Oculus launched the second generation Quest standalone VR device, Quest 2, on September 16th. Its price is attractive, starting at $299 for the 64GB model ($399 for the 256GB version). The product finally shipped on October 13th. I (and especially my two boys) have been trying the Oculus Quest 2 for a few weeks and here is the review.
Full disclosure up-front, I have been a VR skeptic. Not because I don’t ‘get’ the concept of VR, I do, but I struggle to see how it fits into the current technology landscape beyond a variation on gaming and for valuable, but niche, industrial and enterprise use cases. I have been waiting for the day I can start recommending VR to friends, family, and business users for a whole range of use cases. Many years ago, I read Ready Player One and loved the alternate world concepts that author Ernest Cline brought vividly to life. So, does the Oculus Quest 2 change my level of skepticism and make me believe that we’re on the verge of a new dawn of VR growth? Hmm, no, not yet, but it does move the game forward quite substantially.
First Impressions – Pixels in the Frame
While I was not expecting any miraculous improvement in optical quality over the previous generation devices, the resolution is still disappointing. When deeply involved in a game, you tend not to notice, but when using the inbuilt browser to watch YouTube videos, for example, the pixel net is clearly visible; and fine details are lost in the haze of low-resolution imaging. Netflix is available as an Oculus app but you’d have to be crazy to watch a movie in such low resolution.
In a world where pixels have become almost invisible – on the screen of the PC that I am typing this on, my smartphone display, even my seven-year-old TV – it’s almost impossible to see the pixels…unless you put a magnifying glass to the display and get really close to it. That’s effectively what happens with VR headsets. The Quest 2 is objectively better than the previous generation Quest, and other standalone headsets I’ve tried, but don’t expect true immersive reality. If you want to get some idea what it’s like, try watching a YouTube video on a large PC display at 240p resolution. High-definition it is not.
The only VR headset where I’ve not been acutely aware of the pixel net has been the Varjo VR- and XR-series devices. However, these are powerful PC-driven devices, optimized for enterprise use and that cost thousands of dollars.
Display – Greys, Flares, and Faster Refresh
While the resolution of the display has improved over the first generation Quest (see table below), Oculus has opted for an LCD panel rather than the OLED used in the first-generation model. This means that blacks are less, well, black, and more of a grey. Again, in gameplay situations, it’s not that big of a deal, but you do notice the general grey-ish hue.
The Fresnel lenses are the same as on the first-gen Quest. They work quite well, but you do notice some flaring and fringing around the edges of bright points. This is likely impossible to avoid while using Fresnel lenses. Again, it’s not too much of an issue in the gameplay, but it adds to the overall sense of relatively low optical quality. Some might say I’m being harsh, but I’m just saying it how it is. In a high-definition world, it is unusual to experience low-definition, unless something is wrong somewhere.
Oculus has improved the frame rate from 72Hz to 90Hz. However, for now, this is experimental and only applies to very limited situations such as the main menu area. Currently, it has to be enabled in settings, which necessitates a restart. This will become standard out-of-the-box at some point and Oculus has promised that more and more content will be rolled out that will take advantage of the faster frame rate, but it’s unclear exactly when this will occur. And as games and other content are modified to take advantage of the higher refresh rates, any content that is already downloaded will need to be updated.
IPD – Three Chances to Get it Right
Setting the inter-pupillary distance (IPD) is important for a good VR experience. If incorrectly set it can be a factor in causing motion-sickness. Where the original Quest offered continuous IPD adjustment between 58-72mm, Quest 2 has three pre-set distances at 58mm, 63mm, and 68mm. There is little guidance to help you get it set correctly, which seems a bit odd considering its importance. And the adjustment is done by manually pulling the lenses apart. There’s a small indicator with the numbers 1, 2, or 3, corresponding with the various positions. If your IPD falls outside of the upper and lower limits, too bad. But also if your optimum position is between any of the presets, well, that’s too bad as well. Fortunately, for me, the middle setting is about right, while for my sons and my wife, the narrower, position 1, seems to work okay.
The head strap is a flimsy elastic item that doesn’t do a great job of distributing weight comfortably. It is tricky to adjust, but needs adjusting every time the headset is put on. The Premium head strap is better, but costs an additional $49 (a strap with an additional battery is also available but costs $129) the premium strap is likely better, unless you wear glasses, when it can be difficult to get the headset on without smudging or squashing your glasses. Incidentally, for glasses wearers, the standard pack includes a small spacer to improve the fit. The headset is around 70g lighter than the original Quest, but we think most of the reduced weight comes from the flimsier strap, so the weight as experienced by the user is not much different.
Sound emanates from the harder portion of the strap next to the ears. It’s adequate for most purposes but suffers a lot a sound leakage. For a more immersive experience, there is a 3.5mm jack socket into which wired headphones can be plugged. A Bluetooth option would have been good as fewer and fewer wired headsets are available.
Controllers – Hands-on
The hand controllers are decent with halo style loops that include IR beacons for hand tracking. They are slippery to hold though and need the string loops to secure them to a wrist; should one escape your grasp during vigorous gameplay, it won’t fly across the room. Some reviewers have complained of relative inaccuracy in tracking the controller’s movements. I have not noticed anything unusual, but I may not be sensitive to the small degrees of variation others have reported. Each controller is powered by a single AA battery. I don’t know how long they last, but as both controllers are still showing 100%, I am guessing it could be quite a while.
XR2 in the driving seat
The Quest 2 brings many improvements in hardware over the original device. Quest 2 is the first device to ship with Qualcomm’s application-specific Snapdragon XR2 platform – the original Quest was based on the Snapdragon 835, which was already around a year old when the first Quest device was launched.
While the XR2 was positioned by Qualcomm as 5G-ready, the Quest 2 has no cellular connectivity option – only WiFi. However, it does benefit from enhanced graphics, resolution, and AI performance. The XR2 can support up to seven concurrent camera feeds and a dedicated computer vision processor. The platform also supports low-latency video pass-through. This can be appreciated particularly when setting up a gameplay area. With the headset on, the user is asked to mark out an area in which gameplay can take place. This is done by using one of the controllers to ‘paint’ the edge of the game area. This is much better than IR beacons. The headset ‘remembers’ several gameplay areas and will also ‘see’ if an object is obstructing some part of the gameplay area and highlight it for moving out of the way. The video pass-through is shown in stark monochrome, but it’s surprisingly effective.
Set-up and Getting the Action Started – Face it, you need Facebook
The initial set-up was easy. You start by downloading an app to a partner smartphone. Then identify the particular headset (Oculus Quest 2), enter a code from the headset, and follow the set-up instructions. It takes a few minutes and you’re ready to go. However, it should be noted that it’s impossible to get started without a partner smartphone. And it’s impossible to get started without a Facebook account. This last point seems minor – but it’s not. There are many gamers for whom Facebook is anathema and the shift of all Oculus properties to being linked to a Facebook account therefore renders all Oculus products beyond redemption. Facebook is held in such suspicion that many potential users swear they will never use Oculus products…ever. Facebook’s interest in Oculus and VR is beyond the scope of this review. We will discuss it in a separate research report.
Main Menu – Home Hub
The main menu is one of a series of attractive ‘home’ environments with a console that acts as the jumping-off point for games and other content. The settings menu can also be launched from here, together with a browser. The OS is built on a forked version of Android and works smoothly.
There is a useful training app that helps new users become accustomed to most actions they’ll need to use such as grasping virtual objects.
Content and Games
There is some free content available – particularly video — and a few games. The most engaging free game is Echo VR, which is a bit like zero gravity ultimate frisbee. It provides a good demonstration of what VR can currently offer. However, almost all other games need to be purchased and they’re expensive – most costing $20 to $30 or more. And the number of games available seems modest currently – at least in terms of ones that you would want to play. However, more are in the pipeline including Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell. And if the Quest game library offers too little to interest, it is possible to hook-up the Quest 2 to a PC via an optional ($79) Oculus Link cable. This then allows the headset to slave off a PC and to play more demanding games. Using this route users can also access Steam VR’s library of game titles.
One of the complaints reviewers cite most often regarding the current crop of games is the rapidity of gameplay; the story of a game playing out in as few as three hours. Many games do have good re-playability, but the high entry cost highlights the fact that there are relatively few users to amortize the costs of authoring the games or adapting them from other platforms.
Beat Saber is among the most recommended and provides a decent challenge. My sons, and my wife – who is far away from a typical gamer – were able to rapidly get engaged and enjoy the game.
My younger son has been enjoying playing Population: One, in which he is teamed with other users from around the world, who then play collaboratively. It’s a Battle Royale-style game with the unique attribute of being able to climb vertical structures and jump off by spreading your arms and gliding as though wearing a wingsuit.
The app on the phone can be used to provide a third-person view of the game action taking place inside the headset. The resolution is even lower than the headset itself but does allow several people to enjoy the gaming action with a single headset.
Other content that’s readily available is video from Oculus TV. Most video content is of the 360-degree type. It’s okay but suffers from the low-resolution issue. And if there is fast motion in the video it can appear jerky – for example watching a skier traverse down a mountain at speed.
Most content developed for Oculus Quest and even Oculus Go should be playable, but it’s worth checking before upgrading to Quest 2.
Battery life is around two hours of continuous gameplay. It’s not a lot, but more than enough for one person. However, if the headset were being passed around between a few players, the battery may give up before the players do.
I am likely not the target market for the Quest 2, so I asked my teenage sons (17 and 14 years of age) if they were ready to swap their PC gaming environments for the Quest 2 (we have not tried the Oculus Link to heavier games). They both looked at me incredulously. And both made similar sorts of comments: my elder son said the Quest 2 was fun as far as it went, but he thought it gimmicky. However, he did say it was better than mobile gaming. My younger son said he sees it more like Nintendo’s Switch; a device that’s more powerful and immersive than mobile games, but one you can use anywhere. However, he also pointed out that the Switch benefits from a host of first party and third party games that Quest 2 doesn’t yet have.
The low starting price of Quest 2 is likely to be its strongest attraction. It is a capable device and will allow new users to get into VR with a relatively low investment. Tech-savvy gamers are likely to be put off by the Facebook-ization of the Oculus environment. But there are many potential consumers who won’t care or who won’t think about the ramifications of Facebook gathering all your VR usage data and more.
We expect Oculus 2, despite its various shortcomings, to do very well during this holiday season and will likely outsell its predecessor products by a sizable margin.