Several months ago, before they started flying off the shelves and now are practically non-existent, I purchased an Oculus Quest virtual headset. My experience with it has been eye-opening. Give the developers their due, they got it right. Using it was natural from the start. I really have a tough time with gaming controllers, for the XBox and Playstation for example, and generally prefer a keyboard and mouse, but these controllers were pretty easy to learn. Is the Quest a productivity tool? Not for me. Mostly entertainment and sometimes educational. But it does open up possibilities that will be built upon those who use and experience the Quest and other headsets today. And the software developers, both small and large, are going crazy releasing new titles.

So why the Quest? Oculus has two other headsets (for now) available and each has its own advantages. There is the least expensive Go, the basic model that’s good for watching video and has some gaming capability. There is the Rift S (descendant of the original Rift) whose software is stored on your PC and displayed via your PC’s graphics card (i.e. it’s tethered to it.) The Quest is a device that straddles the two but is also equal to the Rift. Lemme ’splain. The Quest is almost as powerful as the Rift S, but wireless. However, the developers have released an addition to the software (Oculus Link), for free, that allows you to use your Quest just like a Rift S. Games for the Rift S are much larger than can fit on the Quest or if they are on the Quest, offer better detail and more content because they run off your PC. And recently they released an upgrade that allows you to use just your hands as controllers (it’s experimental for the moment). Oculus seems to be pushing its once secondary product into the limelight over its previous star, the Rift S.

Downsides? Of course there are. Even with all this technology the Quest, the Rift S, the HTC Vive, the Valve Index, the Pimax, have their limitations. I’m not going into the technical differences between headsets (borrrring!) but rather just overall considerations while using the current crop of products.

  1. Screen Door Effect. The lenses are really, really tiny TV sets. So you are limited to the size of the pixels making up those lenses. And because your eyes are so close to them, you get what is called the “screen door effect”. It’s what made me utter the first time I put on the headset, “Is this thing broken?” Imagine looking out at your yard from a screen door or window and you get the idea.
  2. “God rays”. It’s when the backlights of the lenses create what amounts to what I like to call the JJ Abrams effect. Kind of a lens flare. It varies in degree and intensity depending on the game and headset. Your brain does adjust and tends to ignore it after a while, but it will always be there. The more costly headsets show less of both of these. Which leads me to the next item.
  3. The cost. The Quest and Rift S both sell for $399.00 (not really sure of the reasoning behind that). And the cost goes up from there, soaring past the $1,200 mark for the Valve Index and the upper-end Pimax model. Good news is the cost for the programs on the Rift S/Quest are about 30-60% less than a PC only game. Some even less. But even so, there is an investment to be made. And if you don’t have a fairly powerful PC, you won’t be able to use the Oculus Link or you’ll have to spend more money to upgrade or replace your PC.
  4. Space. To use these, you need an open space. And before you ask, no, you shouldn’t use them outside because sunlight can destroy the lenses. Where can you find an empty 6.5’x6.5′ space in your house or apartment? I have been playing in my office, which offers a much smaller space, and it works ok, but I can easily see I am missing out. And yes, I occasionally crash into a table or bookcase. Thank goodness Oculus makes you to setup a Guardian boundary in the room, so that you are warned you are crossing the virtual barrier (think Star Trek’s holodeck when it’s powered down). An empty garage, event hall or other large space would be awesome. But many of the programs have sitting and standing options as well.

Oculus calls their software “experiences.” And that kind of sums it up in a nutshell. Whether striking down notes during a Beat Saber match, fighting zombies in the Arizona Sunshine, biking or running (stationary bike or treadmill) through Arches National Park or watching your favorite flick with your buddies from all over the country (or even the world), the experience you get interacting within the game is often more satisfying than playing the prettiest game on your PC. I have seen the inside of the Sistine Chapel in Italy and visited Notre Dame before the fire. No lines and no cost for entry! You almost get the same sense of awe and wonder as if you were there. Many of the game titles have multiplayer versions and you can play both with friends and strangers, via Facebook integration.

It boils down to this. If you want to give it a try, the Oculus Quest is probably your best bet. It gives you six degrees of wireless freedom and the option of using it with your (VR-ready) PC to play Rift S titles. You also have the advantage of using the Oculus Store where there are over 100 titles for the Quest and many more with the Rift S. You can even play titles for the Rift S purchased through the Steam store. There is a large developer base working on new titles constantly and even an unofficial developers community called SideQuest, that offers previews, betas and complete games not officially part of the Oculus Store. Sure, it’s early days, but there is still plenty to enjoy and experience in VR. Do you have a headset? Which one? Or are you interested in getting one? Let me know.

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