Next-generation standalone VR is here. Should you jump in? Find out in our Oculus Quest 2 review.
Note: This review was originally published on September 16th
Since buying Oculus six years ago, Facebook’s strategy for VR has been one of brute force. Where the nascent technology was still expensive and inaccessible, Facebook made sure to compensate. You could see it in the plan to give out Gear VR headsets for free, or pricing down the original Oculus Rift at an alarming pace. It was especially evident when funding the world’s best developers to make VR games that couldn’t possibly recoup their investment and the continued work of its Facebook Reality Labs Research division.
Nowhere, though, has Facebook exercised its financial and technological might more than with the Oculus Quest 2.
Quest 2 represents enormous value, the likes of which the industry hasn’t yet seen. The situation is, frankly, a little odd. Markets don’t work like this. Look at smartphones – you have your high-end products like iPhones for cash-rich enthusiasts and hobbyists with lavish specs and design, a middle ground option like the Google Pixel 4a that offers decent results for a lot less money, and then a lower-end affordable option that won’t run the latest and greatest apps, but gets the job done.
At $299 (for its base model), Quest 2 cuts out the middle-man then bridges the gap between pricing and premium with ferocity. Its sharper resolution surpasses PC VR headsets that are more than double in price. It sheds enough weight and width to make for a noticeable – if not dramatic – improvement in comfort. And then it leverages your existing library of apps and games, paired with a renewed concentration of releases and access to PC VR games too.
It is both the best VR headset on the market and the best value VR headset on the market. I can’t even begin to conceive the financial ramifications for its manufacturer, though it sends a clear message about just how much Facebook wants you using Facebook when you enter VR.
Before we look at this thing at Facebook value, though, let’s look at it at face value.
In fact, let’s start out with one of Quest 2’s more underwhelming features. Many expected comfort to be the biggest improvement this device would make over the original which I, like many, struggled with in the fitting department. And it’s true that this marginally lighter (503g to Quest’s 588g) and smaller headset fits firmer than its predecessor. It’s also just a little less premium-feeling, replacing the original’s soft fabric overlay for a hard plastic shell. But, honestly, the bump in comfort wasn’t what I was expecting for my head in particular.
And I do want to stress I’m talking about my head here – my fairly large and strangely elongated head – because we all know VR headsets can have drastically different fits for different people. UploadVR Video Editor Zeena Al-Obaidi found it hard to get a perfect fit too, though.
Quest 2 switches out the original headset’s hard rubber strap for the softer, elasticated design previously seen in Oculus Go. A velcro top head strap can be adjusted and then two tabs at the back can be pulled to adjust the sides. It’s definitely an improvement over the original and it’s nice not to have that hard strap digging into the back of my head anymore but, here’s the thing, Quest 2 isn’t lighter than the Go, a device that itself was on the front-heavy side. It’s about 30g heavier, in fact.
Anything other than the absolute perfect fit – which can be hard to find and then frustrating to find again once someone else has tampered with it – and I felt the headset bearing down on me after 10 to 15 minutes.
Better? Absolutely. But anywhere near the comfy fit of halo-strap headsets like Oculus Rift S? Sadly not. To this day, I can still wear that headset or even Sony’s PSVR for hours on end, but an hour or more in Quest 2 and I feel that unmistakable burn around the face lining and have some truly impressive VR-face once I take it off.
The difference in strap designs also means that some of the excellent third-party and homemade mods that have been released for Quest in the past few years will have to go in the bin. But the headstrap can be easily removed from the sides, so we’ll no doubt see new ones soon.
In fact, there already are some, and this time they’re official.
Facebook is also releasing a $49 ‘Elite Strap’ (or the same strap with a battery pack and a case for $129) that counterbalances the front weight and features an easily adjustable design. There’s also a ‘Fit Kit’ coming with different-sized face linings. We have a full review of the Elite Strap here, but it doesn’t come in the box so it’s not going to factor into this review. That said, I think a lot of people will consider this an essential add-on.
Optical & Audio Improvements
Ironically, both of the biggest improvements with Quest 2 are the two I didn’t expect to see a massive bump in. The first is screen resolution and, boy, is it a bump.
Quest 2 features 50% more pixels than the original headset, offering 1832×1920 per eye. It might not sound like a huge jump on paper, but wait until you put it on; the difference can be stunning. For the first time in a standalone headset, the dreaded screen door effect can feel next to negligible. Worlds are sharper and more convincing to the point I was mistaking virtual furniture in the home environment for real.
At most, you could describe the distortion as a light mist as opposed to those unmistakable dark lines you’ll see in the original Quest. Text and logos are still rough on the edges and you’ll still see a fuzziness when looking at brighter, simplistic textures, but the difference compared to the original is night and day. In fact, stacking it up to other headsets, Quest 2 just edges out the resolution of the $1000 Valve Index. For a $300 headset, that’s a pretty mind-boggling affair. Quest 2’s new panel is an LCD display as opposed to the original’s OLED, though, so shadows and dark areas aren’t as rich, though it’s not a dramatic difference.
Another big feature is support for 90Hz over Quest’s 72Hz standard, but we can’t really talk about that yet. Why? Because it only works in the home area and Oculus Browser, much like when hand-tracking first launched. Support for games and apps will be rolling out in the coming months as developers get to grips with the new hardware (which is the next topic on the agenda).
For now, though, I can say that in the home screen the 90Hz support makes an appreciated difference – enough that I initially thought the headset’s hand-tracking might be faster and more responsive.
One of the headset’s more curious additions, though, is with IPD adjustment. Last year, Facebook caused quite a stir releasing the Rift S with no way to adjust the lenses to accommodate different distances between people’s eyes. Instead, it offered a limited digital solution. The Quest, meanwhile, had an IPD slider to easily fit almost anyone.
Quest 2 features a unique three-tier system which sees you literally push or pull the lenses into one of three set positions that Facebook says accommodate between 68mm to 58mm. I’m firmly in the middle of that range and the middle setting worked well for me, though keep in mind if you’re out of those settings, you’ll probably want to hold off on buying a Quest 2 until you can be sure it’ll give you a comfortable VR experience.
On the audio-front, Quest 2’s speakers are no longer tucked away behind the face lining, but are instead aligned horizontally along the strap to actually reach your ears. The result is a deeper, richer sound, though anyone that was disappointed with the original’s audio offerings probably still won’t notice a dramatic improvement here. Fortunately, Facebook’s kept that audio jack on the side for your own solutions.
Powerhouse Standalone Performance
The original Oculus Quest housed a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 which, even at launch in May 2019, wasn’t the company’s most powerful offering. With Quest having proved itself in the past 18 or so months, though, Facebook isn’t making any concessions this time; the headset includes Qualcomm’s top-of-the-range XR2, currently featured in the company’s own VR reference design headset.
As with the 90Hz refresh rate, though, it’s difficult to really gauge what the XR2 will offer aside from future-proofing right now. From what I’ve played, the demo for The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners was awesome on the Quest 2, but I also booted it up inside Quest 1 and got very similar results.
There is one already-noticeable difference to talk about, though. Even with older games, I noticed less fixed foveated rendering in Quest 2. FFR refers to a technique in which the edges of the virtual world don’t fully render, freeing up at least some of the processing power to focus on the center of the display, where you’re looking most of the time. This was very prominent in a lot of Quest games like the Lightsaber Dojo in Star Wars: Vader Immortal. But I’ve barely noticed it revisiting most titles on Quest 2 and even playing some ambitious new ones. It’s not completely gone – in fact it’s still quite prominent in the home environment – but it’s an encouraging sign for the future.
All the content launching on Quest 2 next month will support the original device too, but some of my demos, like Warhammer 40K: Battle Sisters, were only available on the new headset and definitely seemed like graphical powerhouses relative to the hardware. We’re still not talking anything that would rival even 2016 PC VR games and some of that power is going to go towards making apps run at a higher framerate, though.
Similar to the PS4 and PS4 Pro or Xbox One and Xbox One X, though, some games will have graphical differences based on which headset you’re using, though we’re not sure which titles support this feature just yet. Facebook also isn’t ruling out exclusive titles for Quest 2 later into its life cycle as games get more ambitious, and it feels like that will be where we really see what the XR2 can do, but we probably won’t see them for a little while yet.
If you want the best-looking VR experiences, though, there’s an option for that too.
Oculus Link And Backward Compatibility
Oculus Link was introduced for the original Quest just under a year ago now. It’s a small miracle of a feature, letting you plug your headset into a PC via USB to access the Oculus Rift store and its entire selection of apps, as well as other VR content on SteamVR.
So, with a decent PC to hand, you can still play Rift-exclusive content like Asgard’s Wrath and the upcoming Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, as well as jumping over to SteamVR for a spot of Half-Life: Alyx.
In fact, Facebook is now so confident in this feature it’s not only moving Link out of beta, it’s killing its dedicated PC VR headset line that began with Oculus Rift. Quest 2 is now Facebook’s PC VR headset too.
And it really works; I got to enjoy a little of Alyx with this refreshed screen quality and it’s absolutely playable. If you have a PC that can run even only a portion of the VR content that’s released in the past four years, Link only increases Quest 2’s already excellent value.
There are some big caveats to this, of course. As I’ve said, Quest 2 isn’t as comfortable as the Rift S, and Link compresses images to get PC VR games running inside the headset. Facebook says that compression is one of the major areas it’s going to improve on in coming updates, but Quest 2’s improved screen resolution does make it more noticeable in its current version.
Until that option arrives – and until I’ve tested the upcoming HP Reverb G2 – I’d stop short of calling the Quest 2 the best PC VR headset on the market. Even then, Valve’s Index is the overall ‘better’ headset (though the $700 gulf in prices can’t be ignored). But this is definitely one space to watch in the coming months.
There’s also no wireless option right now, which feels like a missed opportunity even if Facebook doesn’t think the feature is ready for primetime. Unofficial sideloaded apps like a special version of Virtual Desktop have allowed wireless streaming on Quest for some time now and, yes, the results can vary wildly, but it feels like an option that could definitely be included in some experimental form, much like when hand-tracking was first introduced.
Sadly, unlike with the original edition, the charging cable that comes in the Quest 2’s box also isn’t anywhere near long enough to support Link, so you’ll need to pick up your own wire. I’ve been using a third-party, three meter cable pretty happily, but Facebook continues to sell its own version as well. Keeping that out of the box feels a little cheeky but likely an additional step to drive the cost of the headset down.
Heads, Hands And Controllers
As for other elements of Quest 2’s performance, they’re all roughly the same. Facebook itself told me that there’s no hugely noticeable differences in the quality of the controller or hand-tracking at launch – though improvements will be made down the line – and I got about 2 hours and 30 minutes battery life out of the headset playing The Room VR in one sitting (or standing, as it were).
But, since the original Quest’s launch, the leaps the headset’s made with controller and head-tracking have been significant. The baton has simply been passed – Quest 2 has rock-solid inside-out tracking that rarely puts a foot wrong straight out of the gate.
It can still have its quirks; I found if I kept one arm down by my side for too long, as you would do in a fair number of VR games, the headset would forget where my controller was and it would suddenly appear in front of me, but such jitters are quickly corrected. It’s still true that concentrated sunlight through a window will cause issues with all types of tracking (especially hands), though.
The Touch controllers themselves are new, too, acting like a hybrid between the first generation’s circular design and the upward tracking ring from the second generation. You may recall I took issue with how cramped the gen-2 Touch controllers felt after two years of holding the original. Well, Facebook really took those complaints to heart; these things are pretty big.
That means there’s now plenty of room to rest your thumb to one side when you don’t need it and, based on my time with them, I also haven’t accidentally removed the battery cover a single time. On the flip side, my relatively average-sized hands don’t fit around the trigger quite as naturally as they have in the past, though it’s not uncomfortable.
Perhaps most impressively, the controllers now get much more juice out of a single AA battery. I’ve used Quest 2 for at least 10 hours now and my batteries both still say 100% charge. Facebook says the battery life in each is around four times longer, which could mean as much as 80 hours of charge, though I obviously haven’t been able to test that for myself.
Hand-tracking is one area that definitely stands to gain a lot from Quest 2, though. Like I said, as of right now, it’s largely identical to the original Quest’s offerings, which is to say it’s a pretty eye-opening experience with some clear flaws. Finger movements are quickly and accurately replicated, but the angles from which you can track your hands are limited, and you still can’t cross your hands over each other.
In a game like The Curious Tale Of The Stolen Pets, for example, you can have a pretty amazing time poking and prodding at diorama worlds, so long as you’re able to put up with a system that often fails to recognize gestures and inputs, making it hard to grab and put down objects, or spin the world around.
The Facebook Factor
If it wasn’t clear already (or you didn’t read the intro) let me be direct – the Oculus Quest 2 is an incredible piece of VR hardware of pretty astonishing value. You have to look at everything Facebook’s giving you for $300 – premium specs at a great price – and ask what exactly it’s getting out of it?
The answer? Well, it’s Facebook.
Quest 2 will be the first piece of Oculus hardware that requires a Facebook account to operate. Previous Oculus headsets featured an Oculus accounts system separate from making your own Facebook profile, but all of that’s going in the trash this October. If you want to turn on and boot up your Quest 2, there’s no other way around it.
How big of an issue is this, if at all? Well the ball’s kind of in your court on that one. You don’t need me to tell you that Facebook doesn’t have a great reputation on data privacy. You can see the obvious benefits the company might see in a technology platform that could literally tell where you’re looking at all times, then.
For anyone truly concerned about those issues I’d suggest an Oculus headset isn’t for you. The truly devilish detail about Quest 2’s price, though, is that there aren’t really many other options to consider in this range and of this quality.
Between the small bump in comfort and bigger increases in resolution and power alone, the Oculus Quest 2 represents a far bigger leap over its predecessor than I think anyone was really anticipating, especially after shaving $100 off the price tag. Add to that an ever-expanding set of versatile features that do everything from let you play PC VR games to controlling VR with just your hands, and there really isn’t another VR headset out there that comes close to matching it.
But it’s an aggressive piece of kit too, with its newfound dependency on Facebook accounts sure to repel some. It’s an identity crisis the device – and prospective buyers – will no doubt have to wrestle with in the weeks and months to come, especially given the unparalleled value it represents and the complete lack of similarly-priced competition in the field right now.
Still, for those that remain on the fence after all this time, insisting that they’ll get into VR when it’s worth it? I have to say that, for the first time in 7 years, I really do feel like it is. The Oculus Quest 2 is a bleeding-edge standalone headset with the right price and the content to back it up. This could just be where the race really starts.
What do you make of our Oculus Quest 2 review? Will you be picking the headset up? Let us know in the comments below!