Oculus Quest 2 Evaluate: VR Lastly Goes Mainstream
Welcome, mainstream America, to VR 2.0!
Six years, $3 billion dollars, one shuttered content studio, and eight headsets later (if you’re counting Samsung’s GearVR), Oculus and its parent company Facebook have finally won the consumer VR race.
With the Quest 2, its new standalone, wireless VR headset, the company has created a product that’s convenient, affordable, and dead simple to set up and use in that “iPhone-for-Dummies way” perfected by Apple. The Quest 2 is, simply put, VR finally done right, and until Sony comes along with a wireless PlayStation VR 2 headset in a couple of years, the market is now Oculus’ alone to dominate.
So don’t be surprised when you see breathless headlines declaring the Quest 2 is sold out, impossible to find, and selling for way above its starting price of $299 from eBay profiteers. This is one high-tech toy that’ll be topping the majority of your holiday shopping lists, and yes, that’s even with the impending debut of Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation video game consoles. In fact, I’d wager that both of those titans of gaming have more to be concerned with Oculus than each other. The same goes for Nintendo, too. Don’t sleep on the Quest 2, because Facebook isn’t taking this one casually.
What’s in the box and other “need to knows”
The base Quest 2, which is available to pre-order now and will release on Oct. 13, offers an ample 64GB of storage space paired with 6GB of RAM, which I found was more than enough to fit about 36 installed apps and still have 1.6GB left to spare. But if you’re willing to part with just $100 more, you can upgrade that configuration to 256GB and download apps, games, and experiences with nary a care. Regardless of which version you opt for, you’re also getting 3D positional audio integrated into the Quest 2’s head straps, a Snapdragon XR2 chipset purpose-built for VR and AR, a spacer for eyeglass wearers, a USB-C charging cable and brick, plus six degrees of freedom head and hand tracking made possible by the Quest 2’s four headset-mounted cameras.
Unlike the futuristic stylings of the current PSVR with its halo band and white and black color scheme, the all-white Quest 2, punctuated only by its four inbuilt cameras, is boring by comparison. There’s just not all that much to get excited about in the design department here. And really, I think that’s the point. So while Sony gets major kudos for style, it’s really all about the experience, and the understated Quest 2 nails it on that front. Even the Oculus logo is barely visible on the front of the headset.
The power button sits on the right side of the Quest 2.
On the right side of the Quest 2, just under the head strap, is where you’ll find the power button. Follow the headset’s curve from this button to the base, and you’ll come across the volume rocker. The USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the left side of the Quest 2, again, just beneath the head strap. And that’s it — there are no confusing sliders, panels, or unnecessary buttons.
Then, of course, there are the Touch controllers. They still require AA batteries to operate (one apiece) and, thankfully, Oculus has included those in the box, so you won’t rush to unpack it and then find yourself needing to run out to CVS. Their updated design retains the familiar tracking ring from the OG Quest, but now borrows some of the ergonomic thumb placement from the Rift. It also features improved haptics, and a longer battery life. How much longer? It’s unclear… but after two weeks of using the Quest 2, the battery level indicator for my controllers still lists them both at “100%.” In other words, it’s pretty good.
The Touch controller grips are, however, a bit too stubby for my man-hands, and left me with a moderate feeling of cramping after an extended play session. Your experience will, of course, vary. But if there’s any one thing I’d want Oculus to improve on the Quest 2 — apart from boosting its current 72Hz / future 90Hz refresh rate — it’s the controller design. Oculus, make those grips thicker and longer, and please try to ape the fantastic palm strap from Valve’s Index VR controllers. I don’t want to have to constantly claw those Touch controllers.
The Touch controllers could do with a slight ergonomic overhaul.
As for the Quest 2’s battery, it’s mostly unchanged, and still nets you a little over two hours’ worth of playtime when gaming, and about three hours with more passive, media-consuming activities. That’s based both on Oculus’ own battery ratings and my real-world testing. The upside to that limited battery life is that the included USB-C cable will top up the Quest 2’s battery in about three hours’ time, so you won’t have to wait long to get back in and explore. Besides, you shouldn’t be spending more than three nonstop hours in VR anyway, so it kind of effectively forces a healthy limit.
Power on, Strap in, Wile out
There’s nearly zero barrier to entry when you first open up the Quest 2’s box, and I can’t stress enough how refreshing that is. Unlike something more involved — like Valve’s Index, which requires setting up, mounting, and troubleshooting the placement of its base tracking stations, in addition to plugging in several cords and HMD power supply, and charging the controllers — you merely take the Quest 2 out of the box, power it on, and you’re basically done. Alright, there’s a wee bit more to it than that, but I promise it’s pretty much a pain-free experience.
To ensure users get the clearest viewing experience possible and reduce eye strain, Oculus has included the ability to manually set the Quest 2’s interpupillary distance (IPD), or for those of you that speak English, it’s the distance between the centers of your pupils. There are three different settings for this — 58mm, 63mm, 68mm — that you can toggle by grabbing the lenses within the headset and shifting them to the right or left. The Quest 2 is set to 63mm by default. Oculus claims these three settings should cover about 95 percent of people who don the Quest 2, which should quell your IPD-related anxieties some (if you even have any).
You can adjust your desired IPD setting by shifting the lenses to one of three positions.
After connecting the Quest 2 to your WiFi and downloading updates for the headset and controllers, you’ll also need to pair the device with the Oculus app on your phone, and log in with Facebook — a requirement the company’s mandating for all new Oculus headsets, starting with the Quest 2. That last bit is a major bummer for those of us that crave privacy in this digitally invasive world and don’t want reams of personal data being sent back to Mark Zuckerberg. But it’s the price you have to pay to play with the Quest 2. So, either be smart (and wary) about connecting it to your Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp usage, or throw caution to the wind and assume there’s no such thing as privacy anymore, so who cares?
Once you get all of that initial setup done, the last crucial thing you’ll need to do is determine your Guardian boundary. The Guardian’s transparent tiled grid is Oculus’ way of ensuring you don’t smash into walls or objects in your IRL living space while completely immersed in its virtual worlds. And it’s actually really fun to set up. Simply point your Touch controller at the ground and draw either a 6.5ft x 6.5ft roomscale boundary or opt for a smaller stationary one. If, at any point, you pop out of the determined Guardian boundary, the Quest 2’s passthrough camera will quickly kick in, giving you a fuzzy, greyscale 3D feed of your surroundings.
Interestingly and somewhat counterintuitively, I found that I preferred to use the wireless Quest 2 while seated in my rolling, swiveling desk chair, allowing me to spin around in every direction without getting tangled up in a long cord. Contrast that with my Index usage, which normally has me standing with my feet firmly planted on a cushioned exercise mat (so I’m aware of my orientation within my roomscale boundary), and constantly thwacking its connected cord out of my way. Let me be clear: I love my Index, but I do not love the necessary inconvenience of its cords.
Hertz hurts if it’s not high enough
Yes, you can play with the Quest 2 outdoors, but there’s no guarantee you’ll look this dope.
While we’re still on the subject of the Index, let’s talk about refresh rates.
Earlier this year (which, admittedly, now seems like four years ago because, ugh, 2020!), I built a PC to run Valve’s Index. I didn’t do this because I had extra money to burn, although you will burn money for the privilege. Rather, I did it because after covering the VR 2.0 industry since 2013 and suffering through more than my fair share of VR sickness episodes, I came to realize that the only way forward for me was to embrace super high refresh rates. In the world of VR, a higher refresh rate equals smoother motion, lower latency, and reduced or nonexistent nausea. The Index, which is currently like the Porsche of VR, offers users the ability to swap between 90Hz, 120Hz, and even 144Hz should the specifications of their rigs support it. My Index is set to 120Hz, and I’ve never had a moment of queasiness since — not even with more intense, physics-based games like Boneworks or Jet Island (my personal fave!).
The Quest 2, however, is currently limited to 72Hz, which, for someone sensitive like me, is not ideal, but will be upgraded to the 90Hz sweet spot in the future. At launch, users will be able to toggle 90Hz on within the device’s Experimental Features system setting, but that refresh rate only applies to Oculus Home, Explore, Store, TV, and the browser. At some point after the Quest 2 launches, Oculus will enable developers to deliver apps that support 90Hz. Oculus will even enable this as default via a system software update before the end of the year. And for those of you Quest users clinging to Oculus Link cables — a must for playing more demanding PC-based games locked to the Rift platform — the company will also enable 90Hz support, though no timetable was offered for that.
The Touch controllers are powered by AA batteries, but you can also just use your hands if you want to. No batteries required.
All of which is to say that if you know you’re susceptible to VR sickness, you may have some slight — and I mean slight — discomfort when using the Quest 2. Personally, I found that I could last within the Quest 2 for its entire two-hour gaming runtime with just the barest hint of nausea. It never impacted me so much that I wanted to avoid the headset altogether — far from it, actually. I’m a fan of the Quest 2 and I’ll probably upgrade that adoration to “stan” when 90Hz support is fully unleashed.
This is your “home” inside of Quest 2.
When you first enter Oculus Home, which is what your virtual base of operations is called, you’ll see a floating window just in front of you. It’s from here that you’ll be able to view your Oculus ID and real Facebook name, design your avatar, and search the store for apps. By clicking the Touch controller’s Oculus button, you can also bring up a smaller dashboard that’s closer to your field of view with the ability to check your battery levels at a glance, as well as gain quick access to Profile, Apps, People, Notifications, Sharing, and Settings tabs.
There are a handful of apps immediately available to install on the Quest 2, but most of these, like Space Pirate Trainer, First Steps, and Bogo, are essentially “VR for beginners” titles, designed to help you get acquainted with moving and interacting within the virtual space. If this isn’t your first rodeo with VR, then feel free to ignore these apps, and head straight to the Oculus store for the meatier stuff.
These are my recommendations:
Vader Immortal series
I’m far from the most ardent Star Wars fan, but if you even have the slightest love for the universe that George Lucas created and Disney bought, then I heavily recommend ponying up the cash for all three episodes of ILMxLab’s Vader Immortal series. A word of caution, however: I did, at one point, get so involved in swatting back beams from approaching StormTroopers’ blasters with my lightsaber that I bashed the fingers of my right hand full-on into my nearby desk. And I deserved it — the Quest 2 had warned me that I was using a roomscale Guardian in a space that did not adhere to the 6.5ft x 6.5ft boundary (i.e., my kitchen), but I forged ahead anyway and paid the price for my foolishness.
Forget video chats. This is the way to work from home.
This one’s more for the productivity-focused folks who think VR is neat for games, but are way more psyched to use it for virtual teleconferencing. And in this time of pandemic-enforced quarantine (for many of us, anyway), it’s an excellent solution to the more staid, 2D video chats we’re all suffering through during our work weeks.
In fact, Spatial’s collaborative space lets you chat and interact with coworkers, goof off, browse the web, search and share images, integrate Slack, pull up presentation deks, type using voice dictation, explore and inhabit 3D mockups, and even share your virtual meeting room with boring, non-VR types stuck in front of a webcam and browser. You can even generate an avatar based on a photo of yourself, or if you’re like me, you’ll assume the identity of Oscar Wilde’s notorious lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and creep everyone out in the process.
I never quite got to finish watching the last Netflix-produced season of Arrested Development, but I managed it with Netflix’s app for the Quest 2. This is one of the lesser VR experiences you can try that places you within a virtual living room in front of a large screen “TV.” There’s not much to it really, and I vastly prefer watching any film or TV show on an actual TV IRL. That said, it certainly would come in handy if you were stuck on a plane or an Amtrak train, and wanted to block out the surrounding human fracas that is economy class. (Remember those days?)
Prime Video VR
Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted
Oh, hi scary animatronic thing from my childhood nightmares!
I have no problem admitting that I’m a scaredy cat. I sleep with a night light on, I don’t watch horror movies, and the words “Carol Anne” when spoken aloud will send me running to cover any nearby mirror with a sheet or blanket. All of which is to say that I couldn’t get very far in Five Nights at Freddy’s VR experience because giant, menacing, and demonic animatronic animals stalking you in the pitch black is a little much for me. Besides, it also reminds me of Razz-Ma-Tazz, an old New York metropolitan area Chuck E. Cheese clone of which I have not-so-fond childhood memories.
I do NOT get down with Linkin Park. It’s important that you know that.
Find me a person who doesn’t enjoy Beat Saber, and I’ll find you a person who thinks Angela Merkel is a laugh riot. They don’t exist! In case you weren’t aware, Beat Saber is a rhythm game that places two lightsabers in your hands which you use to cut down blocks set to the tempo of some good, and some cringingly bad, EDM tracks. Regardless of your taste in music, you’ll have a good time unintentionally exercising with this one. And you might even get a little sweaty, too.
Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination…
Think of Horizon as the next evolution of Facebook — the one that goes beyond a 2D news feed rife with misinformation. It’s more of a social world wherein you can create games, experiences, and meet up spaces with other like-minded virtual folk. It’s a delight to romp around in if you can manage to get an invite from Facebook to test it out.
I recently spent some time in this mashup of PlayStation Dreams meets Animal Crossing in Second Life, and I can’t wait to go back for more.
This one gets an “A” for adorable. As the titular “Ghost Giant,” you get to help the wee and woebegone, cat-like creature Louis, and help him navigate his obstacle-ridden world. It’s the perfect escape for VR-heads who aren’t in the mood for much action or movement. Ghost Giant is a mostly stationary experience, with the world unfolding around you.
It’s like LSD, but in the form of a trance-y video game.
I consider this one a “meditative shooter.”
Do you like flying through psychedelic worlds set to trance music using the direction of your head for navigation as you attempt to shoot down fantastical creatures that look as if they’ve leapt out of a tab of LSD? Yeah, me too.
If you don’t already have a PCVR headset, then Rez Infinite on Quest 2 is the only way to play.
Pew pew! But set to music.
More rhythm VR goodness, but this time with guns! There’s a lot more musical variety to Pistol Whip, and you can even cheat a bit with the addition of modifiers, like dual-wielding guns. Like Beat Saber, this one will also give you a workout… while you dodge incoming bullets, and rock out to whatever backing track accompanies your selected world.
Hand tracking was first introduced as an experimental feature on the OG Quest, but it’s now an alternative controller input on the Quest 2. To enable it, you need to access the Hands app, and then opt-in for tracking. Yes, Facebook needs to collect data on your hands’ size and movement to better improve the feature. What did you expect?
While it’s not yet a foolproof solution — many apps will prompt you to switch back to the Touch controllers before starting up — it does come in handy for those moments when you don’t want to fish your controllers out of their resting place, and just need to do some light browsing. To select apps, or key button presses, you merely need to pinch your thumb and pointer finger together. Hold that pinch and drag your hand up, down, or left to right, and you can scroll through menus and web pages. It’s awful for typing on a virtual keyboard, but great for some low-level browsing.
Accessories, links, and other comfort add-ons
Upgrade yourself and get the Elite head strap (with battery) for a little extra cash.
The included soft-touch head strap is probably my least favorite thing about the Quest 2’s design. I just can never adjust it properly to get it to sit right on my head. That’s also due to how the headset’s weight is distributed — it’s front-loaded and tends to bother me after a prolonged session.
But there’s hope! Oculus is aware that its head strap is a pain point for some, and is offering a $50 Elite Strap that’s more akin to what you’d find on Index or PSVR. For $130, you can get an Elite Strap with a built-in battery that doubles the longevity of your Quest 2, and comes with a carrying case for the headset.
If you happen to be one of those folks with wider or narrower face shapes that just don’t jibe with Oculus’ standard Quest 2 facial solution, you can opt for the $40 Fit Pack. This includes two light blockers, and two swappable facial interfaces.
The Quest 2 is made to be knocked around. But if you want to be precious about it, get a carrying case.
Now, for those of you who have already amassed a library of PCVR titles, are current Rift owners, or simply are curious to play some of the more demanding VR titles that just aren’t available to Quest 2 at the moment, there is the $80 Oculus Link cable. This official USB 3.0 Type-C cable measures about 16ft in length and is optimized for delivering experiences like the excellent Asgard’s Wrath at low latency. There are, of course, much cheaper third-party solutions available online — just be sure to do your homework or you’re in for a barf fest.
If you haven’t already figured it out by now, the Quest 2 is pretty much a home run for Oculus and Facebook. Clearly, both companies have been paying attention to user feedback and the burgeoning VR market, and have used that insight to craft the closest thing to perfect that we can expect for wireless VR right now. That is, until Sony gets around to announcing and releasing a wireless PSVR 2.
It’s going to be hard for rivals to compete with the Quest 2 when it launches on Oct. 13 — it’s at an absolute steal of a price point. I mean, this holiday season you can either spend $299 on a Quest 2, or $299 for an Xbox Series S, or $299 for a Nintendo Switch. Only one of those you can strap to your head to enter a 3D world (Labo doesn’t count!); only one of those will let you meet up and interact with friends in virtual spaces of your own (or other’s) creation; only one of those will let you use your bare hands to navigate its spaces; and only one of those will immerse you in new and exciting gameplay worlds. Besides, our actual world is kinda, sorta basically hot garbage right now, so who doesn’t want to don a VR headset and disappear for two or three hours at a time?
Expect to see the Quest 2 sold out after launch.
Then again, it is a Facebook product, which… yuck. There’s just no getting around the grim reality of that one, and the forced requirement to log in to Oculus with your Facebook account. To use the Quest 2 or any future Oculus VR device is to let Zuck and co. sip on your personal data like a leisurely Bellini on a hot Tuscan summer day.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the past few years, then you know the risks involved with playing fast and loose with your personal data in exchange for amusement. So, please don’t go crying foul when the inevitable VR privacy scandal rears its head at some point in the not-too-far-off dystopian future and your info is caught in the crosshairs. There is no “Now a warning” moment after you’ve purchased, strapped on, and signed into Facebook with the Quest 2. You’ve already been warned an ample amount of times.
Your data, your choice.
So choose wisely.