Poisonous and unethical: One evening with Fb’s Oculus Quest 2 was sufficient
As both a professional technologist and an end-user, I try not to introduce too many personal biases when I try out technology — at least currently. In the past, I have had issues with certain tech companies, such as Apple, which resulted in a decade-long aversion to using their products.
In the case of Apple, it took the intervention of an employer in 2018 to turn me from a committed, dyed-in-the-wool Windows user into a Mac user. I make no excuses or apologies for my previous comments about Apple, and the Mac platform under Steve Jobs — what I experienced was legitimate. But since then, I feel the company has undergone a significant transformation under Tim Cook. I also had an experience and a condition that the Apple Watch brought to the surface that I must acknowledge, as it almost certainly saved my life.
So yes, people’s relationships with products can change, and the companies themselves can change. But sometimes, you need radical change on either or both sides for those things to happen.
Let’s take, for example, the OculusQuest 2 virtual reality headset made by Facebook — which is now branded as a Meta product.
I have already gone on record that I refuse to be part of Mark Zuckerberg’s “Metaverse.” But that construct, as an end-state, doesn’t exist yet; it’s primarily conceptual and has some limited demos and apps, in the form of the company’s Horizon platform, for now.
My Jason Squared colleague, Jason Cipriani, told me that he had an opportunity to play with an Oculus Quest 2 recently, and he was pleasantly surprised by it. I didn’t think of trying one — in fact, I was dead set against it until I participated in a heated Twitter Spaces talk last week with Robert Scoble.
Suffice it to say, they twisted my arm a bit for having outdated notions of what consumer VR could be used for, and I relented. Indeed, I feel VR has many great vertical industry applications, but I have grave reservations about letting any company, let Mark Zuckerberg alone, determine its future.
So I ordered one of the units from Costco, the 256GB upper-end model for $400 — and when it showed up a week later, I tried it out over the weekend.
First, let me say right up front that Oculus Quest 2’s technology stack is disruptive. I had not appreciated just how much consumer VR tech had advanced in the last several years, although I did get to look at Magic Leap, which I found underwhelming. Microsoft’s Hololens 2with which I have spent some quality time, is impressive, but it is also a vertical market product, not a consumer one.
The $300-$400 price point of the Oculus Quest 2 is without question where VR needs to be to gain mass adoption. My own experience using it, from a purely technical perspective, was positive; had any other company made this product — be it Google, Samsung, or Microsoft — I probably would have kept it.
There are certainly some deficiencies in this device that I think can only improve with successive iterations and improvements in the underlying components, such as the display unit, which needs the most work. The images on the dual stereoscopic displays (1832×1920) and content looked heavily pixelated when using eyeglasses and the supplied eyeglass spacer.
While this is sharper than my 1080p 70-inch TV, it’s a different experience when these displays are millimeters away from your eyeballs, and you get to see every single imperfection and individual pixel. This was especially true when looking at the user interface elements, which run on an OS that is a derivative of Android. While it was “Good Enough” for some of the games I tried, I could not sit and watch anything feature-length on Netflix or Amazon Prime — the two main content suppliers — as it was fuzzy, and the experience became headache- inducing quite quickly. I also found the audio quality with the built-in surround headset was lacking and not strong enough.
The system’s Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 SoC, released in September of 2020, is hardly cutting-edge; while it is optimized for VR, it only has 6GB of RAM, and at times the experience felt sluggish as it was loading and caching data in certain apps, especially Meta’s own Horizon platform ones for live events.
The system uses an app store-style model in which just about everything is bought without trying. Many games and apps cost more than $30, with few free experiences. (EDIT: Has come to my attention that you can get a refund on apps for two hours post-purchase, so caveat emptor and watch your time on the Oculus Store).
Additionally, based on feedback I have received from owners of Oculus products going back to the original versions, many apps, such as Netflix VR, have not been significantly updated in years and have gone stale. As an ecosystem, it is highly stagnant except for a few premium developers, such as Lucasarts/Disney, which produces the Vader Immortal series — which I tested out and enjoyed immensely — but it’s not exclusive to the Oculus platform; it exists on PlayStation as well.
At the product’s current price point the product, I could have tolerated some of these things to get more exposure to the ecosystem and learn more about consumer VR if another company was behind it. But because Meta is behind the Oculus, you need a Facebook ID currently to make anything work (although this requirement is supposed to be lifted in the future) and your data is still being collected and used by Meta.
Login IDs aside, Mark Zuckerberg and his sympathizers will guide this unethical company for the foreseeable future; that is just too much of a price to pay. Until this company undergoes some radical leadership changes and is made to behave ethically, I cannot participate in its VR ecosystem.
From unpacking the unit in the afternoon that it was delivered to charging it, setting it up, and using it for a total of about eight hours, I decided that I had enough. The following afternoon, I factory reset it, boxed it up, and brought it back to Costco.
Did using the Quest 2 want me to look into Virtual Reality more? Absolutely. If Google releases a similar product, I will buy one at a similar price point even with my existing support issues. If Apple releases a product like this, I’ll jump on it in an instant as I would with Microsoft if they decide to release a consumer Hololens. I might even consider one from Sony. But I’m done with anything made by Meta.
Does Meta’s involvement in Oculus put too much of a bad taste in your mouth? Talk Back and Let Me Know.