The Oculus Quest could be the device that turns the VR market around and attracts the masses. It’s easy to use, simple to setup, performs well and is reasonably priced. It’s basically a game console built into a headset, and it’s much better than what you’re probably expecting.
Oculus revealed the Quest, a $399 standalone 6-degrees of freedom VR headset, last fall at Oculus Connect 5. After several years of anticipation, it appeared that what Oculus was cooking up would have a significant impact on the VR industry. And now that I've spent a week with Quest, I can firmly say this release marks a pivotal moment in the history of the VR industry. Quest is going to change the game.
Oculus is taking pre-orders for the Quest now, with shipping taking place on May 21. If the Quest doesn’t jump-start VR adoption, we may be forced to give the VR doomsayers a bit more credit. This headset checks all the right boxes and leaves very few desirable features off the table. If this can't get the market to the billion VR users that Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg envisioned when he spent $2 billion to purchase the Oculus brand, I don't know if anything can.
Oculus Quest VR Headset Specs
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835|
|Display||Dual 1440x1600 72Hz OLED panels|
|IPD Setting||Mechanical IPD adjustment (range undisclosed)|
|Storage||64GB or 128GB of internal flash storage|
|Audio||Integrated speakers and microphone, dual 3.5 mm audio jack (one on each side), in-ear headphone accessory available|
|Battery||Built-in Lithium Ion battery (mAh undisclosed)|
|Facial Interface and Strap Material||Knit Mesh, Nylon Micro Yarn, Spandex Materials|
|Tracking Technology||Oculus Insight inside-out camera-based 6-DoF tracking with motion controllers|
|Input||2nd-generation Oculus Touch controllers|
|Play Space Requirements||Stationary or Room-scale. Room-scale requires a minimum of|
2 x 2m or 6.5 x 6.5 feet of obstruction-free floor space
|Dimensions||193 x 105 x 222mm|
|Price||64GB: $399, 128GB: $499|
A Long Time Coming
Oculus has been building towards a standalone, un-tethered VR solution for a long time. The company first revealed Project Santa Cruz in October 2016 at Oculus Connect 3. Santa Cruz was a prototype concept of a Rift with a PC built onto the back. In October 2017 at Oculus Connect 4, Oculus gave us a glimpse of a near-production-ready version of Project Santa Cruz, which would eventually evolve into Quest.
Quest isn’t Oculus’s first attempt at a standalone VR headset. Last year, the company released the Oculus Go. The headset supports basic 3-degrees of freedom (DoF) tracking. It superseded the Gear VR platform but didn’t raise the bar for VR devices very high. As an entry-level device meant to introduce people to VR, Oculus Go does a great job. But its limited tracking function ultimately cripples its capacity to deliver the full experience that the PC-connected Oculus Rift offers.
The Quest bridges the gap between the Go and the Rift and offers full room-scale (or warehouse-scale) 6-DoF movement in a tether-free, standalone package.
Powered By Snapdragon--Circa 2017
Oculus Quest gets its processing power from a Snapdragon 835 SoC, which would have been cutting-edge when Oculus started working with the platform in 2016. But it’s a surprising move for Q2 2019, when there are far more powerful chips in Qualcomm’s catalog. Still, developers have managed to squeeze impressive performance out of the mature mobile chipset (more on that later).
All-Star Feature List, Top-Notch Fit and Finish
The Oculus Quest might be the best-looking VR headset that I’ve ever laid hands on. It looks and feels like a high-quality product and something you would want to own. All the materials are well-refined, and the fit and finish are fantastic. It’s clear Oculus has learned a thing or two about headset design over the years. The new device improves on the looks of both the Rift and Go.
Like the Rift, the Quest features a fabric-wrapped exterior, which gives it an elegant look (at least when it’s new). The Rift introduced the fabric exterior for allowing infrared light to pass through it, but the Quest does not use infrared lights or external sensors for its tracking system, so the fabric here is for aesthetic purposes. However, it may facilitate heat dissipation for all the internal components. While the Go has a metal faceplate that acts as a heatsink to keep the parts chilled, the Quest has a plastic faceplate with no visible ventilation holes.
The Quest also has the best features of the Go headset, including the head strap-based speaker system and the removable / washable memory foam face cushion.
The Oculus Quest headset runs off a less-powerful computing platform than the Rift, but that didn’t stop Oculus from improving display hardware in the new headset. The Oculus Quest features dual 1440x1600 displays, which is a significant improvement over the Rift’s 1080x1200 per-eye resolution.
To compensate for the lower computing power and higher resolution, Oculus opted for a lower refresh rate to lower the performance requirements.
The Rift features 90Hz displays, and at launch, Oculus claimed that 90Hz was the minimum requirement to prevent motion sickness. Since then, the company has loosened its stance on that metric. The two panels in the Quest also refresh 72 times per second, as does the Go, and the upcoming Oculus Rift S is supposed will feature 80Hz.
Even still, the Quest headset demands a much higher pixel fill rate. To drive the Rift, your GPU must deliver 233,280,000 pixels per second, whereas the Quest’s Snapdragon SoC needs to contend with 331,776,000 pixels per second. It’s a miracle that this mobile chipset can handle that kind of workload, but it pulls it off with flying colors.
The Quest also includes a mechanical IPD adjustment system, which enables you to dial the lenses in to match the distance between your pupils. This is a notable feature because the Rift S will use software IPD adjustment, so the Quest has a leg up here.
Best of all, the Quest boasts the impressive Fresnel lenses that Oculus developed for the Go, which help to minimize the dreaded godray image distortion that plagues the 1st-generation Rift.
Insight Tracking System
In addition to driving the graphics, the Qualcomm processor must also simultaneously calculate the headset and controllers’ positions.
To break the headset free of the host computer, Oculus created the Insight tracking system for the Quest. It uses headset-based cameras to map the surrounding environment. The Quest uses four cameras with fish-eye lenses to keep track of movements. Two cameras are mounted on the upper corners facing outwards and slightly to the rear. The other two cameras are on the bottom edge, facing forward and down to keep track of the floor and lower half of the space.
This is quite different from the Rift's external sensor-based tracking solution called Constellation, which tracks infrared patterns on the headset with cameras that sit on your desk. The cameras demand a high level of USB bandwidth and sensors that you must wire to a computer.
New Touch Controllers
The Insight cameras are also used to monitor the movement of your Touch controllers. The new controllers include all the same buttons in more or less the same layout as the original Touch controllers. However, Oculus moved the halo with the tracking LEDs to the top of the controllers so the headset-based cameras can see them with less occlusion.
When the controllers are visible to the cameras, the tracking fidelity is as good as you get with the Rift. And when you reach beyond the view of the cameras, Oculus uses software and the gyro information to estimate your controllers' position. Unlike the Windows Mixed Reality controllers, which don’t track well outside of the camera range, the new Touch controllers work well beyond the camera’s field of view.
The new Touch controllers are quite a lot like the old controllers, but with improved ergonomics. The company made the handles slightly thicker, which is a change that I welcome. The original controllers were a bit too small, and my hands always cramp while using them. The new shape is much more comfortable for me.
MORE: Virtual Reality Basics