Modern virtual reality (VR) has been making promises for five years. Since the initial reveal of a duct-taped Oculus Rift through the development kits and up until the consumer launch, we’ve all been promised that the technology will eventually offer truly revolutionary experiences. It’s gotten closer to this Holy Grail, step-by-step, but it’s never been quite enough. Two years ago Oculus revisited that promise in the form of the Santa Cruz prototype, and today, it has come good: accelerating VR hardware in its goal of reaching mass market adoption through ease of use, so that we can all eventually experience something groundbreaking.
Santa Cruz, or Oculus Quest as it is now known, is an elegant piece of hardware design. It’s a recognition of the fact that everything we’ve seen so far has been good, but still falls quite short of one-size-fits-all. The Samsung Gear VR, the Oculus Rift and even the Oculus Go have changed the technology industry forever, but VR is still yet to change society: Oculus Quest takes all of the technological, market penetration and form factor lessons learned over the last five years and repackages them into something believable. Quite simply, Oculus Quest could have what it takes for VR to push beyond the novelty and cash-in on that promise.
Originally unveiled as a slightly fragile prototype back at Oculus Connect 3 in 2016, the device has come a long way in two years. The level of comfort offered is actually better than Oculus Rift despite including all the processing hardware on-board and, while we’re yet to get any official statements regarding field of view (FoV), it does upon initial (limited and controlled) testing appear to offer a slight improvement. The tracking of the head-mounted display (HMD) still occasionally suffers on erratic movement (sharp 180 turns or diagonal upwards swings) but for the most part it performs just as well as the Oculus Rift itself.
A slight issue that appears to have become part of the Oculus Quest since last year is controller tracking. Face Your Fears 2 – a horror experience from Turtle Rock Studios – didn’t rely on swift arm movement and so the predictive tracking worked seamlessly, however Project Tennis Scramble – a colourful tennis experience – required much faster movement often seeing your racket disappear from the field at the worst possible time. Whether this is a hardware issue or the software remains to be seen, but given the quality of the demonstrations seen when the Santa Cruz controllers were initially revealed last year it’s more than likely to be the latter.
Technical specifications of the Oculus Quest, such as processing power, GPU clock rate, battery life and storage capacity, have not yet been revealed. It’s not likely that such information will come to light any time soon, but the fact that it uses USB-C for charge and houses a much more efficient focal adjustment is good news right from the start.
So what does this mean for the Oculus hardware family? Oculus Go will continue to be the entry level device, but will the Oculus Rift represent the high-end? Will we see the minimum PC specification for Oculus Rift experiences increasing above and beyond that of Oculus Quest? Or will we see the Oculus Rift receiving a price-drop and being positioned as the awkward middle child? Only time will tell, but the next six-or-so months as we await the Oculus Quest launch will undoubtedly be very exciting.