My 12-year-old son, Samuel, may have found his calling, as the virtual alter ego of boxer Adonis Creed inside “Creed: Rise to Glory” from Survios. And judging by his reaction – and my own – to the Oculus Quest each of us have taken turns wearing over the last several days, this latest Facebook-owned virtual reality headset has more than a puncher’s chance to help the consumer VR market get up off the canvas.
At its F8 developer conference on Tuesday, Oculus announced that it has begun taking preorders for Quest and that this $399 self-contained VR headset will be available on May 21.
Both Sam and I think it’s a winner.
“The Oculus Quest has the potential to shift the VR conversation in a good way,” agrees Stephanie Llamas, head of VR/AR for Nielsen’s SuperData market research firm. “I don’t think it will be the industry’s singular answer, but it will move the needle and drive more widespread adoption.” She projects Quest will be the best selling VR headset this year, with shipments of more than 1 million units worldwide, still relatively modest.
Despite mind-blowing technology, that widespread consumer acceptance has proved to be anything but a reality for VR in the home, and there’s no shortage of reasons why.
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However immersive, nascent high-quality VR units aimed at consumers, notably the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, were complicated to set-up and expensive, and they had to be tethered to equally pricey and powerful computers. Sony’s own entry, PlayStation VR, was dependent on a PlayStation video game console.
Meanwhile, the VR headsets that were cheaper and more portable – I’m speaking of Samsung’s GearVR or Google’s Daydream – weren’t nearly as impressive, and they required you to snap in select smartphones.
For the most part, killer VR content has also been elusive.
And some people have never warmed up to the idea of wearing such contraptions in the first place. Headsets make them feel uncomfortable, claustrophobic, even sick.
The VR industry has had “classic teething problems,” says Mike Bloxam, senior vice present of global media and entertainment at Magid, a media research firm.
Addressing VR pain points
Oculus Quest doesn’t address every pain point, but it does solve what for many of you may be the biggest, notably that PC or smartphone requirement. And while not all of you will love wearing the headset, I found it was not too heavy and fairly comfortable.
To be sure, Oculus similarly ditched the computer smartphone requirement with the Oculus Go self-contained headset it brought out a year ago. But Oculus Quest ups the game considerably, albeit at about twice the cost of the Go.
It does so by permitting positional tracking and what techies refer to as “6 degrees of freedom.”
What this means is that you can move freely and walk around and have the headset register your movements. I could duck or pivot left or right to avoid barriers playing for instance “Beat Saber” from Beat Games, my favorite VR title. The idea of the game is to use your hand controllers turned light sabers – two controllers come with Oculus Quest – to slash through the cubes that come at you as you listen to music. And yes, the audio quality inside Quest also bolsters the experience.
On Oculus Go, by contrast, you could rotate your head and hand in any direction to explore and interact with your virtual surroundings but could not actually move through the space with your body.
When you first set up Oculus Quest, you set up a perimeter of at least 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet of (hopefully) unobstructed space to play in by virtually drawing a “guardian” that appears as grid wall, as if you’re inside a cage. As you approach this wall, the line turns from blue to red, warning you that you are getting close. If you penetrate the wall and go outside your designated play space, you’ll see your real-life surroundings, a welcome safety measure.
It was fun watching Sam flail away as a boxer – but observing other people have a go at VR wears off fast, especially if you can’t see what they’re seeing.
Though I didn’t try it, you can “cast” from Oculus Quest to your phone using the Oculus App, or to your TV using a supported casting device, initially NVidia Shield, Chromecast Ultra, or Chromecast Gen 3 devices. That may make the experience at least a little bit more social.
As for battery life, Oculus claims you’ll get two to three hours of juice on headset. I kept my test until plugged in when it was not in use and did not conduct a formal test.
Needs more content
Oculus is launching Quest with only about 50 games, a few you’ll have access to if you happened to buy them as well on an Oculus Rift, and some that are multiplayer. Still, the sum is far short of the 1,000 that was promised with the Oculus Go launch.
The success of the Quest “really will come down to the content and whether (Oculus) can get big studios and intellectual property holders to get onboard to attract new fans,” says Llamas.
One launch title Oculus highlighted during F8 was a Star Wars-themed title called Vader Immortal from ILMxLab.
Besides “Creed” and “Light Saber,” I enjoyed “Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs” from Resolution Games and “Racket Fury: Table Tennis” from Pixel Edge Games, with my controllers turning into slingshots and ping pong paddles, respectively.
And I’m happy to report that whether you’re boxing or playing ping pong, you will get a physical workout.
For the real hardcore gamer, Oculus is bringing out a variation on the Rift called the Rift S. It will require a computer and also cost $399.
Oculus Quest brings VR that much closer to the mainstream, though I’d still like to see the price drop further. But there’s no mistaking it is a lot of fun. My boxer son would call it a knockout.
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