Oculus Quest - my honest review

Hello fellow VR enthusiasts!

So, I finally upgraded from my original HTC Vive, and it wasn't the way I ever thought I would go - but here we are. I bought myself an Oculus Quest 128gb (they come in 64gb flavour too for £100 less) as the lower capacity Quest was sold out everywhere and had been for some time. I sold my original Vive and put the funds towards the Quest so it was no big deal to pay the extra, although I would say a 64gb Quest would be perfectly fine for most people's needs. I hate running out of storage though and you can't upgrade the memory on the Quest so that fact along with the 64gb being sold out for forever made it an easy choice for me personally. UPDATE: The 128gb is sold out now too, damn this thing is popular

So, how is it? Why did I choose a Quest instead of the various other HMD's available? In one word - convenience. In more than one word? Oh okay then. For those who don't know the Quest is the natural successor to the Oculus Go, a standalone HMD with no need for a PC or any external tracking to function. The Go was a great first step, but it had some fundamental flaws that at the time were too limiting to consider it as a successor to the Vive. Now, with the Quest, Oculus have really pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

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A while ago I was madly into VR, bending the ear of whoever would listen about how incredible it was. It was an exciting time - experiencing a new technology as it emerged, seeing developers feel around in the dark for ways to make virtual reality exciting, convincing, and non-sick-inducing. I went from trying an Oculus DK1 (development kit) to buying an Oculus DK2 (fascinating but limited to stationary experiences and horrendous screen door effect) to a 1st generation HTC Vive with all it's lighthouses and cables everywhere (my original Vive review for those who are interested)

But then the novelty wore off, almost overnight, and I drifted away, back to the familiar flat plane of a monitor. I'm still not really sure how it happened. Five years later and VR is a very different beast than it was when I was wrestling with those temperamental Rift development kits. It's all so streamlined now - particularly when it comes to the Quest, a portable, wireless, self-contained headset released by Oculus in May last year. I recently got my hands on one, and once again I have become a VR guy - pontificating about how great it is to anyone within earshot, whether they want to hear it or not. After being numb to the technology for years, I'm enjoying being excited about it again.

The problem with explaining why virtual reality is good is that it's difficult to convey the experience in words. It's like telling someone about a dream you had: incredibly fascinating to you, but deeply boring to the person listening. You really have to try it for yourself to 'get' it - which is easier than ever with the Quest. You don't need a powerful gaming rig to run the thing: all the hardware has been squeezed into the headset itself, meaning you could take it over to a friend or family member's house without having to drag your PC along.
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Vader Immortal screenshot.jpg

Imagine if, instead of breathlessly telling someone about that fever dream you had where you faced Darth Vader in a fight to the death after an epic adventure to obtain a mythical lightsaber from his homeworld, you could just inject it directly into their brain and let them experience it for themselves. That's the Oculus Quest, in a roundabout way. It's also enormously freeing being able to enjoy VR without having a wire trailing behind you, and with 2-3 hours of battery life, you can go long stretches without having to plug it back into the wall to juice it up. You might be made of steelier stuff, but I personally can't play VR games for more than an hour or two at a time without feeling slightly peculiar, so the battery life hasn't been an issue for me so far.

Setting the Quest up is also trivially easy. You install the Oculus app on your phone, connect it to your Wi-Fi, and minutes later you slip the headset on and find yourself 'inside' its slick VR interface, browsing the store, using the motion controllers to point and click, looking for games to play. There's also a brilliantly fun interactive tutorial that teaches you how to use your virtual hands, and ends with you dancing with a robot. I also love how intuitive setting up your play space is. A front-mounted camera gives you a Terminator-like view of your room, and you use one of your controllers to draw a line indicating what space you have available. This creates a so-called Guardian barrier that will flash up and warn you if you stray outside the boundary you set.

If you're really struggling to make room, you can switch from roomscale to stationary mode, which lets you sit in your desk chair, or stand in one place, and still enjoy VR games. It's remarkable how the Quest does all this, including tracking your hands, without any external sensors or cameras. It honestly feels like magic and I felt no difference whatsoever coming from a Vive setup with lighthouses that track you as you move your body and hands.
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Out of the box, you can only play games made specifically for it. And, as I write this, there just aren't as many to choose from as you get with a wired HMD like the Vive, Rift or Index. I mean, there's some great stuff on there. Vader Immortal is a brilliantly tactile, entertaining blast of Star Wars with great production values. National Geographic Explore VR is the most fun I've had sitting on my kitchen floor pretending to paddle a kayak. There are Quest versions of VR favourites like Beat Saber, Superhot, and Job Simulator. Bait is a free fishing game that is so Zen. And being able to enjoy these without being tethered to a PC feels pretty special.

But here's the thing: you can easily turn the Quest into a regular Oculus Rift S. With a long, sturdy USB 3.1 cable (I used this one along with this neat adaptor) you can connect the Quest to your PC and play anything from the Rift section of the Oculus store as well as from SteamVR, and any other VR game you happen to have installed on your PC. Which means, yes, when Half Life: Alyx is released, you'll be able to play that too. It works stunningly well, and with it I've been enjoying games the Quest couldn't otherwise handle, including the surprisingly brilliant L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files, mountaineering sim The Climb, and gorgeous edutainment thing Everest VR. Being stuck with a cable again after experiencing the joy of the Quest's wireless mode is a reminder of what seems like an ancient relic of VR times past, but it's a worthwhile sacrifice.

They say you should only be in VR for 30 minutes at a time, taking 10-15 minute breaks, even if you feel like you don't need one - a rule I brazenly ignored last Friday night when I accidentally played VR Pokerstars for an hour and a half and then straight into Pistol Whip (A fantastic mashup of rhythm beat game mixed with John Wick/Matrix style gunfighting). When I took the headset off over two hours later, I felt really bizarre, like I was somehow disconnected from reality; like my arms weren't my own. It was a curious sensation, and one I hadn't felt since the early days of VR. Upon reflection I can only conclude that not having that wire tugging at your head and worrying about tripping over it really immersed me into the virtual reality. This is the holy grail of any VR enthusiast. To experience that "holo deck" like feeling of really being somewhere else than your living room, flapping your arms around. Instead of feeling like a wally, you feel like a badass because you are John Wick, putting holes in fools all the while dancing along to the beats of your favourite music.

That aside, the Oculus Quest is a hell of a thing: whether you're playing with it wirelessly, or using Oculus Link to experience bigger, meatier, more graphically intensive games from SteamVR, the Oculus store, and beyond. Lately I've been playing almost exclusively in Oculus Link mode enjoying Elite: Dangerous, but I'm ready and waiting for more content to appear on the Quest store in the coming months so I can enjoy the cableless freedom novelty again and again with new experiences. I can't overstate this - being wireless is the way forward for VR, it really is a game changer.
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With a retail price of £399 or £499 for the expanded memory version, this is not a cheap piece of kit, however it's over half the price of an Index kit, and much cheaper than a Vive Pro. But being able to double it up as a regular Oculus Rift S via Link makes the price point much more appealing, bordering on a bargain. VR still has a way to go before it genuinely feels like stepping into another world. The resolution could always be higher, the response time faster, the FOV higher. Us VR users will always want more, more, more. But the Quest is a great way to experience what it's capable of today without getting tangled up in a spaghetti of wires.

A note on comfort - if you do pick one up I highly recommend doing the "Frankenquest" mod. It's very easy, takes 10 mins and is explained thoroughly here (along with a parts list). Here's the before;

Quest before.jpg

It took me 5 minutes to do and will end up looking like this;

Quest after.jpg

Much more comfortable and better sound from the Deluxe Audio Strap. Very highly recommended. I kept my DAS from my Vive when I sold it on to do the frankenquest mod so it didn't cost anything extra for me. I would recommend picking up a DAS on Ebay if you don't have one from your current headset, they can be found for a decent price now, in my opinion after doing this mod it would be definitely be worth the extra money. The Quest was comfortable before but a little front heavy, with the frankenquest mod it is perfect. You forget it's there which is great for long VR sessions and the sound is much improved without needing separate headphones.
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One final note on the screen of the Quest. This is the best picture I could find that conveys how much improved the screen door effect is from the Vive to the Quest. Forget the sharpness, that's not a problem with the Quest, the resolution is the same as the Valve Index and Vive Pro, and is higher than the Rift S. This image is just the closest one I could find that shows how the screen door effect has almost disappeared now I have moved to the Quest. It's incredible to have such a clear image, I love it. Another advantage the Quest has over the Index and the Rift S is that it has an OLED display vs the LCD displays so the colours and the blacks are fantastic. It does have a lower refresh rate of 72Hz but I honestly didn't feel any difference whatsoever between the 72Hz and the 90Hz of the Vive.


So, in conclusion, if you are unsure which way to go, as I was, and you don't want to drop a grand on the Valve Index (if you are entering VR for the first time) then an Oculus Quest comes with my seal of approval. I could have upgraded to an Index (by keeping my lighthouses) but chose to go this route for the freedom of wireless VR and the versatility of tethering it to the PC for a comparable experience to the current wired HMD's. After spending more time in VR over the last week than the last two years combined, I can honestly say I feel I made the right choice.

See you in virtual reality amigos!

- P
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