- Great interface
- 90hz refresh rate not default
- Inextricably tied to Facebook account
Oculus Quest 2 is Facebook’s next generation standalone virtual reality headset. Can it compete with XBox Series X/S, PS5 and Switch for your time?
It’s been almost two decades since I strapped myself into a heavy virtuality machine and took a few hesitant steps across a badly-rendered landscape. In those two decades, the cell phone market has revolutionized every technology needed to make VR actually happen – from dense, fast screens to blisteringly fast processors and audio systems capable of producing bass response from the tiniest spaces.
And so here we are, the Oculus Quest 2.
Facebook’s newest standalone headset is a marvel. Stylish, light, well-made and, if you’re new to the whole experience, indistinguishable from magic.
The pale grey headset is available in two models – 64GB and 256GB at $299/$399 respectively – and comes attractively packaged with a pair of controllers to control your exploration. The VR experiences on the Oculus Store are surprisingly memory efficient, so the 64GB model should be adequate for most uses. The exceptions will be if you’re planning on loading a ton of personal media, but our recommendation would be to go for the smaller version and use the extra $100 on content.
Built on the Snapdragon XR processor with 6GB RAM and a single 1832 x 1920 screen, split across the two lenses, the Quest 2 is the lightest of the current generation of VR headsets.
The adjustable fabric strap is comfortable, and an insert allows for glasses inside the headset. The lenses can be adjusted to one of three positions to deal with focus. In practice, we found the image clear and were able to load up a web browser within the “home” environment (which, again, felt magical) and could read text on web pages with no bother.
We did get fogged up a few times early on in a session, but that cleared up as it went on.
Sound is covered by a pair of tiny speakers in the headband that do a good job, but there’s also a very welcome headphone jack next to the USB-C slot, which is used to charge or connect the headset to your PC for additional playing experiences. Linked to a decent PC, it functions like an Oculus Rift.
The two controllers are comfortable to hold for long periods and have much needed straps to keep them anchored to your wrist. The straps are a little thin, but they are a safety measure rather than something to be kept tight to the wrist at all times. They’re also replaceable, which is good.
Both controllers have a stick, two buttons, and two triggers (for index finger and middle finger), and the right-hand device has an Oculus button, which is used for menu operations and recentering the screen within your home. Each one runs on AA batteries, which are supplied. We’d like a little more consistency of use with the controllers, but getting used to grabbing with the index rather than middle finger is a small adjustment. Presumably as developers get comfortable with the system, these methods will become standardized. And if you’re not a fan of controllers, you can switch to “hand mode,” which takes some getting used to.
The most important factor in the hardware is comfort over long periods of time, and once you have the headset properly adjusted to your head and get over seeing an accurate representation of the controllers “in game” without your hand attached, it’s very good.
Headset battery life in our early tests was good for about two hours of intense play, but you can also play tethered to a USB C power cable (get a long one – the supplied cable is too short) if you need more time.
Your first experience of VR may actually be augmented reality (AR), as the headset will pass through your actual environment so you can set up a Guardian perimeter, thus avoiding walking into walls or tripping over tables. It’s pretty good at detecting floor level and highlighting obstacles within your playspace.
Note: The new Quest includes the requirement to sign in with a Facebook account, so if you don’t have one of those, you’ll be prompted to set one up.
Once you have a safe space to play, you’re presented with your “home”: a 3D-rendered room with spectacular views and comfortable-looking furniture. At this point we wondered why anyone would buy a television again! This feeling was only compounded by installing and launching the Youtube, Netflix and Amazon Prime apps. Each provides you with a stunning environment to watch your giant screen on. Bonus points to Netflix, as their in-game sofa was the same color as ours, enhancing the sense of being there.
You can adjust the home environment with a selection of scenarios including sci-fi space station, ski lodge, a cyber city and others. You can also hack in your own spaces, but that’s not part of the main interface yet.
Hitting the Oculus button on the right controller brings up your main menu where you can set up different elements, connect with Oculus-owning (Facebook) friends, take photos or video and basically play with your environment.
The Store inevitably brings you to a shopping space with plenty of different experiences on offer. There’s a good range of free things and paid options, with demos available to try before you buy. The store’s refund policy – available within 14 days if you’ve played for less than two hours – is very generous and gives you plenty of time to really check a title out before committing.
A few apps
We installed a pair of free tutorial games first to get the hang of the controllers and the feeling of being elsewhere, then watched a pair of Jurassic Park short films, which were so insanely realistic that we were genuinely worried about being knocked over by an apatosaurus or chewed up by a T-Rex.
We then installed a couple of paid apps: Nature Treks VR and Tripp, both of which give you different environments to explore with the aim of promoting mindfulness and meditation. It’s difficult not to use the phrase blown away every five minutes because these experiences are so new.
Finally we looked at playing some local media on the Bigscreen Beta app (You’ll need a standard USB-to-USB C cable to transfer media from a computer to the device.) After five minutes of Pitch Perfect 3 at IMAX-screen size with dynamic lighting in the room, we basically forgot we were sitting at the dining room table at home.
The Quest 2 puts VR firmly in the same price bracket as a new XBox, PS5 or Switch but offers a very different experience than traditional gaming. It’s more solitary at the moment and seems perfect for two extremes of gaming –, the first-person shooter and the calming mindfulness app – and watching media at screen sizes that would be inconceivable in most homes.
As the platform grows, whole new experiences will become available, but if you’re in the mood for a standard AAA game, one of the next-gen consoles will probably be a better proposition at the moment.
However, if you’re fascinated by the idea of the technology and intrigued by the ways in which it may affect play and work in the future, this is the most cost-effective way of getting your foot in the ski lodge door.
It’s exciting, potentially mind-expanding, and a great way to watch your media. And at the very least, listening to someone playing Tripp for the first time is a lot of fun, even if you can’t be there yourself.
If, however, you prefer a VR headset that is cheaper and more affordable, here are some great choices.
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