This review was originally published on April 30, 2019. On December 5, 2019 we updated the review to reflect extended time with the device, recent updates to Quest software and the addition of Oculus Link
Last Saturday I pulled Oculus Quest over my eyes, booted up Fast Travel Games’ Apex Construct and played until the battery was flat. It lasted two hours and 50 minutes from full charge. In that time I had four instances of the device momentarily losing head tracking and two instances of the Oculus Touch controller tracking drifting or jumping unexpectedly.
Other than that, I played a fully intact PC VR game on a standalone headset. The visual fidelity had taken a significant hit but was far from unsightly. The freedom to twist and turn in VR without worrying about wrapping my legs in wires was liberating and, for the vast majority of the experience, the tracking performed in-line with current PC VR standards.
Quest has its fair share of caveats, then. A VR enthusiast that’s owned an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift for the past three years is unlikely to be swayed by its limited processing power and somewhat compromised tracking. But for the audience that’s sat on the sidelines since 2016, waiting for VR’s various barriers to come tumbling down, Oculus Quest is the real deal.
Quest is a standalone VR headset. That means that everything it needs to run is already built into the device. No PCs, no smartphones, no consoles; $399 gets you all you need to jump right into VR. As such, it’s heavier than the original Oculus Rift; my scales told me Quest weighs in at 580g compared to Rift’s 470g. It’s also similar to Rift S’s official 563g weight. Despite being heavier, the design is much more comfortable than the original Oculus Rift, with its foam faceplate putting less direct pressure on your forehead. That said the Quest is still a front-heavy device and you might consider some simple modifications to weigh it down at back. Without them, I’d feel strain on the front of my face after anywhere between 10 – 20 minutes of usage. Not enough to stop playing, but enough to long for the comfort of Rift S’s halo strap design.
But there are some nice additions to the design. The head strap, for example, expands and retracts from the hinges, giving you room to pull it on and then have it fit to your head without adjusting it every time. That said, the tough rubber strap can dig into the back of your head over time, similar to how the top of your head can hurt when wearing headphones. It took a fair bit of fiddling to find the perfect balance but, once I got there, Quest felt great on my head.
Specs And Stuff
On paper, Quest is about in-line with what you’d expect from a mobile VR headset in 2019. Its 1,440 × 1,600 per-eye is an appreciated step up from the original Rift but far from a revolution, with the gaps between pixels still clearly visible once you’ve acclimatized to the device. Small text is definitely easier to read but don’t expect an eye-opening jump. Audio, meanwhile, adopts the same excellent design from 2018’s Oculus Go. There’s a pair of built-in speakers that allow you to play at a volume that suits you but also hear what’s going on in the world around you.
A three-hour battery life might not sound too impressive for Quest. But, in practice, I found this accommodated the headset pretty well. Many of VR’s best games simply aren’t designed for three hours of straight play. One way or another, they’re too intensive (I certainly had to push myself to stay inside for three hours of Apex Construct). My bigger concern is with the two hours it took to fully charge the device again once flat; Quest is a device that will require constant access to a charge port if you’re planning to play regularly.
As with Rift and Go before it, Quest is a sleek package from top to bottom. But, for once, we’re not really here to talk about display and audio, are we?
Inside-Out Tracking Triumphs
One of Quest’s main draws is its new inside-out tracking system, dubbed Oculus Insight. Whereas the original Rift used external sensors to track your headset and controllers in physical space, Quest has four cameras mounted onto the device itself. Oculus reasons that the shift to inside-out is so compelling that it’s even refreshing the original Rift with this style of tracking.
Quest makes a great case for the switch, especially following some software updates. The vast majority of the time you’d be hard-pressed to find a difference. Pretty much all of the content I’ve played on Quest has been perfectly compatible. In Beat Saber, I slashed my way through Escape on Expert (in No Fail, I’ll admit) without being able to tell the difference. In Space Pirate Trainer I shot for the same high scores with as much success as I’d have anywhere else. Even in Superhot VR I was able to slowly navigate a spray of bullets whilst reaching for weapons just out of sight. I’d assumed Quest wouldn’t be able to handle those actions, but it worked at least nine times out of ten.
As I mentioned up top, I played a near three-hour session inside the headset with six noticeable blips in performance. That’s definitely less than I’d encounter with, say, Sony’s single-camera PlayStation VR tracking, but also six more than I would with my SteamVR or original Rift setups.
Quest’s camera can’t track behind you so, if you’re reaching around your back, the headset won’t know where your hands are. Oculus uses prediction algorithms and other sensors in the Touch to estimate where it might be, and these seem to have improved since launch, but they’re still not absolutely perfect. I could sometimes bring my hand from behind my head suddenly back to the center of the screen only for the Touch controller to appear when I stopped moving. Quickly swiping my arms from side-to-side often didn’t get picked up, either. Again, these elements have improved since launch and these movements are also rarely necessary inside VR.
But they can occasionally manifest themselves in some games. In Journey of the Gods I had issues reaching up to the skies to snatch a bolt of lighting, for example. I also jumped into my Quest early one morning and wondered why I couldn’t get the tracking to work. I took the headset off and found myself bathed in a ray of warm sunshine, concentrated through my window. If I turned my back on it, the headset worked fine but I had to wait until the sun had passed to get the proper experience.
These shortcomings may have serious implications for future VR design. Many of today’s best VR titles should be able to cope just fine, but it’s hard to imagine the 360-degree gameplay of something like Lone Echo handling as well. If Quest takes off as many hope it does, will we see VR games made with these limitations in mind?
I’ve also had some troubles with my Quest controllers getting stuck in a fixed position and requiring me to turn the headset off to fix. It’s rare, but in the middle of multiplayer sessions, it’s quite frustrating.
With this change in tracking comes a new means of staying safe in VR. Quest uses the same virtual barrier system, named Guardian, as seen on Rift. Get near the edges of your play space and blue borders will appear to let you know. But Quest’s passthrough camera evolves the system in two important ways. Firstly, it makes setup incredibly easy. Once you switch Quest on it will scan the environment for pre-established Guardian boundaries. If it doesn’t find any, it asks you to make them again. Doing so is as simple as putting on the headset and drawing a line with your Touch controllers around the area you can play in. You may occasionally have to redraw the area as it drifts out of its original position, but it’s not a big issue.
It’s wonderfully simple. Better yet, if you do step outside those barriers then the passthrough system automatically activates, showing the world around you. Plus you can now head into the passthrough option on demand. It’s intuitive to a degree VR hasn’t really enjoyed before. Previous setup systems were complicated and easily confused. With Quest, anyone that puts on a headset for the first time can be up and running in seconds. Better yet, if someone’s using the space you want to play it you can just find another one.
PC VR, Minus The Performance…
While Quest might not need a $1000 PC to run, it’s an inescapable fact that its Snapdragon 835 mobile hardware can’t afford the same kind of performance seen on Rift. In many cases I’ve seen, VR developers have done a tremendous job optimizing their once processor-intensive games for much leaner hardware. Superhot VR feels as sharp as ever, for example, as does Beat Saber. Stack them side-by-side with the PC counterparts and it will be clear which looks better, but once inside Quest it’s hard to tell.
But sometimes the cutbacks feel a little too much. Survios’ port of 2018 boxing hit Creed: Rise to Glory has the playable fundamentals down, but the load times are ugly as is the reduction in textures.
It’s telling, too, that Oculus Studios’ own genuinely ‘new’ Quest games, Journey of the Gods and Ballista, adopt cartoonish, simplistic art styles that do away with the intricacies of photorealism. Again, Quest’s potential to sell more than its PC VR contemporaries could mean we start seeing a lot of VR developers adopting less graphically rich games in the future.
…Unless You Have A PC
One of the major new additions to Quest since launch is the beta for Oculus Link. With Link, you can plug a USB 3.0 cable from a PC into your headset and have access to Oculus Rift games too. This works not just on the Oculus Store but even SteamVR where titles like Skyrim VR and No Man’s Sky Beyond reside.
It sounds almost too good to be true but, even in beta form, Link works incredibly well. There is some slight image compression but, honestly, I’ve never really been able to notice the difference. Facebook will be releasing its own 5-meter cable (or you can make one yourself) so that you can enjoy a little more liberation (most other cables are 3 meters long and a little restricting). With all of those pieces, Oculus Quest isn’t just a great standalone VR headset; it’s a pretty amazing PC one, too.
The catch is that you’ll need a relatively beefy PC to use the feature in its current state; an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 is the absolute minimum GPU requirement and no AMD cards are currently support. More options will be added in the future but, for now, Link is largely for enthusiasts that don’t mind sacrificing tetherless freedom for some exclusive games and graphical fidelity. That said, with Link’s introduction, anyone interested in a Facebook VR headset should seriously consider buying a Quest instead of a Rift S.
Fixed Foveated Rendering
Foveated rendering is a promising avenue for the future of VR. It’s a technique in which a headset only fully renders a certain part of its display, taking some of the pressure off of processing. Ideally, it would be paired with eye-tracking, allowing the device to see where you’re looking. Like Oculus Go, though, Quest uses fixed foveated rendering in many native apps. There’s no eye-tracking, so the headset instead simply blurs the edges of the screen in hopes you won’t realize.
Unlike Go, though, I noticed the foveated rendering far more in Quest. Or, rather, I noticed it far more in some Quest apps. In some games like Beat Saber it isn’t perceptible. Again, though, Creed was the giveaway. In the game’s opening training montage I couldn’t help but point my eyes down and see two blurs for feet running on a treadmill. Tilting my head up over text to move it into the foveated area revealed the scale and size of the effect. It renders fully right in the center and gets increasingly blurrier as you move closer to the edges of the display. You can see the effect in these images captured directly from the headset.
I’ve found the technique to range from incredibly distracting to occasionally noticeable. Creed is the main offender, yes, but it also caught my eye in games like Journey of the Gods and Apex Construct. It’s a necessary evil to get some of PC VR’s bigger games onto the headset but problematic all the same.
A Growing Library, Inside And Out
Despite technical setbacks, Quest’s library has been steadily growing over the past seven months with ports of some of the best PC VR titles alongside a handful of games built from the ground up for the platform. We probably won’t ever see power-hungry apps like Fallout 4 VR come to the headset natively, but there’s a good selection of VR milestones, from Superhot VR to Red Matter (see our 25 Best Quest Games list here). Most of them run really pretty well, save for some exceptions.
However, Facebook’s strict curation policy for Quest content, designed to bring only the most polished, market-proven games to Quest, is arguably stifling creativity on the platform. That is at least in an official capacity; you can head to the kit’s settings to turn on Developer Mode and run content from sources other than the Oculus Store.
Then, using services like SideQuest, you can access much more content. Some of the headset’s best experiences, like Tea For Gods, are beyond the reach of the Oculus Store. Keep in mind this obviously puts your Quest at risk of harmful malware.
Seven months ago I said Oculus Quest was mostly successful in its mission to make VR as accessible as possible in 2019. But, thanks to tracking improvements and the introduction of Oculus Link (as well as the future promise of hand-tracking support), Quest has risen through the ranks to become the VR headset to beat. It’s a wonderful piece of standalone technology with a burgeoning library of awesome VR content. Crucially, though, if you’re looking for a high-end experience, Quest now offers that too via Link.
If you’re a VR enthusiast that already owns a bleeding edge PC headset then this is not the device for you. But, if you’ve sat on the sidelines for the past three years longing for a chance to play Beat Saber and Superhot VR, or you’re looking to upgrade from your original Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or even PSVR, this is easily your best bet. When Quest is at its best (and it often is), it delivers an experience so close to PC VR you won’t care about the difference. And if you do notice that difference, you can seek out the PC experience instead through the same headset.
And yet, for all its advances, Quest likely still isn’t enough to truly take VR mainstream. Its limited mobile hardware, the expense of getting into Link and its front-heavy design hold the system back, as does the usual array VR caveats like display resolution. Plus, even the very reasonable price of $399 is steep for anyone that doesn’t consider themselves a gaming enthusiast. Could Oculus expand the audience beyond the niche group that enjoys VR now? Absolutely. Is it VR’s mainstream moment? Probably not. Looking back though, we’ll likely view it as a vital stepping stone to getting to that point.
What are your thoughts on our Oculus Quest review? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!