The year 2020 might end up being as important to modern commercial VR as the year 2016. In 2016 we finally saw the consumer VR could be good. It could be immersive, believable and fantastic as more than just a party trick. Unfortunately it was also incredibly expensive, at least in terms of premium VR experiences. Since very few people could afford the headsets and high-end computers needed for proper VR, we very quickly saw cheaper takes on the technology. Smartphone VR, using add-on headset shells. In general, this was both a good way to introduce people to VR and also a great way to make them think that VR sucks.
Some mobile VR solutions were actually pretty good. The Samsung Gear VR worked pretty well, especially for apps such as the Netflix VR experience. Which was a great way to pretend you lived somewhere much nicer than you do.
Now we have dedicated mobile VR headsets, such as the affordable mainstream Oculus Go and premium VR is more affordable than ever, if still rather pricey. Then we have the Oculus Quest. What started as a premium standalone VR headset is shaping up to be the future of VR and if you were planning on finally getting into VR this coming year, there are a few things you should know about this disruptive device.
It’s a Totally Standalone Product
All you need to use and enjoy an Oculus Quest is what you get in the box and an internet connection. It’s a standalone device that has its own dedicated hardware built in. This includes the powerful Snapdragon 835 system on a chip. Liberated from the thermal limitations of a smartphone body and the overhead needed to also run the basic functions of a smartphone.
The Quest has better optics than the desktop version, a VR-specific screen with high-resolution image quality and varying amounts of internal storage space, depending on which model you buy,
Even better, this headset has proper motion tracking along all axes using inside-tracking with onboard cameras. Hardware motion controllers are also a default part of the kit. Which means that you get a system that is far more immersive than premium VR kits from just a year or two ago. The only real limitation is that the mobile hardware doesn’t hold a candle to the powerful hardware inside the typical gaming PC these days. Which, it should be noted, can be upgraded as time goes by, without the need to replace your VR headset every time you want more oomph.
It’s Got a Robust Software Library
The Oculus Quest is meant to be a sort of VR games console, where you buy the hardware and then buy software titles for it. Facebook, Oculus’ parent company, was well aware that the would not sell many headsets if people could not buy games and apps for the device. After all, no matter how good your hardware is, it’s just a paperweight if it doesn’t have any actual software.
The good news is that if you buy a Quest today, there’s plenty to try and buy in the online store. The library has been growing since the original Gear VR helped Oculus figure out what people wanted from mobile VR. It shares a library with the lower-end Oculus Quest and of course, has its own exclusive titles.
It’s Getting Incredible New Features
So far, so good. The Quest is probably the best standalone VR headset you can buy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the one you should buy. The Go is much cheaper and does a great job of handling basic mobile VR experiences.
The Quest occupies a weird niche of pretty good pseudo-premium VR that’s possible with its hardware, but if you also want premium VR it’s a large total bill.
That’s about to change however, thanks to the new features the Quest will soon receive via a software update.
The first is a form of camera-based hand tracking. This means that your hands are digitised and put into the VR experience. So you can interact without using controllers. People who have tested this (currently) Beta feature say it works pretty well. It could certainly make the Quest much more versatile as a mobile VR headset. For applications where the absolute precision and button-variety of the controllers isn’t needed.
The real headline news is however the introduction of Oculus Link. The Quest has a USB-C ports used for charging, but it’s also a proper data port. Now Oculus will essentially turn the Quest into an Oculus Rift using that port.
It Could Be The Only VR Headset You Need
Using the Link function, users can access the full spectrum of PC-based VR Apps currently enjoyed by Rift owners. While I expect Oculus to release more advanced versions of the premium tethered headsets we know today over time, this move makes it hard to justify buying anything other than an Oculus Quest. It is the best of both worlds and, overall, the most cost-effective way to enter the world of premium VR. We expect the Link feature to go public early in 2020, so if you are currently thinking about buying a Vive, Rift or other tethered system, it would be a good idea to wait for a little and see whether the Link feature pans out the way it’s been promised. If it works as advertised, the game will fundamentally change.