Oculus Quest Review 2020: Facebook's VR Savior Is The Kit To Beat

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This Oculus Quest review was originally published on April 30, 2019. On May 22, 2020 we updated the review to mark the one-year anniversary of Quest’s launch, incorporating recent updates to Quest software and the addition of hand-tracking and Oculus Link.

One year on from launch, Facebook’s Oculus Quest has more than delivered on its promises to take VR wireless and finally open the platform up to the masses. While not a perfect device, a solid year of additions to its software library, improvements made to its core foundations and some unexpected and significant new features make Quest the VR headset to beat. Find out more in our full Oculus Quest review.

With an Oculus Quest over your eyes, you can boot up games previously confined to cumbersome PC and console setups like Beat Saber and Superhot VR and play until the battery is flat (around three hours from full). You may very rarely experience some slight hiccups in the headset’s incredible inside-out tracking, and the visuals might not be as sharp as you’ll find in other devices.

Other than that, you’ll experience a fully intact PC VR game on a standalone headset. Or, at least, an early-generation PC VR game (more on that further down).  The freedom to twist and turn in VR without worrying about wrapping my legs in wires is liberating and, as of this week, you can even play some games in entirely new ways hardly available on PC headsets with controller-free hand-tracking.

Yes, Quest still has some caveats. A VR enthusiast that’s owned an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift for the past three years is unlikely to be swayed by its limited processing power. But for the audience that’s sat on the sidelines since 2016, waiting for VR’s various barriers to come tumbling down, Oculus Quest is the real deal.

Front-Heavy Headset

Oculus Quest Review

Quest is a standalone VR headset. That means that everything it needs to run is already built into the device. No PCs, no smartphones, no consoles; $399 gets you all you need to jump right into VR. As such, it’s heavier than the original Oculus Rift; my scales told me Quest weighs in at 580g compared to Rift’s 470g. It’s also similar to Rift S’s official 563g weight. Despite being heavier, the design is more comfortable than the original Oculus Rift, with its foam faceplate putting less direct pressure on your forehead. That said the Quest is still a front-heavy device and you might consider some simple modifications to weigh it down at back. Without them, I’d feel the strain on the front of my face after anywhere between 10 – 20 minutes of usage. Not enough to stop playing, but enough to long for the comfort of Rift S’s halo strap design.

But there are some nice additions to the design. The head strap, for example, expands and retracts from the hinges, giving you room to pull it on and then have it fit to your head without adjusting it every time. That said, the tough rubber strap can dig into the back of your head over time, similar to how the top of your head can hurt when wearing headphones. Whereas Facebook has had the luxury of updating many of Quest’s shortcomings in the past year, hardware design isn’t something it can so quickly address.

Specs And Stuff

On paper, Quest is about in-line with what you’d expect from a mobile VR headset in 2020. Its 1,440 × 1,600 per-eye is an appreciated step up from 2016-era headsets but far from a revolution, with the gaps between pixels still clearly visible once you’ve acclimatized to the device. Small text is definitely easier to read but don’t expect an eye-opening jump. Audio, meanwhile, adopts the same convenient design from 2018’s Oculus Go. There’s a pair of built-in speakers that allow you to play at a volume that suits you but also hear what’s going on in the world around you. Still, if you want more immersive audio, a pair of earphones is advised.

A three-hour battery life might not sound too impressive for Quest. But, in practice, I found this accommodated the headset pretty well. Many of VR’s best games simply aren’t designed for three hours of straight play. One way or another, they’re too intensive (I certainly had to push myself to stay inside for three hours of Apex Construct). My bigger concern is with the two hours it took to fully charge the device again once flat; Quest is a device that will require constant access to a charge port if you’re planning to play regularly though, again, third-party peripherals are there to help.

As with Rift and Go before it, Quest is a sleek package from top to bottom. But, for once, we’re not really here to talk about display and audio, are we?

Inside-Out Tracking Triumphs

One of Quest’s main draws is its new inside-out tracking system, dubbed Oculus Insight. Whereas the original Rift used external sensors to track your headset and controllers in physical space, Quest has four cameras mounted onto the device itself. Oculus reasons that the shift to inside-out is so compelling that it’s even refreshing the original Rift with this style of tracking.

Quest makes a great case for the switch, especially following a year’s worth of software updates. The vast majority of the time you’d be hard-pressed to find a difference. Pretty much all of the content I’ve played on Quest has been completely playable without a hitch. In Beat Saber, I slashed my way through Escape on Expert (in No Fail, I’ll admit) without being able to tell the difference. In Space Pirate Trainer I shot for the same high scores with as much success as I’d have anywhere else. Recent updates have even found the headset able to accommodate games you’d assume you’d need 360 degree tracking for, like Ready at Dawns’ Echo VR. You might assume Quest wouldn’t be able to handle those types of games, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Whereas Quest at launch definitely wasn’t up to the same standards as, say, Valve’s SteamVR tracking system, a year of updates has significantly decreased that gap, if not completely closed it for at least some games.

…And (Significantly Reduced) Turmoils

Quest’s tracking area doesn’t cover a full 360 degrees, so not every action you could perform on SteamVR or an original three-sensor rift setup will work in the headset, but these are very rare actions the vast majority of apps avoid. Plus Oculus uses prediction algorithms and other sensors in the Touch to estimate where your controllers might be, and these have improved since launch. Extreme lighting conditions can have an impact on tracking quality, especially when dealing with the newly-added hand-tracking (which we’ll get to in a bit).

All that said, if you ever notice issues with Quest controller tracking, it’s likely because you’re testing it to its limits; wide, fast swipes from one side of the tracking area to the other, or perhaps obscuring tracking rings from the headset’s camera during some interactions. I can sometimes bring my hand from behind my head suddenly back to the center of the screen only for the Touch controller to appear when I stop moving. But, again, this is a specific stress test as opposed to an action you’re actually likely to carry out.

I’ve also had some troubles with my Quest controllers getting stuck in a fixed position and requiring me to turn the headset off to fix, something that hasn’t gone away in the past 12 months. It’s rare, but in the middle of multiplayer sessions, it’s quite frustrating. You’ll also sometimes have to reset your Guardian boundaries to keep you safe in VR because Quest can’t recognize the area anymore. It may be that you’ve changed the room but I’ve sometimes had to reset Guardian without anything actually changing. Still, Guardian is so quick and easy to set up, this is hardly an issue (more on that in a bit).

Going Hands-Off

Tea For God Hand-Tracking

To mark the 12 month anniversary of Quest’s release, Facebook recently moved its hand-tracking input option out of experimental mode and made it a full feature for Quest users to utilize.

Hand-tracking lets you put down the Touch controllers and experience a limited number of apps (both officially and on SideQuest) without holding anything in your hands. The same camera that handles inside-out tracking also keeps track of your fingers, replicating virtual versions of your hands inside VR. You can also operate the headset’s menus with hand tracking.

As with other features on Quest, hand-tracking started life with plenty of issues that have slowly but surely been reduced down over time. In its most recent form, the option features often competent and responsive input that’s quite incredible to experience. You can cast spells in Waltz of the Wizard or play with diorama-sized levels in The Curious Tale Of The Stolen Pets. When it works, it’s an incredibly intuitive means of input that does away with button inputs designed with gamers in-mind. But it is still prone to losing tracking and failing to recognize gestures and comes with its own complications like a lack of haptic feedback. It may have lost the experimental branding, but hand-tracking is still very much an in-progress feature.

That said it’s early days for hand-tracking and, while it’s unlikely to fully replace controllers anytime soon, its a remarkable inclusion for a 2020, standalone headset.

Guardian Angel

With this change in tracking comes a new means of staying safe in VR. Quest uses the same virtual barrier system, named Guardian, as seen on Rift. Get near the edges of your play space and blue borders will appear to let you know. But Quest’s passthrough camera evolves the system in two important ways. Firstly, it makes setup incredibly easy. Once you switch Quest on it will scan the environment for pre-established Guardian boundaries. If it doesn’t find any, it asks you to make them again. Doing so is as simple as putting on the headset and drawing a line with your Touch controllers around the area you can play in. You may occasionally have to redraw the area as it drifts out of its original position, but it’s not a big issue.

It’s wonderfully simple. Better yet, if you do step outside those barriers then the passthrough system automatically activates, showing the world around you. Plus you can now head into the passthrough option on demand. It’s intuitive to a degree VR hasn’t really enjoyed before. Previous setup systems were complicated and easily confused. With Quest, anyone that puts on a headset for the first time can be up and running in seconds. Better yet, if someone’s using the space you want to play in you can just find another one.

PC VR, Minus The Performance…

While Quest might not need a $1000 PC to run, it’s an inescapable fact that its Snapdragon 835 mobile hardware can’t afford the same kind of performance seen on Rift or even Sony’s PSVR. In many cases I’ve seen, VR developers have done a tremendous job optimizing their once processor-intensive games for much leaner hardware. Superhot VR feels as sharp as ever, for example, as does Beat Saber. Stack them side-by-side with the PC counterparts and it will be clear which looks better, but once inside Quest it’s hard to tell.

Sometimes the cutbacks feel a little too much. Survios’ port of 2018 boxing hit Creed: Rise to Glory has the playable fundamentals down, but it relies heavily on foveated rendering (see below) and other games like Arizona Sunshine have much muddier textures.

It’s telling, too, that Oculus Studios’ own Quest games like Lies Beneath, Journey of the Gods and Ballista, adopt cartoonish, simplistic art styles that do away with the intricacies of photorealism. Meanwhile, visually rich Rift-exclusives like Asgard’s Wrath and Stormland remain confined to PC. Again, Quest’s potential to sell more than its PC VR contemporaries could mean we start seeing a lot of VR developers adopting less graphically rich games in the future.

…Unless You Have A PC

One of the major new additions to Quest since launch is the beta for Oculus Link. With Link, you can plug a USB cable from a PC into your headset and have access to Oculus Rift games too. This works not just on the Oculus Store but even SteamVR where titles like Skyrim VR and No Man’s Sky Beyond reside.

It sounds almost too good to be true but, even in beta form, Link works incredibly well. There is some slight image compression but, honestly, I’ve never really been able to notice the difference unless playing only the graphically richest games like Half-Life Alyx. Facebook has its own 5-meter cable for the system but recent updates greatly expand the range of cables that support the kit, including the one that comes in the box. With all of those pieces, Oculus Quest isn’t just a great standalone VR headset; it’s a pretty amazing PC one, too.

Of course, that brings with it all the usual caveats of PC VR, like the need for an expensive PC, so this feature isn’t likely to be used by the vast majority of Quest owners. That said, if you feel like upgrading your VR experience, Link offers a path to getting into new VR games without getting a new headset. With Link’s introduction, anyone interested in a Facebook VR headset should seriously consider buying a Quest instead of a Rift S.

Fixed Foveated Rendering

Foveated rendering is a promising avenue for the future of VR. It’s a technique in which a headset only fully renders a certain part of its display, taking some of the pressure off of processing. Ideally, it would be paired with eye-tracking, allowing the device to see where you’re looking. Like Oculus Go, though, Quest uses fixed foveated rendering in many native apps. There’s no eye-tracking, so the headset instead simply blurs the edges of the screen in hopes you won’t realize.

In Quest’s most intensive apps you’ll notice the foveated rendering. In some games like Beat Saber it isn’t perceptible. Again, though, Creed was the giveaway.  In the game’s opening training montage I couldn’t help but point my eyes down and see two blurs for feet running on a treadmill. Tilting my head up over text to move it into the foveated area revealed the scale and size of the effect. It renders fully right in the center and gets increasingly blurrier as you move closer to the edges of the display. You can see the effect in these images captured directly from the headset, which still reflect the experience in 2020.

I’ve found the technique to range from incredibly distracting to occasionally noticeable. Creed is the main offender, yes, but it also caught my eye in games like Journey of the Gods and Apex Construct. It’s a necessary evil to get some of PC VR’s bigger games onto the headset but problematic all the same.

A Growing Library, Inside And Out

Despite technical setbacks, Quest’s library has been steadily growing over the past 12 months with ports of some of the best PC VR titles alongside a handful of games built from the ground up for the platform. We probably won’t ever see power-hungry apps like Fallout 4 VR come to the headset natively, but there’s a good selection of VR milestones, from Superhot VR to Red Matter (see our 25 Best Quest Games list here). Most of them run really pretty well, save for some exceptions.

It’s also true, though, that Quest’s technical limitations will hold the system back in some regards while PC VR and console-based headsets continute to expand certain VR development ambitions. Recent advances from some studios have seen some PC VR titles make leaps and bounds. Half-Life: Alyx offers a full-length, cinematic campaign that would be hard to imagine on Quest. Meanwhile, Boneworks and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners lead a physics revolution that may be tough to match on the platform. That said, both games have new versions on the way to Quest, so it remains to be seen if the headset can meet new standards.

However, Facebook’s strict curation policy for Quest content, designed to bring only the most polished, market-proven games to Quest, is arguably stifling creativity on the platform. It’s a difficult trade-off; Quest releases are far more sparse than most VR platforms, but there also isn’t any of the shovelware that litters platforms like Oculus Go and SteamVR. That is, at least, in an official capacity; you can head to the kit’s settings to turn on Developer Mode and run content from sources other than the Oculus Store.

Then, using services like SideQuest, you can access much more content. Some of the headset’s best experiences, like Tea For God, are beyond the reach of the Oculus Store. Keep in mind this obviously puts your Quest at risk of harmful malware.

Conclusion

It’s hard to think of a piece of consumer software that’s improved so dramatically over the course of a year. Twelve months ago I said Oculus Quest was mostly successful in its mission to make VR as accessible as possible in 2019. But, thanks to tracking improvements and the introduction of hand-tracking and Oculus Link, Quest has risen through the ranks to become the VR headset to beat. It’s a wonderful piece of standalone technology with a burgeoning library of awesome VR content. Crucially, though, if you’re looking for a high-end experience, Quest now offers that too via Link and, on the opposite end of the scale, the beginnings of VR hand-tracking, however buggy, promise to make VR accessible to new types of consumers.

If you’re a VR enthusiast that already owns a bleeding edge PC headset they use regularly, then this is not the device for you. But, if you’ve sat on the sidelines for the past four years longing for a chance to play Beat Saber and Superhot VR, or you’re looking to upgrade from your original Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or even PSVR, this is easily your best bet. When Quest is at its best (and it often is), it delivers an experience so close to PC VR you won’t care about the difference. And if you do notice that difference, you can seek out the PC experience instead through the same headset.

And yet, for all its advances, Quest likely still isn’t enough to truly take VR mainstream. Its limited mobile hardware, the expense of getting into Link and its front-heavy design hold the system back, as does the usual array VR caveats like display resolution. Plus, even the very reasonable price of $399 is steep for anyone that doesn’t consider themselves a gaming enthusiast. Could Oculus expand the audience beyond the niche group that enjoys VR now? Absolutely. Is it VR’s mainstream moment? Probably not. Looking back though, we’ll likely view it as a vital stepping stone to getting to that point.

What are your thoughts on our Oculus Quest review? Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!



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