Using virtual reality can be uncomfortable. VR headsets are typically bulky, fit poorly, and have too many wires.
Facebook set out to solve this problem with its new Oculus Quest, which went on sale this week. Its wireless design sets it apart from most headsets, and the adjustable straps help make it fit more snuggly.
To put Quest through its paces, I used it with several apps and to play several video games. I found that the game graphics shifted smoothly when I moved and turned my head to look around. That doesn’t mean it’s the first high-quality VR headset. But the fact that it can perform at a high level as a standalone device–rather than one that plugs into a computer–is impressive, and the lack of wires made playing feel like I wasn’t weighed down.
I started my test by watching an animated 360-degree YouTube video featuring animals moving between Earth and space. VR really changes how it feels to watch video. As the video shifts to the space scene you can look all around at the sun and stars. The characters also move behind you forcing you to get the full perspective.
But other VR headsets can do this as well. And since I was mostly sitting when watching the video, the wireless feature didn’t make a difference.
I also used Quest to play Beat Saber, which is like a VR take on Dance Dance Revolution combined with lightsabers. It’s a fun game that requires you to duck, move to the side, and swing your arms. It’s really easy to get into the game when the music is playing and you’re not worried about hitting wires.
When playing other VR games, especially ones that force you to move around rather than sit, it’s frustrating to hit a cable or tug one too far. You also don’t need to worry about positioning yourself close enough to your device while also finding a spot with enough room to move around.
Then I played Dance Central, similar to the Just Dance series popularized on motion-capture games like the Wii, Xbox Kinect, and PS Move. It feels very similar to playing on those devices, which took advantage of wireless controllers.
I also used the Wander app, which taps data from Google Maps’ Street View to allow users to walk around the world. With the Wander app you can search an address and then seemingly walk around that area.
The first place I went to was my childhood home in New Jersey, which the Oculus team said is actually a common choice. The app also lets you look through images over past years, so I looked back at my home when I lived there and saw how the area has changed since I left.
I also took a trip to the White House where I learned that it operates best with addresses rather than place names. For example, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took me there, but simply saying “The White House” did not.
Quest comes with embedded speakers located near the ears. The volume can be adjusted with a button on the headset allowing for sound in both ears without cutting the user off from the room they’re in. Most other headsets require you to use over-the-ear headphones or earbuds. It may seem like a small change, but the ability to use VR and be immersed in the game or video without being completely cut off from reality is welcome.
When trying out the headset, it was easy for me to still carry on conversations with people in the room and to share what I could see in the headset. It makes the VR experience far less isolating without taking away from the game or video experience.
Users can plug in headphone jacks if using your own headphones is preferred.
Quest has two to three hours of battery life, which isn’t long for players who are used to long game sessions. Of course rival models like the PlayStation VR that require wires to connect to other devices can be used continuously as long as they are plugged in.
Quest is compatible with the Oculus app on iPhones and Android devices. The app is free, but games and apps that can be used with Oculus usually cost $30 or less.
That Quest is truly is a standalone gaming device separates it from its wireless predecessor, Oculus Go, which is more for private viewing of movies and short videos rather than for gaming because it can’t run more advanced games. Most importantly, the headset is better for VR newbies because buying a game console or high-powered PC is unnecessary.
The Quest, which costs $399 for the 64GB version and $499 for 128GB, is pricey. But it’s comparable to other VR gaming sets, which typically require additional hardware that jacks up the overall price.
The Quest shows that VR headset design is nearly good enough to attract a broader audience than the current VR fanbase: hardcore gamers and tech fans. It’s still not quite the future of VR some are hoping for, but the Quest is a big step in the right direction.
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