Saturday, November 23, 2019

Review: Oculus Quest

I got an Oculus Quest because I wanted to exercise more. Really.

For those not familiar, the Oculus Quest is a second-generation virtual reality headset from Oculus (owned by Facebook). Virtual reality headsets place a monitor in front of each eye (or one monitor with each eye only viewing half of it). This gives you a true 3D image, which you can look around in by turning your head. Most headsets, including the Quest, come with hand controllers as well. These create virtual hands which follow your real hands in the environment, allowing you to grip, point, and generally manipulate your environment. They usually come with buttons and joysticks which allow you to move around in your environment and interact with it in less intuitive ways.

I also own an Oculus Rift, the first-generation headset. The main difference between the headsets is one of mobility. The Oculus Rift (and the Rift S, its successor) must be tethered to a fairly powerful computer to work through a long cable. The Quest is untethered. All its components--battery, processor, memory, as well as the screen and speakers--are in the headset. This gives you a lot of freedom. You can take the Quest anywhere--even outside, though that's not recommended, or on trips.

It does make a difference. I can find a much larger area in my backyard than I could in my office with my computer, which gives you a significant area to move around in. You also don't get tangled in the cables as you turn around in the game.

But back to the exercise: I got the Oculus Quest because I had gotten into the VR game Beat Saber. This is a simple game that is also pretty effective exercise. You are given two lightsabers, one red and one blue, and you need to slice colored metal blocks as they fly toward you with the lightsaber the same color as the block, cutting in the direction indicated by arrows on the blocks. The blocks follow the rhythm of dance songs playing in the background (the beat in beat saber). There are also occasional obstacles you have to dodge as they fly toward you. At higher difficulty settings, it can be quite intense, and easily an aerobic workout.

Beat Saber. I'm not doing great here, mainly because I'm trying to capture a picture.
Unfortunately, I can't take the computer with me when I travel, so I thought the Oculus Quest would make a useful alternative. That way I can have an (entertaining) aerobic exercise even when I'm visiting my parents.
The Oculus Quest in the compact, hard travel case I bought for it. 
So, what do I think about it, especially compared to the original? Here are my thoughts:

Advantages

  • Mobile
  • Easy to set up
  • Easier to use even when you aren't traveling--I find myself using it more than my original Rift, even though I have them both in my bedroom.
Disadvantages
  • It feels slightly more sluggish. The sabers feel like they lag behind just a little.
  • There are more glitches. The original Rift had its glitches as well, but this feels like it glitches more. This may be partly because of the games I'm playing, as most glitches seem to be more errors in the game than in the system. For example, every once in a while one of the sabers stop working, and goes spinning off into the void. At one point, for about a week, I was observing freezes and the screen going black in Beat Saber too, but that seems to have been a bug that they fixed.
  • The system isn't as powerful, and so can't handle games that need a PC behind them.
  • Since the tracking is internal, it's easier to move the controllers out of sight of the cameras built into the Rift.
So would I recommend it over the Rift S, the updated version of the original Oculus Rift? Yes, for one very important reason: Oculus is adding Link--a system that lets you use the Quest as if it were a Rift through a single USB C cable. If it works as well as promised, and you get the mobility and the power of a computer when you want it, I'm not sure what market the Rift S will fill.

Now what I'd really like to see is a wireless connection between the Quest and the computer, using WiFi. You'd think it would be possible, since the Quest does have WiFi and is battery powered. Maybe next year.

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