Oculus Quest Review
Reviewed on Oculus Quest
2019 might be the year virtual reality (VR) makes real inroads into mainstream gaming. Not only have we seen the first ever VR Showcase at E3 2019, but the Oculus Quest is loud, proud, and making its mark on the modern games industry as we know it. At just £399, the Oculus Quest provides a simple, elegant solution that doesn’t require any cumbersome setup, sensors, wires, or an expensive gaming PC to dive into the immersive world of VR. But is it everything it’s cracked up to be? Let’s find out.
Starting with the tech specs, the Quest boasts an impressive 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye, which translates to an image with greater clarity than the PSVR, Vive, Rift, and even Rift S. Despite a comparatively low refresh rate of 72Hz, you’re unlikely to notice any visual difference unless you compare it with side-by-side output of another headset.
It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor - for comparison, that’s the same model used in a Samsung S8. Just looking at that statistic in isolation sells it short, however, as the Quest is more than capable of powering some of your favourite VR titles like Beat Saber and SUPERHOT VR.
There is an understandable knock to performance compared to the major VR headsets, though, thanks to the processing being done inside the headset. There’s a clear downgrade in the quality of textures and lighting effects in the aforementioned games, but you probably won’t care when you’re frantically slicing notes like a crazed Jedi or channelling Neo to dodge incoming bullets. Most experiences are so much more immersive thanks to the untethered gameplay that these graphical downgrades can be forgiven.
Some reviews have complained that the Quest’s built-in audio was sub-par, and though it certainly lacked the bass fidelity I was accustomed to on Beat Saber, it generally fared much better than I expected. You can still tell which direction attacks are coming from, and the immersion factor is boosted by not being forced to use earphones. The freedom is liberating, but an audio jack is also included if you’re unsatisfied with the built-in sound, or if other people are in the room with you - there’s an understandable level of audio leakage, after all.
The battery life of the headset is less than stellar, however, usually only lasting about two hours – three at a stretch, depending on what game you’re playing. Though most people aren’t spending more than two hours in a single session, constantly charging it can become a nuisance. Of course, the ability to play while it’s charging makes up for this, and the USB-C charging port means the battery recharges pretty quickly. You do lose the USP of tetherless VR, but that’s a small price to pay when the alternative is twiddling your thumbs as your headset recharges. To get the best of both worlds, you can even hook the Quest up to a portable power bank and slip it into your pocket to remain portable but keep the battery topped up.
The controllers are not only wonderfully ergonomic, fitting your hands far more naturally than other bulkier controllers, but they’re also efficient and easy to use. The new Oculus controllers only need a single AA battery, and they last for an incredibly long amount of time. You don’t need to worry about turning the controllers on and off every time you want to play, either; they wake up with the headset once everything is paired and will power down when you take a break. Even the straps and magnetic battery cover impressed me with their build quality!
The setup is surprisingly simple with the Oculus Quest. You’ll need to install the Oculus app onto your smartphone, but once that’s done and any updates are downloaded, you’re up and running in minutes. The introductory tutorial has some very serviceable minigames, and it comes pre-loaded with a number of demos to try out a range of popular releases.
The software itself is also incredibly intuitive, too. You can reset, redraw, and most importantly re-centre the guardian boundary in a couple of clicks, which blew me away. If you’ve ever dealt with the comparatively clunky systems of other VR platforms messing up your play-space or pointing you in the wrong direction, Oculus’ solution will be a breeze. Peaking your head outside of the boundary even switches to a pass-through view of your surroundings using the front-facing cameras. This is fantastic for collecting your bearings and taking a breather, having a drink, or moving something out of the way without needing to take the headset off.
I did have a couple of crashes, but they were both with the same game, so I don’t think the fault was on Oculus for these. It is worth noting, however, that developers have to make a lot of adjustments to bring their titles to the Quest. There’s always a danger that this leads to poorly-optimised ports, so consumers may want to exercise more caution when it comes to their app purchases. The Oculus Store has a five-star rating system for their titles alongside player reviews, though, which is an exemplary consumer-first practice.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Quest would be heavy and bulky due to having a computer built into it, but it’s surprisingly comfortable. The weight is just under 600g, which is actually less than the PSVR and several Windows Mixed Reality headsets. It also sits quite snugly on your face, once you adjust the three straps accordingly.
There’s a small gap around the nose that can let some light in, but it’s unlikely to be immersion-breaking once you’re engrossed in your favourite game. In fact, I found it was not only useful to peek through if I wanted to quickly gauge my surroundings, but it also allows the Quest to breathe better than other headsets. It also comes with a glasses spacer so you can enjoy virtual reality without needing to remove your glasses or wear pesky contact lenses.
The biggest boon to comfort, however, is the manual IPD adjustment slider on the underside of the Quest. IPD, or Interpupillary Distance, is the space between your pupils, and it’s vital to calibrate the displays accordingly to get the optimum image focus. Most modern VR headsets - including the Rift S - have done away with a manual adjuster and opt instead for a software IPD adjustment that mimics the effect of moving the displays closer or further apart.
It’s important to measure your IPD if you’re considering buying a VR headset as your mileage may vary, but if you aren’t in the statistical average range, a manual slider is significantly better. It’s also ideal for parties or gatherings where you’re passing the headset between friends and family of all ages, as you can quickly adjust the image to suit each player.
The biggest point of contention for the Quest might well be its cost. £399 is a low barrier to entry if you have none of the tools required to play games in VR. Assuming you don’t own an expensive gaming PC, the Quest is an excellent standalone option. However, the PSVR headset is a reasonable alternative and even with a second-hand PS4, you can keep the total under £400. Equally, a £200 WMR headset will outshine the Quest performance-wise, if you have a PC powerful enough to use one.
Neither of these solutions are as elegant or user-friendly as the Oculus Quest, but as it’s the same price as a Rift S, the decision becomes a bit trickier. If your interest is primarily in simple party titles like Beat Saber and Fruit Ninja, then there are plenty of options to consider. The Quest isn’t future-proof, however, whereas the other solutions mentioned probably will be. Sony have already announced PSVR support for the PS5, and PCs can be upgraded and rebuilt endlessly. It’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to upgrade your Quest, on the other hand, unless Oculus offer some aftermarket voodoo in the future.
The Quest-exclusive store also leaves something to be desired. Though quite a few titles do support “cross-play”, some fan favourites such as Beat Saber, Job Simulator, or SUPERHOT VR require separate purchases, even if you already own them on the Oculus store - or, conversely, want to play your Quest titles on a Rift or Rift S. AAA titles like Skyrim VR or Fallout 4 are unlikely to ever release on Quest, either, due to their sheer resource requirements. Overall, this drives home the feeling that the Oculus Quest is designed purely for newcomers, which might leave VR veterans with a sour taste.
[Editor’s Note: Later this month, I’ll be getting hands-on with an Oculus Rift S to get a good comparison of their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll also be spending some time on the road, which will be the perfect opportunity to test out the Quest without any alternative gaming options. This review will be updated in the future, so keep checking The Digital Fix for more detailed VR impressions. ]