TL;DR: The Oculus Quest 2 feels like something from the future, but ultimately I returned it.
I pre-ordered an Oculus Quest 2 the day it was announced, and was quite excited for it to arrive. Facebook’s livestreamed announcement event for the Quest 2 had the polished feel of an Apple Event™️. And the promised updates to the Quest line were equally compelling: improved optics, comfort, and hardware capabilities all at a lower price point than the original Quest.
As a piece of hardware, the Quest 2 is a steal for the price they’re selling it at. I would be shocked if Facebook wasn’t selling these devices below cost-of-production; it is a startling amount of hardware for $300. As someone that doesn’t follow the VR industry super carefully, I find it remarkable how drastically the entry-level price point for decent VR experiences has plummeted. Facebook deserves a good deal of credit for driving this trend; for example, the Valve Index is still a $1000 headset, and you need a competent gaming machine (another >$1000 investment) to drive it.
But, after playing with my Quest 2 for a few weeks, I ended up sending it back. I was struggling to find an angle to write about the Quest 2 because it’s both a technological marvel and something of a disappointment. This review “borrows” its structure from Andrew Petrov, who also wrote about his experience with the Quest 2.
For some context, most of my VR experience has been with the Oculus CV1 headset (which is pretty old at this point), and I’d characterize myself as something of a casual VR skeptic – it’s cool tech, but I’m not totally convinced of its staying power or utility.
I agree with most of the internet that the Elite Strap, an $80 addon accessory, is a must-buy to get the most out of this headset. I tried the “default” strap – which is made of stretchy fabric – and found it immediately uncomfortable. The Elite Strap balances the weight of the headset better, and feels much more sturdy on my head.
With the Elite Strap, I felt like I could easily keep the headset on for an hour or two without any pressure on my head. The bottleneck for how long I could use the headset ended up being more affected by eye fatigue than physical discomfort. It took a few times to get used to putting on the headset – mostly because I wear glasses, and you have to be careful to slot your glasses into the eyepiece without poking yourself – but once I got used to it, the Elite Strap worked great. It has a dial on the back that you can use to adjust the fit, so that it stays snug on your skull.
It’s worth noting that if you’re planning on using the Quest 2 to watch videos or movies, the Elite Strap makes it uncomfortable to lean back while wearing the headset, because the back piece pokes the back of your head when you put pressure on it. Given that some people use the Quest for watching movies on planes (back when, you know, flying was a thing), I would recommend using the stock stretchy band.
Tracking / Guardian
The Quest 2 uses an “inside-out” tracking mechanism – it has several cameras on the outside of the device that use computer vision to infer your position, instead of relying on outside tracking beacons to determine your position from well-known “satellite” locations.
In my experience, this worked incredibly well. There are two tracking modes: stationary and room scale. The stationary mode is meant to be used in a chair, and with room scale you “paint” the boundaries of a room by walking around its border, and then the Quest makes sure that games keep you within that safe zone. Also, the Quest saves prior room configurations, so you can use it across multiple rooms without having to setup the guardian boundaries each time.
Another unadvertised feature of the Quest is that you can enable a setting to view the tracking cameras in “passthrough mode”, so you can see all your surroundings. I found this really useful when setting up the play space, and if I ever needed to move something or see what was happening “outside” while I was wearing the headset.
The actual in-app guardian system works without issue. You’re shown the boundaries of the defined space if you ever get close to its edges, to prevent yourself from bumping into furniture. No complaints there.
I have no real complaints about the controllers. I found the tracking on the controllers to be very consistent. They’re more than good enough to get that “magic feeling” of grabbing out into space to pick them up while you have the headset on.
One concern that I had was that since the Quest uses inside-out tracking, the controllers would be flaky when they’re behind your head or at the limits of your vision. It is true that the controllers will lose tracking if you move them behind your head, but in practice most games handled this pretty well. Some games compensate for this by using accelerometer data from the controllers to approximate their position behind your head.
The button layout was pretty comfortable, and I found the battery life of the controllers to be a non-issue.
Unlike many other folks on the internet, I thought the Quest 2’s onboard audio was totally sufficient for normal use. Many people found it tinny, but I thought was good enough for in-game audio and watching videos. However, I wouldn’t want to listen to longer movies with it. I also observed that it leaked a lot of audio into the room, which could be annoying if you’re using the Quest around others.
Personally, I’d rather use “meh” speakers that are built in to the device over needing to wear a pair of headphones along with the already bulky headset.
One of the really neat features of the Quest is that you can plug it into a gaming PC and use it as a tethered headset. You just need to have an adequately long USB-C cable and a powerful enough PC.
It was a bit of a pain to install and setup the Oculus software on my desktop, but once it was configured, things mostly “just worked”. There’s still a bit of jankiness occasionally in the tracking while tethered to a PC, and as a whole I found the Quest Link experience to be less consistent than “standalone mode”. So, while it’s an intriguing feature, and ostensibly allows you to play the large catalog of PC-based VR games (provided that you have a machine capable of driving those experiences), I don’t think the Quest makes sense as a primary PC VR headset.
One of the more viscerally cool features of the Quest 2 is its support for controller-less hand-tracking. The Quest can use it’s tracking cameras to determine the position of your hands and fingers, and renders them as ghostly outlines in the UI. You can use pinch and drag gestures to scroll in menus, and you tap together your thumb and index finger to select or “click” something.
I was pleasantly surprised at how good the hand tracking was. As long as your hands are in view of the cameras, the Quest does a really good job of rendering them. This was one of those magic experiences that feels like it’s a few years ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, hand tracking is supported in many fewer games and applications than the touch controllers – it lacks support in even rather simple apps like the Firefox browser or YouTube viewer. Hopefully apps which make sense for hand tracking get support for them over time, but as of writing, this still feels more like a really cool gimmick or tech demo than a fully realized feature.
The Quest 2 supports streaming the headset’s output to Chromecast-compatible devices, which is a really handy way of sharing the experience of VR with others who aren’t wearing the headset. The Quest also supports live streaming to the internet, but I never tested that.
In my experience, Chromecast streaming worked quite well. I noticed that the headset ran quite a bit hotter (and probably burned through battery faster) while it was streaming, but it was still very usable. This is another “I’m impressed that this is even possible, and kinda shocked that it works so well” aspect of the Quest 2. Streaming was super handy when showing other people how VR works; you could put the headset on them, and then guide them through some VR experiences by looking at what they were seeing on the stream. This enables some pretty fun local social VR.
Oculus Mobile App
For some reason (Logging in? To send you push notifications?), you need to install the Oculus mobile app on your phone to setup the headset. It’s… “fine”, but I wish I could have skipped it altogether. It felt like an unnecessary app on my phone, and was little else other than another window to view the Oculus Store.
On the plus side, you can initiate streaming from the app, which came in handy.
The ecosystem is where the Quest 2 really disappointed me:
The Oculus Store is the primary way of getting games and apps for the Quest 2. While you can use the Quest as a PC headset via Quest Link, and you can sideload apps (with a tool called SideQuest), from an ease of use perspective, the Oculus Store is the primary portal for buying and loading content. And it’s not great.
I found it difficult to search for games, or discover content that wasn’t being heavily promoted on the front page. The store also felt strangely empty, save for a few dozen premium experiences (think Beat Saber, Superhot VR, Job Simulator). There really didn’t seem like much of the “long tail” in the Oculus Store that you see on other platforms, like Steam. You could see this as a good thing, as the store is clearly being heavily curated for quality. However, for me the effect was the feeling that there still wasn’t much to do once you got past the handful of really well known, popular VR titles.
Additionally, stuff felt pretty expensive on the Quest store. Older titles still sell for full price, and as of yet, I don’t think they’ve had any of the deep sales that are common on Steam or the Epic Games store.
The elephant in the room is that Facebook-the-brand became much more present in Oculus’ ecosystem with the launch of the Quest 2. As was announced during the launch event, using the Quest 2 requires a Facebook login. Furthermore, it seems like anecdotally this must be your “real” Facebook, and not a dummy login, as folks who setup new accounts to link with their Quest were being banned.
Fair enough, I thought. Facebook acquired Oculus, they’re investing a lot of money into its success, and they want to bolster their own brand by shrinking the gap in consumer’s minds between Facebook and Oculus.
Then, the other shoe dropped: Deleting or deactivating your Facebook causes you to lose all purchased Oculus games. Yikes. I personally do not use my Facebook account very often, and at this point it’s unlikely that I’d take the step to deactivate it, but so closely tying a hardware purchase to a social account doesn’t sit well with me.
I’ve bought a ton of Steam games, and know that if I were to get locked out of that account, I would be quite sad. But, it just feels… kinda creepy that an ostensibly separate account which I used to post pictures back in like 2010 is now required for me to buy a VR game in 2020.
If you’ll allow me to go full, “Kotaku PS5 review” for a second, another reason I was initially excited for the Quest was that it promised to be a source of novelty during a year in which so many novel experiences – traveling, browsing book stores, seeing people in physical places – are not safe. And to an extent, the Quest provides on that promise; it’s a remarkably immersive device.
But, in the end, the Quest 2 still felt like “just another screen” to me:
another outlet for escapist content consumption. There’s nothing wrong with that
per se, but I already
waste spend enough time consuming media that I don’t
think I really need another device right now to further that habit.
More generally, I’m left scratching my head at why VR isn’t taking off more. The technology has come so far since I first tried one of the Oculus developer headsets at PAX in 2014, and yet it feels like there hasn’t been the “big thing” (don’t make me say killer app) that leads to actual adoption. If triple-A games like Half-Life: Alyx and reasonably affordable headsets like the Quest 2 don’t kickstart VR adoption, I’m not really sure what will. More knowledgeable people than me are thinking about this in the VR industry, of course, but as a casual observer I’m starting to think the VR content market isn’t robust enough to deliver on the hype that Oculus’ hardware has generated.