XR Talks is a series that features the best presentations and educational videos from the XR universe. It includes embedded video, as well as narrative analysis and top takeaways. Speakers’ opinions are their own.
This week’s announced Oculus Quest launch date (May 21) compelled our Wednesday analysis of its potential market impact. But that focused on revenue projections and implications for VR mainstream penetration. So this week’s XR talks dives further into particulars of the device itself.
We’ve seen lots of professional reviews (peppered throughout this post) and they’re all positive on Quest’s performance. Its quality goes back to Facebook’s loss leader approach we often cite, wherein it sacrifices margin to reduce cost and boost sales, pursuant to its platform strategy.
But the result is a device with a quality/cost ratio that outperforms the rest of the market. Our favorite reviewers — the always in-depth and insightful folks at Tested — agree with this take, and even assert that consumers should take advantage of Facebook’s thin margins on Quest.
“This is Facebook accelerating adoption by subsidizing and selling these at very little margin,” said Tested’s Jeremy Williams. “That’s something the competitors can’t necessarily do, but we as consumers can take advantage of it. This is a device that probably shouldn’t exist at this price.”
One of the device’s marks of quality is how well Oculus was able to optimize performance with limited specs. As we examined earlier this week, it has the processing power of an average Android smartphone (Snapdragon 835), but it makes efficient use of this limitation.
“I was surprised by how few compromises there were,” said Tested’s Norman Chen. “Yes, there are going to be technical limitations: it has to run on a battery, it’s not going to run graphics to the fullest. But the display looks fantastic, the optics look fantastic, and the tracking is rock solid.”
Beyond Oculus’ work in creating a device that deals well with its own technical limitations, the same challenge will be put to developers. As we examined, they’ll optimize the UX for limited processing by creating less graphically-intensive and textured game elements.
“It’s very much about graphical styling,” said Williams. “There’s been six months of optimization, and developers are learning how to get the most out of this processor. I’m really impressed with what the first generation of games are able to pull out… It’s just going to get better.”
Tracking has been another consistent praise from reviewers. Hand tracking was developed for precision in movement-intensive games like Beat Saber, which appears to have paid off. This is impressive, given that tracking draws from the same core processor as the rest of the device.
“It has to do all the inside-out tracking using that exact same processor,” said Williams. “There’s no subprocessor for all that stuff. So I was expecting Oculus Go-level geometry and textures. But honestly, the PC ports that we saw were very close to their PC equivalents.”
CNet’s Scott Stein agrees, pointing to the hand tracking as Quest’s highlight. This has implications for the types of games that will shine on the device. That includes Beat Saber, as mentioned, and “sandbox” games like Rec Room that benefit from precision in hand movements.
“Controllers move fluidly and let you move your fingers to make it feel like you can reach out and grab things,” he said. “Bouncing balls… grabbing a baseball bat… dancing with a virtual robot… the controls are the best thing about Quest. Most games I played are active smooth and fun.”
Freedom of movement has also been a source of praise, as expected. The tethered experience of PC-VR has always distracted from the immersion and presence that VR is meant to evoke. And though standalone hardware has processing limitations, it’s another welcome tradeoff.
“I’ve been using VR for a long time and I’ve gotten used to stepping around wires,” said the Verge’s Adi Robertson. “But not having to worry about tripping while I’m jumping around a sports game or pausing an adventure game to face the cameras feels better than I thought it would.”
As for other limitations, Quest is a closed platform with a limited/curated set of experiences. Then again, curation may appeal to new and novice VR converts (the intended audience) otherwise dissuaded by the wild-west quality variance of VR’s independent gamescape.
“Oculus seems to be betting that a lot of people will be happy with a convenient, lower-powered headset that plays a smaller number of games,” said Robertson. “Sony [PSVR] is making the same play… Oculus could tap into that market with something that’s even more convenient.”
Speaking of convenience, another perk that joins a long list of improvements is setup. Oculus Insight tracking system eschews the previous outside-in system of the Rift. Setting up a play area is now fast & easy, which is another key attribute needed to appeal to regular folks.
“If you are using VR for fun, you want a seamless experience and that’s what Oculus is trying to deliver here,” said Robertson. “It’s simplified things that used to be annoying. You can just draw a line to set up virtual boundaries, for instance, instead of physically walking around the room.”
Bottom line, Quest has technical compromises but does a good job dealing with them. Larger market factors will prevent it from being VR’s “iPhone moment,” as we examined this week. But it doesn’t matter: Quest is a solid device in its own right, and is what VR needs right now.
“Quest is the best hardware version of a mobile VR experience that I’ve ever seen, and the price is not crazy high,” said Cnet’s Stein. “Sure, more advanced ideas will happen, and this isn’t the last step in immersive tech, but Oculus Quest is a major moment in self-contained VR.”
See the full review videos from which the above quotes are pulled embedded throughout this post. See a breakdown of our own VR research (overall, non-Quest) below.
Disclosure: AR Insider has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.
Header image credit: AR in Action, YouTube