Oculus Quest Makes User-Friendly VR A Reality

The allure of VR is hard to deny, but the first wave of at-home devices proved to be too costly—or intimidating—for most consumers. This hasn't stopped companies like Oculus, HTC and PlayStation from trying to reach a big audience, though, and a second wave of VR devices seeks to entice buyers with lower prices, simpler hardware and more games. Newsweek reviewed the Oculus Quest, a bold middle-of-the-road approach to VR that aims to assuage the concerns of casual consumers.

oculus quest hands on
Oculus

Oculus Quest represents a true step forward for VR. It's affordable: priced at $399. It's untethered: a wireless device that does not connect to a PC. It is a self-contained piece of sophisticated hardware that also manages to be easy to use. Quest is not intimidating like older VR; all you do is push the power button to turn it on. It combines the lightweight wireless tech found in the Oculus Go with the motion tracking and hand presence found in the more powerful (and PC-dependent) Oculus Rift.

"Positional tracking and the Oculus Touch controllers are important for depth of gameplay and a richer experience. That was a critical anchor for us on the Quest," Sean Liu, the Director of Hardware Management at Oculus, tells Newsweek.

As a piece of hardware, Oculus Quest is nearly idiot proof. You pair it with your phone, register an account and get started. Set up gives you a comforting amount of control to determine your own boundaries. Once powered on, a camera displays the room around you. The Touch controllers allow you to trace out a play space, similar to drawing a chalk outline. When you approach the edges of your space, a virtual wall appears to let you know you're close to bumping into those boundaries.

Next, a simple tutorial walks you through the basics. Because it uses the Touch controllers, Oculus Quest games allow you to interact with objects in virtual reality like you would in real life. You'll start by tossing a paper airplane or shooting a dart gun. Once immersed in the games, you'll be swinging a lightsaber in Vader: Immortal or working as a short order cook in a restaurant for robots in Job Simulator. And it's the games, more than the hardware, that represent the next big challenge for the VR marketplace.

"Content is king," says Liu. "Our next big push is to drive up the number of quality games to platform."

phantom covert ops oculus
Phantom: Covert Ops puts players in a "tactical kayak," solving VR's locomtion issue with innovative gameplay and traditional stealth combat action. Oculus

The next big push won't come from Oculus alone. VR is still a fledgling platform by video-game industry standards, and if there's one thing the video-game industry cares about, it's a robust install base. The higher the number of units sold, the easier it is to get game developers to create content for your platform. Liu says the goal for the VR industry is to reach a combined total of 10 million VR units as soon as possible.

"What's special about that number is that it is not tied to Oculus Quest. We're thinking about this with HTC, PlayStation and us combined adding up to a big hardware base," he said. "You need to have a large base for the economics to work."

The games library for Oculus Quest is its weakest link. As a piece of hardware there's little to complain about (though its 2–3 hour battery life could do with some improvement), but on the software side there aren't anywhere near as many games as most consumers are used to. This isn't to say they aren't any good games. Beat Saber is a heart-racing rhythm game where you slash oncoming musical notes with a pair of lightsabers. Google Tilt Brush allows you to draw and sculpt 3D objects in a number of serene settings, such as a forest underneath a clear night sky. And Superhot VR is a highly stylized shooting game that syncs the passage of time to your in-game movements, allowing you to dodge bullets Matrix-style. While games are what's next for VR's immediate future, Liu says Oculus still has plenty to figure out for its long-term vision.

"In 10 years we want it down to a size of a pair of glasses," he says. "But there's no single innovation that will help us immediately."

That's because making VR hardware smaller makes the challenges even bigger. Putting all of the computing components into a smaller package increases the heat density. Anyone who has used a powerful laptop for a long period of time understands just how hot portable hardware can get. Strapping it to your face makes it all the more complicated. There are also physical limits on the optics, Liu explained. Right now there is a minimum amount of distance the light needs to travel inside the headsets for the displays to work, so it's not as simple as shrinking it.

And all of this depends upon a robust audience and large game library driving the sales needed to spur continued investment. Reality, it seems, is here to stay awhile longer.

Oculus Quest Makes User-Friendly VR A Reality | Gaming