Oculus Quest Review

Virtual Reality is one of those novelties that keeps going in and out of style, with new generations and new technologies upping the ante and then a disinterested general public will combine with poorly-funded and slow-selling software that winds up killing everything off. But previously-popular phone manufacturer HTC released the Vive in partnership with Valve Software in April of 2016, and with the SteamVR platform inside of the hugely-popular PC game store Steam, it looked like things were going to get serious and this time VR would hang around for good.

But in many ways, it has not. While new headsets have gotten released repeatedly for the last four years, each with different feature sets, controller designs, and stores and platforms they ran on, any big game or app development is usually something that hasn't paid off. And only just recently, Valve Software has released Half Life: Alyx on SteamVR, which is best played in their opinion with their own in-house manufactured Valve Index headset. It's not the first full-priced game made for a VR platform, but it is the first one that is exclusively made for VR and actually feels like a true blockbuster game.

So after four years since the most recent VR revival started by Valve and HTC, VR finally has its first big-name game. But is that where the market really is? In $1500+ gaming PCs, thousand dollar headsets, and games that take many hours of play in order to feel a sense of completion? Three or so years ago, I'd have said yes. But after playing with the Oculus Quest, I'm changing my tune.

The Basics


The Oculus Quest is a standalone VR headset that truly, literally stands alone - as in, it does not require a PC to run, and can work entirely without wires or tethers. It's got basically some high-end (for 2019) phone hardware in it running all of the processing and graphics, a decent-but-not-amazing 60hz screen that delivers 1440x1600 pixels per eye, and a couple of slightly cheap feeling yet solid controllers that include thumbsticks, two triggers, and two buttons each. There are no separate tracking devices, as the headset does the tracking itself of where it is in the environment and of any peripherals like the controllers. The price tag is $399 for the 64GB model, and $499 for the 128GB model.  Note that the storage is not expandable by the user, but you'll find that most games are under 1GB each, so plenty of games can be loaded up with no issue and can easily be removed and re-installed as needed.

The Oculus Quest headset and controllers
Now, anyone who's played anything on an HTC Vive or better headset on a PC is probably scoffing at these specs, but as someone who has only light sensitivity to VR motion sickness or other issues, I've found no problems with the Quest's 72hz display, and the lenses are much clearer than the ones that shipped with the original HTC Vive. The controllers use simple AA batteries, which I have no problem with as a pack of rechargeable batteries is cheap, and the headset is light and comfortable with velcro-like straps on the top and sides. You won't be getting premium headphones or anything crazy here, as there are some small stereo speakers built into the headset that do a decent job of getting the sound into your ears. (For those who do want to get serious, though, a headphone jack is included.)

The headset includes a manual slider for interpupillary distance, which can help users with different head sizes focus and get a clearer image. When the slider is adjusted, a digital display pops up showing the exact distance in millimeters - this is good to have once you know your IPD and want to just dial it in quickly after someone else has been playing. The headset itself is admittedly a bit front-heavy and can be liable to droop and sort of hang forward, putting pressure on the user's nose just a bit if not cinched a bit tightly with the included modern hook-and-loop fasteners on the top and both sides. Overall I wouldn't say I had a real problem with this, and I while I did realize after some amount of time playing that I was readjusting the Quest headset on my head fairly often, I can admit also was doing the same with my HTC Vive and even did so just as much with its Deluxe Audio Strap accessory that many consider to be the gold standard in VR headset comfort. So maybe it's just the overall feel of having a VR headset attached to my face that was causing me to keep readjusting.

The controllers are simple, lightweight devices whose positions are tracked by the headset. They each include a traditional thumbstick, two buttons, a trigger, a squeeze button, a menu button, and built in lanyards so they don't go flying out of your hands, and they're each powered by either one or two AA batteries. Overall I love the feel of these controllers and like the lightness of them when using only one battery in each. It took some getting used to them especially when putting them on, as they are molded each for the left and right hands, but it didn't take long.

Unplug and Play


One of the most delightful surprises I continually am tickled by with the Oculus Quest is the ease of getting into VR with it. If you've been using the headset prior and hadn't run the battery down to zero, all you have to do to jump back in is put the headset back on and grab the controllers. You don't even have to press anything - you're back doing what you were when you pulled the headset off last. There's no need to even press any buttons - the headset pops out of sleep automatically, the controllers turn on by themselves, and you're in.

If you're in an environment (say, the living room) that the Quest has been in before and successfully recognizes, the Guardian (a wireframe-based warning system that pops up during gameplay to let you know you're getting to close to the boundaries you set in the real world) pops back up automatically; if it doesn't, it turns on a grayscale camera allowing you to see your world around you through the headset, then requires you to spend a few seconds to "paint" the Guardian's new safe area on the floor while the headset stays on.

The Quest headset tracks the movement
of itself, your controllers and even your
hands with its camera array.
Considering that I've skipped bothering with VR on my HTC Vive so many times because of the hassle of having to power on the living room PC, change to the right activity in my fancy universal remote, set the volume appropriately, launch SteamVR and often then mess around with SteamVR's audio settings which magically keep getting lost, then remember whether my controllers have been charged recently, and then I'm in (and I haven't even talked about the TPCast wireless adapter I integrated in a couple years ago and its additional steps required to get going) - yeah, the idea of putting on a headset and playing within a few seconds is really appealing to me right now.

A beautiful user-made creation inside
of Google's Tilt Brush ($19.99).
Just to reinforce this point: my five-year-old daughter started playing around in Tilt Brush on the Quest, something I've been reluctant to set her up with on the Vive due to all the setup required just to get her in for the 15 minutes she'll want to play before attention deficit kicks in, and she is perfectly capable of taking the headset off when she wants, go do other things, then come back and put the headset back on and resume play without needing help. I don't think there's much of a better show of the Quest's ease of use than a little kid being able to pick everything up and play by themselves. Just about the only thing I have to remember to do is keep the headset itself at a decent charge level with the included USB cable and wall charger.

Software Interface


VR can be disorienting and confusing, so it's important that the core software that runs everything stays out of the way when it's not needed, but be ready to pop up at a moment's notice. Here, the Oculus team have done an excellent job, with a simple menu that's easy to access from the right controller's menu button - which is placed on the controller so that you almost never accidentally hit it. From here, you can change quick settings, switch games, jump into and buy games from the store, and do a host of other things. The text is easy to read, the interface works great when pointing at items with either controller and pulling the main trigger to select them, and overall it's just a pleasure to use.

The games themselves each have their own interfaces, and some of these work better than others - but that's not something that the Oculus folks have any real power over other than I'll say that their store isn't full of junk games and apps (or at least, that's not a thing yet). They have given developers all the tools needed, however, so if there's something janky or weird in a game, most of the time I'd say that it's the fact that many VR games are made by small teams with small- and medium-sized budgets at the most.

The Oculus Store & Software Support


Robo Recall Unplugged by
Drifter Entertainment ($29.99)
The Oculus Quest by default comes pre-loaded with a couple of simple games and demos, and then it's off to the store, which is run separately from VR stores run by any other company, Steam included. (You can actually play SteamVR games on the Quest if you have a gaming PC and a setup for it - more on that later.) Many of the most popular VR games that have hit PlayStation VR and SteamVR are available here, although SteamVR is still the platform with the most games, and at least some of the best experiences won't be making it here - like, personally, I wish there were native versions of more of the harder-hitting and violent games like Gorn or Blade & Sorcery. Still, having the ability to play hits like Beat SaberThrill of the FightRec Room VRSUPERHOT VRTilt BrushJob SimulatorPistol Whip, and dozens more helps. Plus, Oculus has their own exclusives like Vader Immortal and Robo Recall Unplugged that are great too.
One little feature I like is that like with many digital stores, you can set up a quick payment system, but then also purchases with a quick four-digit pin, which is important for me as I can safely walk away from my daughter playing without worrying about her finding the store and going crazy with hundreds of dollars in purchases. And while I should point out that Oculus is owned and run by Facebook (which I will dive into a bit more later), the Oculus store doesn't have any pervasive advertisements for things that aren't VR apps and games. It's exactly what you'd expect from a young but well-adjusted app/game store - as in, it works fine, purchases are easy and downloads are quick.

Finally, the Quest runs on the Google Android platform and just like with most Android devices, apps can be installed from "Unknown Sources", meaning from a place outside of the Oculus Quest store itself. There's even a separate store app you can install on a PC called SideQuest (love the name!) that makes this easy. This openness allows you to install apps and games that aren't bought off the Oculus Store, extending longevity and usefulness of the Quest if the store ever goes offline, or if a developer either doesn't want to go through the Oculus store or isn't allowed to for some reason. Later in this review I'll detail out a fantastic feature that so far can only be demonstrated via this method, so keep reading.

Longevity, Short- and Long-term

Pretty much anything wireless has a battery, so one concern has to be the life the Oculus Quest delivers as well as the overall battery health - the question is, can the Quest be used regularly for years without issues? Frankly, the outlook is not particularly rosy, or not to start at least, as battery life is a pretty sad 2-3 hours. Additionally, the battery is also not designated as a user-replaceable item, so if after a couple years of moderate to heavy use, then you can expect worse and worse battery life without an official remedy.

An Anker PowerCore battery pack, which
can be used to extend the Quest's battery life.
With that said, a battery pack with 2.4A charging can be connected to the Quest with the included USB-C cable, and you could extend battery life for daily usage by simply putting one of those packs in your pocket and now being careful to mind the one cable that's attached to the headset and can be snaked down to somewhere near your hip. It's not the most ideal scenario and goes counter to the whole "true wireless VR" thing, but at least it's an option. Doing this could also alleviate any concerns about a battery that's dying its final death after several years and many cycles of use as well.

One thing that I wish the Quest included was some kind of case. Unlike with many VR headsets, this is not a wired and tethered experience, so you could easily take this to a friend's place or lend it to them with no lengthy setup. But the prospect of tossing the headset and controllers into a grocery store plastic bag and walking out the door seems like a terrible idea. There's an official cases for the Quest that can be had on Amazon for $40 or third-party alternatives can be had there or on eBay for barely over half of that, but I do find it a tiny bit disappointing that corners were cut here.

The Facebook Factor


One of the things about the Oculus Quest and the overall ecosystem of store and software that bugs some people is the fact that it's all run by Facebook, a company that plays fast and loose with people's personal data and just isn't very popular with folks overall. I won't disagree there at all, but I will point out that you can easily make an Oculus account that's separate from your Facebook account, and in fact no Facebook account is required for full functionality with the Quest at all.

Beyond that, if you're still worried, you could use a fake name too for your Quest account, and just buy your store credit by grabbing physical Oculus store gift cards at a retailer if you so choose. Still, I'm sure there are some vectors by which Facebook would try to harvest at least a tiny bit of information from their Quest users, and if that irks you too much, then by all means avoid using their ecosystem altogether. But I will say that if you already have a Facebook account, way more of your data is likely being misused through that then would ever happen with you playing games on an Oculus Quest.

Emerging Technologies


Got a Chromecast? With a few taps,
you can send your in-VR view to your
TV so others can see what you see.
Unlike with other wireless VR headsets, Oculus Quest is brimming with little pieces of technology
and extensions to allow unintended methods of play. Developer Mode on the headset allows developers to create things for the Quest and try them directly, you can take screenshots and even record video of your experience directly to the Quest's onboard storage, and you can even show what's going on to any observers in the room by seamlessly streaming a view of the action to a TV via a Chromecast device (I used the first-generation Nvidia Shield console connected to my living room TV).  For those wondering if the Quest is a good value at either $400 or $500, these extensible pieces and features make it a good value, although I have to admit that some casual users may not make use of these technologies.

One other exciting technology that has been added to the "Experimental Features" section of the Quest (among other things like a new Home screen recently, multiple tabs in its web browser, and more) is hand-tracking. With this system, you put the controllers down, and the movement of your fingers and hands are tracked by the sensors on the bottom-front of the headset instead. There aren't any retail titles available that use this in any appreciable way yet, but through the previously-mentioned side-load apps through the SideQuest platform, some rough games and apps are coming out that use it. So far, mostly they just have you point at stuff and press buttons, so intricate uses of this technology aren't here yet - my dream of some developer finally shipping the much-awaited Gang Signs Simulator STILL has not been realized here in the year of our Lord 2020 - and for that reason I mostly just want to mention it as a possible and promising new technology, and not one that I'd want to hang part of this review's overall score off of.

Playing off of a PC


Obviously one of the big standout features of the Oculus Quest is that it works completely standalone and with no wires while delivering big-name VR games, but by far my favorite feature besides that on the Quest, however, is the ability to also play VR games on a dedicated gaming PC straight through to the Oculus Quest. The most intended use of this feature is to get on the Quest and play VR games made for Oculus' dedicated PC headsets, the Rift and Rift S, that may be more feature complete than the Quest versions, but even bigger to me is the ability to play any game on the SteamVR platform as well, which has a much larger library of games, many of which go on sale more often than they would on the Oculus platforms.

Gorn, a cartoonish yet brutal melee
combat game for SteamVR, can be
played on Quest through a gaming PC.
The official way to do this is called Oculus Link and it involves using a special USB cable (not the simpler/cheaper cable that comes with the Quest that's used for charging or basic data connections - a separate one with much more bandwidth) that connects between the PC playing games via SteamVR. Obviously, this wipes out the true wireless capability, basically turning the Quest into a headset that's not much different than the Oculus Rift or Rift S. I did buy one of the supported cables, a reasonably priced 10-footer made by accessories manufacturer Anker, but before I even tried it, I wound up going down an entirely different rabbit hole: wireless streaming.

Officially the Quest does not support wireless streaming of VR games from a gaming PC, but by using either free software called ALVR or the $20 Oculus Quest app Virtual Desktop (which has the ability to show a PC's desktop as well), you can use a 5GHz WiFi network to stream games (including VR ones) wirelessly. Setting this up does take some knowledge of networking and the right hardware configuration where the wireless router or access point to connect to needs to be close to your play area - in my case, my router was across the house from my living room PC where I play in VR, so I bought a Nighthawk A7000 WiFi adapter and connected that directly to my living room gaming PC so that I had a wireless source that sat no more than 10 feet from the VR headset. Windows 10 now allows you to create a one-click mobile hotspot using a WiFi adapter, and well, with that and some setup - the Oculus Quest section on Reddit was helpful here - I got it working with full screen resolution and about 20ms of latency using the Virtual Desktop software, which I found easier to use and smoother than ALVR, making it well worth the $20 to buy.

The one caveat to this is latency. 20 milliseconds of video latency isn't bad, and at 72 frames per second the Quest runs at, that put me at only 1 frame behind what it'd be if I was on a native headset (like the Vive) in a wired format. For everything I played, this amount of latency is perfectly fine, but I did find that while the wireless streaming of video was fine, the audio would lag further behind, making games like Beat Saber difficult when trying to blocks to the beat of the music. One solution I did find was to simply not stream audio to the headset for these games, and instead use my living room stereo (which my living room gaming PC is connected to) for audio. This worked for me as well as playing natively, something I tested by switching back and forth between Beat Saber on SteamVR and a native version on the Quest, although I imagine anyone playing any kind of timing-oriented game at the highest difficulties might disagree with me.

The ever-popular Beat Saber works
through SteamVR, but the native Quest
version works best due to latency.
With all of this said, I don't consider the idea of having a strong gaming PC playing its own VR
games to be a requirement for prospective VR gamers to consider trying the Quest. The Oculus store has plenty of great games that run natively on the headset itself - I just found this to be a very satisfying and happy bonus, especially considering that I struggled with the HTC Vive for quite some time. For my purposes, at the downsides of a teeny bit more latency and a few worries about the battery, I find the Quest to be a better headset for playing SteamVR games than the original Vive. (Note that I have not spent any time on the latest generation of wired VR headsets like the Valve Index, Rift S, or Vive Cosmos.)

Availability


As of this writing in April 2020, the Oculus Quest is tough to find in stock at its regular retail prices of $400 for the 64GB model or $500 for the 128GB model. Since the holiday season of 2019, the headset went into backorder status at most retailers, and the fact that the headset is manufactured in the Wuhan, China, epicenter of the novel coronavirus, meant that manufacturing slowed to a crawl. Obviously, eBay can be a source if you really want to get one of these headsets, and I'd understand the temptation considering I did just praise it quite a bit (and other reviewers seem to feel the same way),

Manufacturing is starting up again in these areas of China and while I don't have any insider information as to whether Oculus will be once again shipping new Quests out on any specific timeframe, I can say that I doubt they'll be designing or creating a new headset that's anything quite like the Quest anytime soon, so if you want to hold out and try to get one at its regular price when they do come back in stock, that's a perfectly reasonable position to take. Just keep in mind that the Quest is unlikely to go on any kind of sale anytime soon, so if you are looking to get one when it comes back in stock and do see it available at its regular price, I'd suggest picking it up while you can.

Best All-Rounder


What the Oculus Quest brings to the world of VR gaming is flexibility with wireless play of major VR games as the first of its kind with nothing else required to get in play, but it also backs that up with a solid range of features, great performance, and tinkering options for those VR enthusiasts who aren't beginners to all of this. Sure, battery life is a concern and parent company Facebook may wind up mismanaging the platform itself, but what's already here is a pretty solid value. The platform starts at $400 which is definitely above the level of a toy, but I doubt that the Oculus folks are making much money on this portion if any at all. Could the experience have been streamlined even more? Probably, but not without losing some of the comfort features that were kept into the Quest and helped keep this platform elevated above the very basic VR experiences like the now barely-supported Windows Mixed Reality headsets, Oculus Go, GearVR, and other phone-centric VR experiences - most of which I've dabbled in at some point and in 2020, I will generally recommend against.

What's amusing is that at this point I can't even recommend the Rift S over the Quest for the purpose that the Rift S was made for, which is to wire directly to a PC to play VR games and experiences through the Oculus launcher or SteamVR. The Quest proves to be better overall with its display and features, starts out at the same price as the Rift S, and gives the user the same wired functionality as the Rift S but supplies more ways to experience VR with its standalone functionality.

For anyone wondering about VR and trying to decide to jump in, I'd say that the Quest has made all options cheaper or the same price as it obsolete. It's also fairly soundly made all of HTC's efforts seem kind of bloated and wasteful, leaving only really high-end SteamVR-centric headsets (with very nice components, great visuals, and high demands for a gaming PC powering them) like the Steam Index as another entry point worth shooting for. I'd say that should serve as a pretty shining standard - to make whole swaths of your competition basically obsolete and leave the premium enthusiast products as basically the only other viable choice. But hey, that's where we are - the Oculus Quest is a fantastic entry point for VR gaming, and I can't wait to see more people get the opportunity to jump in.

Overall Score: 9/10


Pros:

Excellent display quality
Full comfort features
Great controllers
Solid tracking
Innovative experimental features

Cons:

Weak battery life
Non-replaceable battery
Facebook is unproven for VR longevity

Resources I used to assist with this review:

https://www.youtube.com/user/PyroProductionsME
https://www.reddit.com/r/OculusQuest
https://sidequestvr.com/