The virtual reality (VR) industry has made great strides in both hardware and software since the first consumer headsets arrived a few years ago. Gear VR provided the initial stepping stones and then Oculus Rift CV1 entered the fray in 2016, showcasing a tantalising digital world which pushed content engagement to new heights. Then in 2019 what many would agree was the next pivotal step in VR’s evolution arrived, Oculus Quest, and the headset has dominated consumer and business interest ever since.
It’s amazing to think a year has already passed and that the plucky standalone headset with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor built in – the same one found in a Samsung Galaxy 8 or Google Pixel 2 – has managed to outdo its PC VR brethren. Not when it comes to visual quality but versatility.
Starting life as a project codenamed Santa Cruz, a mashup of Oculus Rift tech and other components, the device appeared at a couple of Oculus Connect events before the official unveiling at Oculus Connect 5 (OC5) in 2018. Eight months later the Oculus Quest arrived on 21st May alongside the Oculus Rift S, but it was the wireless headset everyone wanted to see.
Its main selling point has been wireless freedom, untethering users from PCs so they can enjoy VR content wherever they like. Having a fully integrated system has its pros and cons. With all the components fitted to the front of the device it does make Oculus Quest front heavy, which can be uncomfortable for some people. The overwhelming majority don’t seem to mind, while no sales figures have ever been released for the hardware Facebook recently noted Oculus Quest owners spent over $100 million USD on content – ten titles including Moss and Pistol Whip have exceeded $2 million revenue.
On the other hand, the upsides to Oculus Quest keep increasing. Inside-out tracking has been another crucial component to its success, providing full 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) for immersive gameplay. The built-in audio system means you don’t need headphones and the redesigned Oculus Touch controllers offer a tidy connection to these virtual realms – although the battery compartment cover is a little annoying.
These core features were followed by hand tracking and Oculus Link as Facebook builds upon the platform. Released in the Experimental Features section in December 2019, hand tracking is one possible next step into the future of VR interaction, doing away with controllers for a natural input method. Initially, only useable with Oculus Quest’s menu and first-party apps like Oculus TV, the feature is leaving beta this month with three titles set to support hand tracking on Oculus Store. As a free option, it’s something all Oculus Quest owners should have a play with.
Oculus Link, on the other hand, expands the content line up the device can support. So long as you have a compatible PC and a suitably long USB cable – the specifications of which have been improved – then the standalone headset essentially becomes an Oculus Rift, so you can play Rift-exclusive titles like Stormland. This is also one big reason the Oculus Rift S does seem to have been overshadowed.
However, there’s plenty of native Oculus Quest content to enjoy first with developers keen to support the headset. The original launch saw several ports like Apex Construct populate the store alongside some original pieces such as Journey of the Gods. The last 12 months have seen big names like Tetris Effect, Beat Saber, Superhot VR, Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series, Arizona Sunshine and many more.
This has meant even during 2019s Black Friday sales Oculus Quest remained at its regular price, with stock becoming highly sporadic in 2020 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic affecting manufacturing. The situation also increased interest in VR as everyone looked to new forms of entertainment and connecting with loved ones. Again, Oculus Quest’s ease of use and relatively low entry price point has made it highly sought after.
2019 offered plenty of choices when it came to VR headsets, Valve Index, Vive Cosmos and of course Oculus Rift S all arrived. And while they all had their place, the Oculus Quest provided that perfect mix of form, content and price to aid adoption of the technology. Needless to say, Facebook will be looking at upgrading the device, with rumours already circulating on a smaller, lighter model. What happens in the next year will surely be as exciting as the last.