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Hands-on with Oculus Quest, Facebook's best shot at a mainstream VR device

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Most mobile VR headsets have left me with the impression of, “well… you have to start somewhere,” but after spending some time with Facebook’s newly-announced Oculus Quest, it’s clear that the standalone hardware is far less caged by its limitations and has a lot to offer as what is clearly the company’s most balanced consumer device.

When Facebook originally announced the device prototype two years ago it wasn’t clear if it was going be an Gear VR “pro” or a Rift “lite”, it’s clear now that from an experience standpoint that the Quest is more like the latter even if its technical specifications prevent it from reaching the depth of fidelity that you can get on a PC-based system.

Unlike past years where the press were escorted to guarded rooms showcasing new prototypes, this year I had my Quest demos on the main show floor with the rest of the Oculus Connect attendees.

I had about a half-hour with the system checking out various titles and the headset delivered everywhere I had hoped. The most critical feature of the headset is its tracking and it’s worth emphasizing that these were perfect demo environments for the Quest to operate in, I was in a walled in space with plenty of unique features on the walls and floor for the tracking system to grab onto. I didn’t have any hiccups with the headset or controller tracking though, everything moved along smoothly.

So yes, you can duck and dive and walk around and the content moves with you with the Quest. This is a big part of immersive VR and there’s a reason that die-hards in the space have talked about tracked headsets and hand controllers as a bare minimum device requirement for a “mainstream” device.

If Oculus can get developers to direct enough quality content to the new platform, Oculus will have a device with so much of the excitement that the Rift has caused with far less of its annoying PC quirks. I played a Quest port of Superhot VR — a title I’ve dropped a couple dozen hours into on the Rift — and the freedom offered by losing the cords really accentuates the ballet of violence that Superhot VR is. The fact that it was all running off of a Snapdragon 835 chipset was equally impressive though I’m sure some developers are less than thrilled Oculus shipped the headset with last-gen compute power. At $399 they had to make sacrifices somewhere.

While fixed point-of-view devices like Oculus Go puts the content all around you, the Quest really captures the magic of immersion that’s so much more than a big, enveloping display. You really feel transported with this technology and the tracking is the not-so-secret sauce that has just been so irksome to integrate into headsets until now. Inside-out tracking is available on other systems and it’s hard to compare the tech Oculus has built from what others have based on these demos alone, but the Quest definitely offers the most complete package available thus far.

The Quest is still double the price of the Oculus Go, but based on the sturdy quality of the finished product and what’s inside I would doubt that Facebook is making much of a profit off each device. There’s a huge jump in experience between the two systems based on my initial time with the Quest, but $399 is still a different echelon of pricing and I think it’s a tossup whether VR devices can reach a mainstream audience with that high of an upfront cost.

Oculus Quest is being released in spring of 2019 so there’s quite a bit of time before most users will be able to try it out, but there seems to be less urgency for Facebook now as the Oculus platform seems far more mature than any other system. It’s certainly Facebook’s market to direct, but it’s also theirs to completely screw up. The Oculus Quest seems like the first VR device norma; people could really fall in love with, but have consumers gotten a really mainstream reason to need it yet? That’s the big Quest-ion (sorry).

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