Despite what the usual negative people have to say about it, it’s clear to anyone with eyes that VR technology has finally reached the point where it is ready for prime time. Market uptake has however been slower than one would like.
A lot of this has to do with the cost of VR, especially premium VR. Which means that consumer-friendly products such as the PSVR and various mobile VR solutions have probably done more to keep VR in the minds of the public than elite products like the Rift and Vive.
Now we’re seeing just about everyone come out with a standalone VR headset. One where all hardware is built in. No computer, no smartphone insertion. Just one dedicated VR device.
The problem with most of these products is that they lack the sort of horsepower for compelling VR. Don’t get me wrong, a product like the Oculus Go isn’t bad at all. It’s affordable and provides great casual VR experiences. For most people, this is going to be the only VR device that they need.
For those of us looking for a beefier standalone VR experience, Oculus has announced the Oculus Quest, which will be launching in 2019. There’s a lot to go over here, so buckle up for what might be the HMD that kickstarts mainstream VR for real!
The Technical Details
For me, the most important detail is that this headset uses “inside out” tracking. Something we first encountered with a hands-on session with the Windows Mixed Reality headset.
This is one of the best things to happen to VR and AR. The technology uses cameras mounted on the HMD itself to watch the room around you and use that to precisely locate the headset in space. This means you don’t need external tracking cameras and can have true 6DoF, which most standalone headsets (or mobile HMDs in general) don’t have. It also means that room-scale tracking is a given, greatly increasing the types of VR experiences that are possible. The Quest has four cameras for positional tracking. Presumably, we’ll see some AR applications as well, but I haven’t seen much talk of this yet. There was a major arena demo which seemed to use boxes with markers to generate obstacles in-game. No one knows if that’s using AR technology or not.
Right now, the Quest is the most powerful standalone VR headset in existence. It uses the Snapdragon 835 chipset found in high-end smartphones that cost twice as much as the Quest itself. While the 835 is no longer the top SoC in Qualcomm’s stable, it’s still very recent and very powerful. At least for a mobile chipset. Obviously, if you want to compare the Quest to the Rift in pure performance terms there is no limit. You could hook the Rift up to a supercomputer if you had the money for it. I don’t think that’s a fair comparison to make in general, but we’ll get to that later. The Quest has two 1600×1440 OLED screens, which is lovely. It uses the lenses from the Go but does include Rift-like IPD adjustment.
It also comes with two Oculus Touch controllers, which fits with the marketing of an “all-in-one” VR product. While the controllers have internal motion sensors, The cameras in the HMD also track LEDs on these controllers in the same way that Microsoft’s system does.
In terms of connectivity, there are two headphone jacks and a USB C port for charging, but it also supports data transfer so you can move media files and such to it.
At $399 for the base model of the Quest, this is a sweet spot product. Apart from software, the only cost of the system is the price you see. No PC, no additional hardware. You get it all. That’s something sure to galvanize more people into buying VR, but it’s going to need excellent third-party support. To funnel money that would have gone to Nintendo or Sony towards the Quest.
The good news is that Oculus knows this, and with the Oculus Go, they have made a point of offering plenty of third-party games and software.
What would really turn the Quest into a killer product for us though, is allowing for tethering through the USB-C port. On paper, this is an HMD that can provide a core VR experience on par with the Rift. It just needs more horsepower.
Allowing a “Rift Mode” for the Quest would make it an absolute must buy. I don’t think this will happen soon however, since it would eat into Rift sales like crazy. For casual, mainstream VR consumers the Quest is shaping up to be the perfect product. For VR enthusiasts it’s a product we’ll have to buy in addition to out premium HMDs. That sucks, but the Quest itself is a VR headset whose time has come.