit between the second and third position), and it can be annoying at times. That said, adjusting the position of the headset on your forehead seems to alleviate most of this.
The biggest question on everyone’s lips, though: does it have the “screen door effect”? This refers to the resolution, and the ability on cheaper devices (including the PSVR and the original Oculus Quest) to see a grid overlay delineating the pixel grid, which very much resembles looking ut on the world through a screendoor (a flyscreen to those that live in the fly-ridden land of Oz). Well, given the resolution of 1832×1920 per eye (effectively 2k per eye), I can gladly confirm that this has been eliminated with the Quest 2. In fact, once you get the eye settings right, the visuals are surprisingly crisp, and gaming on the device is divine – although visuals do depend on the game (and are leaps and bounds better then playing PCVR via Steam or Rift Link).
Oh, and it’s not really related to the lenses themselves, but it should be noted – the foam face shield, while comfortable enough in use, is extremely absorbent. If you play a particularly active title… expect it to be… gross… the next time you put it on, so I recommend wiping with a tissue after use (avoid the lenses). In reality, I would have preferred something less absorbent – although a leather one may have been an expensive addition.
The sound system is intriguing. Built into the “wings” of the device (to which the head strap is connected) is a simple set of speakers – one for each ear. These sit a little forward on the head, about level with the temple, and at full volume are far from ear piercing (which I suppose is a good thing). This means that you can hear the outside world while playing, although it does sound somewhat detached. I’ve seen some reviewers suggest that these speakers are not good enough for most game sessions, but I found them entirely adequate. It depends on how much you wish to be immersed – for complete immersion (or for better quality sound), I’d recommend your own choice of headphones. But again, I found the built-in speakers do an admirable job.
That said, the sound quality is very basic. There are no deep bass sounds and individual sounds can get lost in the mix, so it’s up to you. I do admit that wearing headphones was a better sound experience, so I’m on the lookout for something built specifically for VR that I can just leave plugged in.
As a standalone experience, the Oculus Quest 2 needed to have an entire ecosystem built-in so that when you put the headset on your head, you don’t need to leave until you’re done… and to be honest, it’s 95% of the way there.
Your “Home” as it’s called, includes a simulated environment that players can choose from a number of options – including a futuristic cityscape, a traditional Japanese retreat, or a wooden cabin with a roaring fire. This is, of course, just cosmetic, but it’s a 360-degree environment, and looks great. It also makes some use of Roomscale, so if you are playing that way, you can move about the environment within certain limits. From there (and to be honest, at any point, even while playing) users can pull up a menu that provides access to their Library, the Store, as well as a number of experiences and suggestions, all based on the activity of other users. It’s fairly intuitive, but does take a little time to learn to navigate.
The beauty of it is in how good the inside-out roomscale mapping works. Setting up your playspace will request users to set the floor level by placing one controller on the ground briefly, but I found it was almost estimated perfectly anyway. From there, you can set a stationary boundary and either sit or stand within a smaller area, or you can set a roomscale boundary by pointing your controller at the ground and “drawing” a line around the room. Given there are camera on the outside, the view presented is a greyscale “passthrough” of your surroundings, so you can set this exactly – without removing the headset. Once set, the game will display a light grid whenever you get close to these set limits, and will switch to passthrough once you pass through the barrier. It’s fantastic, and has avoided a number of collisions so far – just note: set your barrier at least a foot from any obstacles.
Of course, if someone demands your attention while playing, you do need to give it to them – you just don’t have to remove the headset. A simple double-tap on either side will switch the view to passthrough, and this is also a lifesaver. Given there are no wires to tether you to a location, these settings offer a greater level of security, but you should still tell your kids to keep away when your playing Thrill of the Fight (otherwise, you may need to explain a black eye to their teacher on Monday).
It’s all pretty quick and snappy, and considering this is based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 (yes, a mobile device processor, but one designed specifically for VR), it’s all quite amazing. Still, it’s not anywhere near the level of a modern-day PC, so the difference between native Quest games and PCVR games is chalk and cheese… But of course, you can plug this bad boy into a PCVR-ready PC and you’re ready to go… Sadly, I was not able to test this as my GPU is under specced… Sad panda. You bet your ass I’m looking to upgrade.
If you’ve been reading closely, you probably know by now that I’ve been mightily impressed by the Oculus Quest 2 and everything it has to offer. The VR and 360-degree videos I’ve watched can be hit-and-miss (although it was a blast to fly a wingsuit through the mountains), but virtually every game and “Premium” experience I’ve had has been amazing – even those that look simplistic (Rec:Room and VRChat, I’m looking at you). The fact I can sit and chat with friends in a movie theatre while watching a movie together (a 3D movie, I might add), blows my mind, and the potential to attend virtual shows (musical performances, esports, etc) with friends is something I’m excited for but is still somewhat lacklustre if I’m honest.
Hand tracking, while still limited and unintuitive, is amazing – the device can see and track every individual finger on each hand. While this is fun and might be a quick and simple way to avoid the use of controllers in future, controllers will always be required for most games. I see this as being most effective for business application. And yes, I see business applications here – imagine being able to set up as many monitors as you want, with whatever content you want, at whatever content you want – with only a single device. And with keyboard tracking in the works already, combined with finger tracking, you won’t need to learn how to touch type.
In fact, there are a lot of things to like here. If you put the controllers down, the system will display them on the screen for you – including their orientation, so you can reach out and pick them up. It will even tell you if you’ve got the left controller in your right hand.
All of that said… the battery drains faster than I would like. If you use it daily, you need to charge it daily. If you’re a more hardcore user, you’ll find yourself charging it every 2-3 hours. For me, this is fine – I don’t like to play VR for more than an hour at a time anyway, but others may find this frustrating. And lastly, VR can cause motion sickness. The technology has advanced in recent years, and developers will always add comfort options that can reduce this for you, but the reality is that there are plenty of people out there that are bound to suffer regardless. You can build your tolerance over time, but it is important to know this upfront. As soon as you feel queasy, stop and rest.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Facebook, and the requirement for a Facebook account in order to use the device. People have a lot of opinions about this, and this article does not wish to discuss them – simply put, if you are put off by Facebook, hold off for now. Competition is coming.
For the last 10 years, VR has been simmering. For enthusiasts, there have been a number of mind-blowing experiences (Asgrad’s Wrath is the oft-referred “must play” VR title), but it has always been teetering on the edge of consumer availability. The requirements were both confusing and expensive. In 2018, the original Oculus Quest brought a more consumer-focused device to hand, but it was either undercooked or was waiting on advancements in technology to eliminate certain negative experiences – particularly the screen door effect.
And now that Facebook has achieved a price of approx $470 AUD for a fully standalone device that requires no wires, no base stations or tracking devices, and – most importantly – NO PC, it’s hard NOT to recommend it. In fact, in my opinion, this is the start of a new revolution in VR, and while it will never replace traditional video games, VR will soon cement itself as a new way to play. I’m convinced. If you’ve been waiting to jump on board, now’s a good time.
Oculus Quest 2 was reviewed using a unit purchased by the reviewer.