We’re always in the market for new ways to do things. Within reason. We’re not going to attempt to binge-watch a series while skydiving because… well, nobody’s got time for that. And that’s not an opinion, that’s just physics. But we’re always keen to check out binge-watching a series while wearing odd headwear because… well, somebody’s got to do it first. That particular activity made up the bulk of our time with the Oculus Quest, for example, but that wasn’t the most fun we had with it. Oh no, that was reserved for Beat Saber.
Before we get into what was and wasn’t fun with the Oculus Quest, it’s worth examining what we’re looking at. The Quest is Facebook’s upper-middle-range wireless VR headset, sitting a step above the Oculus Go in terms of power. The package consists of the headset, which operates without the need to connect to a PC, as well as the Oculus controllers and exactly as many cables as you need to keep the whole thing operating. Also, there’s a spacer for those unfortunate souls who need to use glasses, so they’re not smashed against your face.
There’s not a whole lot going on in the headset. There’s place to plug in a set of (wired) headphones and a place you can adjust the focus and volume for the device. Most of your interaction comes via the included controllers and those are laid out in a surprisingly familiar way. If you’ve handled a games console in the past ten years, you’ll know what to expect — a couple of thumbsticks and buttons within easy reach, as well as the ability to wave your arms and make something happen. As seen with the PlayStation Move, Nintendo Wii, Wii U, Switch, and most other VR headsets on the market.
Easy does it
But before you get to the fun bits, the Quest needs to be set up. We had a spot of difficulty with the app not detecting the headset, difficulty that cleared right up by closing and restarting the app. That represents the sum total of hiccups when it came to setup. It was just a case of following the prompts, exploring the Oculus menus (in the app), and then finally trying on the headset for real. You have to do some basic navigating with the headset and a spot of flipping back and forth between a smartphone and the headset to make sure you’re connected but once you’re done, you’re done.
After that, navigation and management of the Quest can mostly be handled using the VR interface. That means popping the headset on your face, taking the controllers in hand, and shopping for apps online like you just fell out of Total Recall or a Deus Ex videogame. There are worse things you can be doing with your time. Especially since the headset’s tutorial makes navigation easier than you were expecting.
Once setup is done and you’ve browsed the online store for a few choice demos (if you don’t buy anything right away, the store will try to tempt you with a little free credit a day or two later — just sayin’) it’s time to find out how this thing actually works. Just while Beat Saber is downloading, you understand?
The tutorial program should get everyone from that friend who likes tech a little too much to a complete novice up and running, though we’d recommend a close eye and the wrist-straps for the latter. Just in case they inadvertently wreck your home. Users can mark out a section of floor for the play area, which then becomes a virtual space that the headset remembers… until you move the play space. When inside that space, you’re immersed in a virtual world. If something intrudes, or you wander out of it, the exterior cameras on the headset will pick that up. First, you’re given a wire-frame to show you’re leaving the safe area, then you’re given a grey-scale video of your surroundings so you don’t blunder about your home killing knickknacks with poorly-timed swipes.
And then… then the Oculus Quest offers up the tutorial itself. It covers everything from how to handle the controls (more on that in a second) to how you can interact with virtual objects in a virtual space. The way the Quest’s controllers turn into little hands (complete with some finger movement) is a little disconcerting, trying to remember that the table full of toys isn’t there is also a mind-bender. It took actual effort to a) remember not to put physical objects on the virtual table and b) remember that we could walk through the virtual table if we felt like it.
The controllers make or break the device. Fortunately, these work great. The thumbsticks are used for navigation or movement around the virtual space. You can walk a little, but if you’re playing a game that requires (in-game) moving around, the thumbsticks will do most of the work there. Preferably while you’re sitting and pretending you’re driving something expensive (and probably fictional).
There are standard buttons, which function the same way as video game controller buttons, but it’s the triggers found on the side and rear of the Touch controller that really do most of the work. The button under the index finger controls (weirdly) a virtual index finger. If you’re hitting any novelty buttons in a virtual space, that’s what you’ll do it with. The side-mounted trigger controls the rest of the virtual hand and it’s this button that you’ll pick things up with. Press and release and you’ll grasp and let go inside the Oculus’ virtual space. It takes a little getting used to since you’re not actually trying to let go of the Touch controller. But that’s what the wrist straps are for: So you don’t drop the toughened plastic thingies too many times.
Time to play
By the time you’re done with setup, the tutorial and control basics, you can actually start using the Quest. The main hub can be customised to some extent but we were quite taken with the mountain observatory theme that was the default. Something about the fire in the corner and the northern lights just spoke to us. You may find that you spend a surprising amount of time playing Netflix from your couch (love those cinema vibes). The Quest’s battery will last you through a movie — Avengers: Endgame, specifically, but you’ll only just squeak through. Maybe. Thankfully it doesn’t take too long to top up.
But it’s the in-motion experiences that will grab you. Star Wars fans have Vader Immortal at their disposal, but for our money Beat Saber is a brilliant first purchase. A melding of AudioSurf, Thumper and Star Wars (specifically the lightsabers), the rhythm game improves on user control of the VR space quite intuitively. The interface makes full use of the Quest’s six-axis sensors, which will see you flicking your wrists in all directions while ducking, shuffling, stepping and dodging. It feels amazing in practise, even if you look just a little bit silly doing it all. It’s all in good fun, though, as your spectators will be next on the demonstration list. And Beat Saber has a great demo available, in case you’d like a little try before you buy. Spoiler: You’re probably gonna buy.
Oculus Quest Verdict
As virtual reality hardware goes, the Oculus Quest is a fine addition to any collection (/generalgrievous). It’s powerful enough to function as a standalone VR headset but not so loaded with tech that you feel like you’ve got a head-mounted PC on. It won’t match up to the Oculus Rift or HTC’s Vive lineup in terms of raw power (and that limits the number of games you can play on it) but it’s got enough stuff to do that you won’t feel left out. And you don’t have to purchase a PC that costs twice the price of the headset to get it all running.
If you’re just exploring the world of VR, this is the best place to start. After you’ve tried out a Google Cardboard-style headset, just to make sure you’re really keen. The Quest should function for a while yet. Whatever Facebook’s planning for VR in the near future, this headset should have a place in it. In the mid-term, though, expect it to be replaced with something better, stronger, and faster. But that’s the case with smartphones every year and nobody bats an eye, so this should be fine too. The most fun you can have with the Quest, though? That’d be showing it to other people.
Display: 1,440 x 1,600 OLED x 2 (one for each eye)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Controllers: Oculus Touch x2
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, 3.5mm (audio)
Watching series' made up the bulk of our time with the Oculus Quest, for example, but that wasn't the most fun we had with it. Oh no, that was reserved for Beat Saber.