June 15, 2019

I have had a great deal of fun with my Playstation VR, but I have always wanted more as well. More options, more experiences, improved featuers, and, of course, the ability to not have to worry about cables. Had I owned a suitably powerful Windows PC I would probably have got myself a Oculus rift or HTC Vive at some point, but being a user of Macs (and a very slow one outside of work at that) the combined price of headset and powerful PC made it quite easy to resist.

Then I heard talk of the Oculus quest, and my curiosity clearly became much too great. I ordered it pretty much as early as I could, and I was deeply impatient waiting for delivery (especially since a first delivery attempt failed and was blamed on nobody at the well-manned office answering the call at the door).

There will be a lot of comparison with the Playstation VR here, simply because that has been my most used VR experience by far.

Why so excited?

So it's another VR headset. I already have the Playstation VR, so why did I splurge for the Oculus quest?

This is a big part of the reason:

Oculus quest in carrying case Oculus quest in carrying case

That case (which is a separate purchase) is larger than it appears in pictures, but it does fit everything. The headset, the two wireless controllers, the charger with cable (which also has enough power to charge my Macbook), and the earbuds I throw in so as not to broadcast games to everyone around me. If you skip the earbuds, this is a completely wireless, completely untethered VR experience. Somewhat baked into this is the fact that the Quest tracks its own position in the room, you are not required to set up beacons or cameras or other exernal points of reference.

When you start the Quest in a new location, a camera in the headset shows your surroundings and all you need to do is confirm or adjust the floor level (which you do by putting one controller on the floor), then point and click to draw the area within which you want to move around. The process is fun and only takes seconds. It has an Apple-level of polish to it, and I feel that stretches throughout the whole Quest experience.

Okay, to be fair, Apple would probably have designed the straps differently, but I am not sure they would automatically have worked better. The Quest straps are sturdy rubber and use velcro for seamless adjustment. Not an Apple feel, but it works really well. There is also enough bultin give that you can easily take the headset off and put it back on without needing to readjust it, which feels surprisingly liberating compared to the Playstation VR where some adjustment is always necessary.

I also find it easier to get a good, sharp picture in the Quest than in the Playstation VR. I have no problems wearing glasses, and I also think the sharp picture I see has more detail on average. I think the two main factors are somewhat increased resolution, and more use of antialiasing. I would not bet on there actually being more details in the way of polygons or texture resolution, but the Quest makes good use of what it does have.

The Playstation VR headset is more comfortable though. It sits much lighter on the face and head, and spreads its weight more evenly. It also does not get warm when in use, while the Quest noticeably heats up itself and part of my face. I am also pretty sure I can hear a fan whirring inside the Quest when I start it. In short: the Playstation VR makes the most of not needing to pack all its hardware (and power supply) into the headset itself.

The controllers

Oculus quest controller Oculus quest controller

The Quest includes two of these … things. The controllers are mirrored, so there is a dedicated left and right controller, and during initial setup the headset can point out which controller is where so you never have to switch around inside a game. They are powered by a single AA battery each, somewhat to my surprise. I had half assumed builtin batteries and USB charging, but no.

On top of each is a thumb stick, X and Y buttons and a Oculus button use to re-center (when held down) and to return to the home screen/room (by tapping). On front is a trigger for your index finger and another button for your long finger.

The thumb stick and top buttons are not pressure sensitive, but they do register a touch. This enables the controllers to simulate quite a bit of hand movement, which is used in several games I have tried. Without touching any buttons, the hand will be fully open. Place the thumb on a top button and the thumb is moved down. Press the trigger to bend the index finger, then press the long finger button to bend the other fingers. Voila, closed hand. Release the trigger button to point at stuff using just the index finger. It all feels very natural pretty much right away, and games make good use of the possibilities.

Vader: immortal

It is only 40 minutes or so, the first of a series of "episodes", but Vader: immortal is a ILM-made Star wars story you should play as soon as you can. You get to use those finger possibilities of the controllers immediately, as you enter the game an unnamed smuggler seated in the pilot's seat of your ship while your robot co-pilot tells you it is time to jump to hyperspace. How? Flip those nice switches on the left up using your index finger, then grab that nice big lever on the right and push it forward.

That felt neat.

Now, imagine just how good it feels when you get to wield a light saber.


Some things need no tutorials.