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Oculus Quest hands-on: Everything I've ever wanted in a VR headset

Oculus Quest
Oculus Quest (Image credit: Windows Central)

The future of VR for most people is wireless. Google, HTC, and Oculus have all demonstrated a desire to move in this direction, but removing the cable has always meant some kind of sacrifice to performance. Moving around in VR without a tether, taking a step backward in graphics isn't what I want either. Last year at its Oculus Connect conference, a select few including myself were taken into a back room to see early prototypes for what was then called Santa Cruz. Oculus made it clear during these previews the overall goal was to deliver something with "Rift quality" graphics without a tether. At the time, Santa Cruz wasn't quite there. The tracking was a little funky, and the graphics weren't quite there.

A year has passed, and the prototype known as Santa Cruz has been officially announced as the $399 Oculus Quest. You'll be able to buy one for yourself this Spring, and after a few hours with the headset, it couldn't be more clear this is my new favorite headset. In fact, I'm going to have a lot of trouble picking up my existing VR rig when I get home.

Gloriously untethered

My first demo started out in a brightly-lit room with the all-too-familiar characters from Superhot on the walls. The headset I was handed felt exactly like a cross between an Oculus Rift and an Oculus Go. The outer material was fabric, with a plastic shell on the front and a nice padded section for your face. The side straps for Oculus Quest feel very familiar if you've ever used an Oculus headset before, with three adjustable straps and a flexible spring system so you can slide the headset on, kind of like a baseball cap.

I wear glasses and was perfectly comfortable wearing them while I was in the headset. There was enough space on either side of my frames, no light bleed, and the glass from the display was far enough away I didn't need to worry about my glasses pressing up against my eyes. Oculus has clearly continued to refine this part of the experience, and to be honest it makes the headset the most comfortable of the three Oculus makes by far.

Oculus Quest is a fully standalone headset, which means the processor and display and tracking sensors are all baked into the headset. Oculus isn't sharing the exact weight of this headset just yet, but it felt great on my head. It's slightly heavier than an Oculus Go, however, the strap design does a great job distributing the weight across your head. I feel like I could wear this headset for hours. Like Oculus Go, there are speakers tucked into the straps to deliver spatial audio without headphones. They sound great, but Oculus Quest also includes headphone jacks for when you'd prefer to be a little more isolated. Even in this noisy convention center, the Oculus Quest demos I've had didn't really need standalone headphones. The speakers were more than enough, and not anywhere near max volume.

Oculus Quest is clearly the future of VR.

There are no tracking sensors with Oculus Quest because this headset uses inside-out tracking. Four fisheye lenses sit on the outer edges of the headset and map the world around you. According to Oculus, this tracking system allows the software to map the room you are in and detect surfaces using a mapping engine which looks very similar to how a Microsoft Hololens functions. Oculus isn't ready to make this a mixed reality device just yet (that's hybrid reality rendering, not Windows Mixed Reality) but it's on the roadmap for the future. The tracking on Quest, from my experience, has been flawless. It moves and reacts just an Oculus Touch controller when moving around a room.

What isn't the same as an Oculus Touch controller is the design of the controller itself, and the "hand presence" you get with Oculus Touch. The controllers flip the tracking ring around so it's easier for the headset to track the controller, and the controller shaft is angled differently from Touch, as well. But the big difference is the finger gestures. In many Oculus Rift games, you can extend your index finger on a Touch controller and see the index finger of your Avatar move to match, which is super cool. Oculus claims these controllers have presence, but the fingers in each Quest demo didn't move quite as much as I am used to. The experience is still great, but clearly not a 1:1 identical experience between the two controllers in these demos.

Ready for action

Oculus claims the Quest headset offers "Rift quality" graphics, and that requires a bit of additional explanation. The games on Oculus Quest are very good, but the Oculus Rift is capable of delivering more visually impressive experiences thanks to the massive PC is connected to. That line feels a little fuzzy, and it's probably on purpose.

But until we have technical details to really see what the hardware under the hood is capable of, all I have is look and feel. And based on the last couple of hours, Oculus Quest really does feel like an Oculus Rift most of the time. The demos of Superhot and Dead & Buried I was treated to felt exactly like the Oculus Rift versions of these experiences. And while it's not the most graphically demanding thing you can do in VR, Superhot is a great demo experience because it exists on almost everything. The Oculus Quest version of the game feels a lot better than the PlayStation VR version of the game, for example, and that's kind of a big deal.

The most impressive part of playing in Oculus Quest isn't even the games, it's the spatial realism. The impressive Dead & Buried demo hall Oculus has lets you run around in a massive maze with other people, and the experience is flawless. The Oculus Guardian system keeps the boundaries in place even as I rolled around on the floor to avoid enemy fire, and best of all there are no wires to get tangled up in! Oculus says the headset will allow everyone to set up multiple rooms in Guardian as long as those rooms don't exceed an eight-meter square, and Quest will remember those rooms and keep the boundaries in place. That means I can have a boundary system set up in my office and my living room and not need to set them up each time I want to play. As an Oculus Rift user, that sounds like magic considering what you have to go through now.

And really, that's the most important takeaway of Oculus Quest. It doesn't actually need to be exactly the same visual fidelity as Oculus Rift, because you can do so much more with it. The freedom of being untethered means developers will create experiences here that simply aren't possible on Rift, or anywhere else for that matter. And I will actually want to bring this headset with me places, to share with friends and family. I get all of that for $399? Yes. Yes, please.

There is still quite a bit about this headset we don't know. Oculus Quest is technically running Android, but not in the same limited fashion as Oculus Go. There will be more than 50 games available at launch, including some titles unique to Oculus Quest, but this conference has a heavy focus on how easy it is to port a Rift experience to Quest in hopes that many more games will be there come launch so who knows what the actual launch lineup will look like. Battery life is a mystery as well, though with a USB-C port onboard it is possible fast-charging will be a feature at launch. But even with this incomplete picture, I'm excited. Oculus is blowing minds left and right at this event, and Quest is clearly the future of VR for a lot of people.

Check out more Oculus Quest details in our handy guide!

Russell is a tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!

12 Comments
  • "Everything I ever wanted in a VR headset"
    Except for the most important features--PC support and the 2nd most important feature--high FOV (its 100° is rubbish). Its resolution will be subpar for 2019 and beyond. Battery life is unknown yet and it is using LCD panels. It has very little of what I want in a VR headset.
  • Uh, you're not him. Your needs are different to his needs. The writer didn't specify it was everything YOU ever wanted in a headset.
  • The articles I really enjoy are humble when they explain an experience. He didn't mention any drawbacks at all. I hope the author remembers that talking about the "cons" of an experience really brings out the credibility of the article.
  • I know, what is your point? He explained his reasons and I explained mine. It is a simple concept
  • Yeah, WC in general is way too subjective in reporting stuff like this. They should take a moment and reflect on what the needs of WINDOWS Central visitors might be. Like PC support.
  • Or, better, universal support. I look at VR as a peripheral. I want it to be able to connect a PC, gaming console, whatever is capable of meaningful content and interaction. I'm not going to be walking down a street wearing this stupid thing. If they're trying to sell us on the completely independent system model, then they need to get a LOT closer to the glasses used on "The First". That's the goal.
  • Sounds interesting but not a replacement for CV2 Rift. What could have been more interesting if there was a way to design it as not only a stand alone peice of hardware, but if you wanted say bump your graphics settings up from medium to ultra you could tether via USB-C to an RTX equipped PC and kick it up a notch.
  • You know, this sounds pretty great, given that I just had to unwrap my Odyssey cable from my desk chair.. Sounds cool, wish it wasn't "closed ecosystem Facebook" though.
  • I don't see a lot to get excited here. People have talked crap of inside-out tracking on the WMR headsets and now Oculus adopt it. It's gonna have the same drawbacks. Other than that, a standalone device cannot provide the same graphic output than a headset tethered to a PC. And the graphics are not gonna be on par with PC. And the battery becomes a concern. Not quite there, which IMHO is become synonymous with Oculus.
  • So, Microsoft's WMR inside-out tracking thought process is not a bad idea after all. Maybe I should wait and see if same folks gives Oculus Quest same crap or their crap talks are only reserved for whatever MSFT brings to the table (some of this WC writers included)
  • I was all set to be excited about this until I saw how it's worn. I'm sorry, but there's no way I'm buying one of these. Horrible design.
  • On top of the horrible wear design is the apparent limitation that everything has to run ON the device itself. Which means yet another version of any games you want to play--if they're even available. This is a fail. For me, the draw of a completely wireless setup ISN'T that it runs separate versions of a game. It's that it should be able to wireless connect to any host device, like any other peripheral, and access the game, etc. I'm not dragging this behemoth around with me to vacations or whatever. If they want me to buy something that I carry with me every, they've got a long way to go. Try taking a hint from the Hulu series "The First". THAT is when you have my attention and my money. But, right now, I am extremely happy with my VR rig. It's tethered to my PC, but I'm not forced to buy--or wait for--a separately compatible game and it already looks great. Bottom line for me, this is not the wireless VR rig I'm looking for.