GDC 2019 Hands-On: Oculus Quest Feels Like A Turning Point For VR

by David Jagneaux • March 20th, 2019

GDC 2019 ended up being a weird event for the Oculus Quest. Facebook’s upcoming standalone inside out six degrees of freedom (6DOF) VR headset with two Touch controllers is coming very soon, but we basically learned zero new information about it.

We already knew it was coming in Spring 2019 and would cost $399 — they told us that at OC5 in September. We already knew it featured an inventive “Insight” tracking system that analyzes your world and lets you freely move around. We even knew about some of the biggest games coming to the headset like Superhot, Robo Recall, and more.

All we learned is that Beat Saber is coming, it works great, and we found out about three other new games (Journey of the Gods from Turtle Rock, Shadow Point from Coatsink and Dead and Buried 2 from Oculus Studios internal “Strike Team”). That’s…basically it.

Other than that it was just a rehash of Oculus Connect 5 in a lot of ways since we still don’t know the launch lineup and we still don’t know the exact release date. If you want to read my original, initial first impressions of the Oculus Quest you can do that right here. I spend a lot more time detailing the comfort, specs, and details of the headset itself. We’ve got more specs and details here too.

Oculus Quest at GDC

Instead of new information, Oculus just solidified my excitement even more instead by showing off a new Rift S headset alongside the Quest that mostly underwhelmed. In fact, the Rift S has worse resolution, it has an LCD display instead of OLED, and it’s still got a tether to a cumbersome PC all for the same exact price of the full Quest setup. You’re getting a lot more fidelity due to the need for a powerful gaming PC, but for two unreleased products only one really has me excited for the future of this medium.

Let me put it this way: Oculus announced a new PC VR device in the Rift S headset that people have been buzzing about online for months and even after trying it I’m still more excited about a standalone device officially announced 6 months ago, aka Quest.

The prospect of being able to pack up and take a Quest with me, wherever I go, is extremely exciting and I can’t wait to introduce roomscale VR to a whole new category of people in my life. Comparing that type of paradigm shift to a marginal upgrade over a three-year old HMD is just no contest.

Oculus Quest Tracking

A topic I’ve seen come up a lot is the assumption that three external Rift camera sensors will be able to do a better job tracking your controllers than the inside-out tracking system of Quest. A lot of that analysis seems to be based on experiences with Windows VR headsets that only have two front-facing cameras. It’s important to understand that the Quest actually has four cameras placed in each corner of the headset’s front face. This means it can see partially above, below, in front, and to the sides up to a certain point.

In fact, using the sensors in the controllers and some other technical wizardry, the Insight tracking system actually does a pretty great job of keeping up even when your hands aren’t in sight. So when I played Beat Saber, for example, I didn’t have to hold my arms out in front of me, awkwardly, to swing at the blocks. I played with my arms out wide, followed through on swings fully, and generally played just like I would play on PC VR or PSVR.

And, more specifically, the Quest controllers are better than they were at OC5 in one major way. I noticed back then when I flipped my hands over and obscured the tracking ring from the camera view, the headset had trouble understanding where the controllers were located. That isn’t the case anymore at all from what I can tell after trying to break the tracking multiple times.

Something I talk about a lot with friends and colleagues is that every modern VR headset on the market comes with some sort of enormous limitation. In the case of the PSVR you need a PS4 console and it’s only a single camera so you can’t really walk around or turn around fully without occluding the controllers.

The Rift and Vive fare better in that regard, but they require expensive PCs and are still tethered as well without pricey add-ons. They’re far less portable too. Then in the case of the Oculus Go you’re solving all of that stuff, but now it’s only 3DOF and you can’t move around or lean at all. Once again, another major limitation.

Now with the Quest you solve all of those problems in a single device with a large, diverse store backed and funded by the full weight of Facebook and Oculus. Anyone could pick up a Quest and be inside a virtual world within seconds. Removing all that friction is crucial to helping the market grow.

Potential Oculus Quest Concerns

As of now the only real negatives I see to the Quest are mostly minor. Games won’t look or perform quite as great as they do on Rift in the case of ports and there will be some cases in which the tracking may not hold up great if you’re doing a lot of stuff behind your back or reaching out of view. I’m very curious to try out The Climb for this exact reason.

Additionally, there are still lots of unanswered questions. Will there be any social apps at all like Facebook Spaces, Rooms, or something else like VRChat or Rec Room? What does the launch lineup look like? Will there be any bundled apps or games?

And on the hardware side the battery life is a big concern. The Oculus Go only gets around two hours, give or take, and the Quest is more demanding, so a big jump in life is unlikely. Plus, there is no expandable storage and the base model comes in at only 64GB, which will likely run out pretty quickly. However, USB storage shouldn’t be an issue if you want to opt for that avenue. Same goes for an external battery pack to extend playtime.

Back during OC5 I called it the VR headset for everyone and I stand by that statement. After trying it more at CES and then again this week at GDC, I can honestly say that this is the most excited I’ve been for a VR product since 2016 before consumer PC VR headsets first launched.  This is a headset I would recommend to any person at all without caveats. It truly feels like we’re about to enter the next era of VR content and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

Let us know what you think of the Oculus Quest from what you’ve seen and what you know down in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: Small typos were fixed.

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