The Oculus Quest virtual reality headset can popularize VR by providing a wireless, self-contained quality gaming experience that its competitors can only dream of offering. But how does it stack up? The following are my early impressions of the hardware, especially as it compares with my beloved PlayStation VR.
The key benefit out of the box is its untethered freedom. Once the Oculus app is synced with the headset, games and apps can be purchased, downloaded and installed via either option instead of through a wired connection. Some owners report installation issues via the app, but there are relatively easy workarounds. Overall the process is simple and intuitive.
The freedom of 360-degree movement in virtual reality, however, is the big selling point. Built-in motion sensors take the place of external cameras, and the lack of wired connectivity means true unrestricted range of motion. That's something the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR can't offer, even with the multiple cameras that the former two use.
Indeed the one camera used by PSVR is pretty limiting, as players have to face forward for the most part (turning all the way around puts one in the camera's blind spot, facing an in-game grid and without motion controller tracking). Games get around this by allowing turning via controller (Skyrim), or sending foes scrambling to the front (Farpoint).
In this way, PSVR does allow an immersive virtual experience, and even manages to limit cable interference since they mostly stay behind the player. Of course Quest's design allows gamers to wholly exist in the virtual world and pivot in any direction that action requires or the game allows. For a PSVR user, this freedom is liberating.
But it doesn't come without some caveats. For one, battery power reportedly lasts for up to three hours (I think I've clocked in at somewhere between two and three before incurring a low battery warning), whereas with PSVR I've played for more than five hours straight. Game time is also a function of comfort.
The PSVR headset is so lightweight that I barely notice I'm wearing it. The Quest, on the other hand, is pretty heavy. (Understandable, as the PSVR is the least powerful of gaming headsets, whereas the Quest is basically a computer worn on your face.) It gives me a headache after a couple hours, and makes me consider the improvised counterweights that others have resorted to.
At least the straps are adjustable to allow as comfortable a custom fit as is possible with such headware. And an attachment accommodates eyeglasses inside the visor about as well as the PSVR does. One other design issue as it relates to comfort is the headphones jack on the visor -- its placement means my hands/arms get tangled in the wire more often than I'd like to admit.
Reportedly, there are Oculus headphones for the Quest that each have their own short wire, though it's one more investment. Also, some have suggested that wireless headphones might be a possibility, but the process is complicated and not guaranteed. (Note that the built-in speakers are pretty good, but I game late and use headphones to not disturb anyone.)
Another consideration is eyestrain and I'm happy to report that presentation on Quest of course is very good considering it is based on PC gaming technology. A few PSVR games are high quality such as Farpoint or Batman Arkham VR (or, reportedly, Blood & Truth), but many sacrifice presentation for gameplay on the lower performing PSVR.
While Quest supposedly sacrifices some detail and performance compared with the Rift or Vive, it's software generally has quality textures, animation, particle effects, etc., and certainly shines in comparison with PSVR. To date, I've played Vader Immortal, Robo Recall and Bogo, demos of Beat Saber and Journey of the Gods, and the First Steps tutorial.
Now, I'd love to show you the presentation via screenshots or video, but this raises an issue I have with sharing on Quest. Screen or video capture is possible, but you have to exit the game, select take a picture or record video, return to the game and select resume. There is a slight delay with a screen capture, and recordings are not retroactive (plus one has to back out again to stop a recording).
The problem with this is that timing can be crucial. What I love about PSVR is that pressing a button on the controller retroactively records 15 minutes of video, while holding the button down immediately takes a screenshot. There are also options to post immediately, or easily edit your video outside the game for start/end and time. (All are options outside PSVR as well.)
In addition, one can link to various social media like Twitter or to YouTube and post there, writing whatever accompanying copy you want. Quest, on the other hand, only allows posts to Facebook (I get it, as Facebook owns Oculus). One can link accounts like Instagram and Google, but only to view content as opposed to download from Quest, as far as I can tell.
Gamers can buy a USB adapter to connect with a PC and download content that way, or other hardware/software to effectively do the same, but I have yet to invest in those and they add another layer to the process. Of course, the PSVR visor is tethered to the PlayStation, which helps allow such ease of use; but there's no reason I shouldn't be allowed to link/download to applications besides Facebook.
I did try a workaround by casting to my smartphone while reviewing captures inside the Oculus Gallery app, but the quality of screenshots I took on my phone can't replicate the experience via the Quest. I might try casting a game and taking smartphone screenshots, though I should probably just spring for related hardware/software. [Update 6/17/19: I reactivated a FB account for the screenshots below, but the process is still cumbersome.]
Last but not least, gameplay on Quest is impressively solid, with good tracking and targeting, and quality collision and hit detection. There are random moments where I'm not credited for a hit in Beat Saber, I can't parry an attack in Vader Immortal, or I can't throw an object in Bogo properly, though I suspect these are due to my limited play space.
Of course, with any virtual reality hardware, gamers are encouraged to allow at least a 5x5 to 6x6 foot area. Mine is barely 5x5. But I rarely have an issue with PSVR. On such occasions, I might have to recalibrate weapon position when the Move controller has strayed beyond the camera's line of sight. But with Quest, I often run afoul of either the Guardian or Stationary settings.
The problem is a Catch-22. On the one hand, the spatial grid that is used for both settings is often triggered and can interfere with immersion if not also gameplay. On the other hand, the true 360-degree action keeps me pivoting enough that such a border is necessary to avoid running into or hitting objects in my room.
With PSVR I might turn my body (or use the controller to turn) but rarely have reason to move my feet. When straying too far, the screen actually goes black momentarily with a warning. Quest will show a room view, though I haven't triggered that yet. But the grid display can appear with annoying regularity.
That said, its appearance is not consistent, though it could depend on how I play each game. In Vader Immortal, my weapon swings meant the grid was practically a mainstay during combat. But in Robo Recall, I don't recall triggering the grid display, even when extending my arms to shoot or engaged in melee combat.
I haven't figured out how to disable the display, though I could extend the Guardian border farther. Either way, however, I then risk crashing into obstacles. (You might wonder why I don't play elsewhere, but I don't think there's anywhere besides our garage that might work, and I'd rather not resort to that late at night.)
The good news, besides the fact that the grid display happily does not appear in captures, is that the above issues can be addressed with hardware/software, improvisation, and relocation to a larger space (or hopefully, with software updates in some cases). They are not fatal flaws, and don't undermine the overall achievement of the hardware.
The Quest in general is a high quality standalone VR headset that releases gamers in immersive 360-degree virtual worlds with high-quality presentation and overall precise gameplay. The advantages for a PSVR user are the opportunity to play PC quality games and engage in true 360-degree action free of external camera(s) or cables.
Vader Immortal: Episode I allows enough interactivity and engaging lightsaber duels in a faithful recreation of Mustafar to ensure players feel a part of the Galactic Empire. Adjusting controls, climbing ladders and pipes, and wielding the saber feel responsive and fluid, though parrying saber strikes or laser blasts can sometimes feel a little imprecise. But the overall impression is of a thrilling Star Wars experience (the only thing missing was the opening crawl).
Robo Recall: Unplugged mixes precision gunplay, weapon variety and upgrades, satisfying melee combat and strategic teleportation in a well realized urban setting. Dismantling robots by hand and using their parts as shields or weapons is easy and a thrill, while switching guns, targeting and shooting helps gamers feel like a gunslinger. Intense action can make controls seem less responsive at times, but that's more a testament to the sheer over-the-top gameplay.
Bogo is a relatively simple yet charming pet simulator that allows players to nurture a cute animal. Picking various fruit and feeding your pet is easy with the responsive controls, as is cooking several in a pot to create different pastries, throwing them through hoops or keeping them afloat in mini games, playing fetch or petting your pet. Throwing can be imprecise, but Bogo is still a good introduction to the Oculus Touch controllers and the Quest.
Many are familiar with Beat Saber, though the demo was my first time with the game and it didn't disappoint. Only one song plays, but the catchy tune, well-synced rhythmic gameplay and flashy arcade action (that appears to be randomly generated with each play through) help keep me playing on a loop. Fast movements dominate and don't disappoint, despite an occasional dubious miss. Given the sometimes rapid-fire action, responsive movements impress.
Journey of the Gods is a fantasy action adventure game with a simple but creative cartoon-style presentation and engaging sword and crossbow combat in the demo. Add a corresponding isometric or God-view mode allowing manipulation of the environment for cover, etc., and you have a promising gameplay combination. Adding welcome strategy elements to effective melee and ranged combat should boost its entertainment value.
What do all these have in common? Immersive worlds and accompanying gameplay that is detailed, inspired, responsive and engaging. But above all, entertaining. Despite issues, Quest represents a new era of quality gaming in virtual reality, freed from physical and conceptual limitations that have restrained other hardware.
Of course there is room for improvement and both hardware and software will continue to be refined and perfected. But Quest offers a bridge between the first generation of tethered VR retail hardware and future variations that will be increasingly self-contained, user friendly and forward thinking, allowing more innovation and enjoyment.
In the meantime, while I still love my PSVR and appreciate features of the hardware that are relatively more accessible, Quest represents a vision of virtual reality that a wider audience might be more inclined to adopt. Both have benefits and my hope for the medium is that Oculus and others will incorporate the best of prior versions in the quest for a perfect system.
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