Whilst I’m far from being an early adopter of VR, I’ve been in love with the medium for a good few years now. I started with Sony’s admirable Playstation VR, then moved on to HTC’s Vive headset for Steam VR, and then the Oculus Quest. I’ve also used both generations of Oculus Rift, the Valve Index, and several of the pretty grim Windows Mixed Reality headsets. I’m a pretty huge fan of the Quest above all others, for its accessibility, ease of use, and ambition, not just in terms of Oculus’ earnest attempts to bring quality VR to the masses but also the delightful crowded scene of modding and user-created content via Sidequest.
[If you’re new to Virtual Reality and looking for a review from somebody for whom the Oculus Quest 2 was an introduction to VR, check out Jessica’s Oculus Quest 2: My First 24 Hours With VR – Ed.]
It was fairly evident that the Oculus Quest 2 would be a no-brainer first-day purchase for me. However, I was aware of some of the negatives pointed out by some of the lucky enough people to get early access to the new headset. I was still a little gobsmacked that Oculus had been so quick to drop the original Quest from production only 18 months after release. Still, it’s obvious to anyone who’s used one over an extended period that it was well due for an incremental upgrade as a standalone headset. The pricing of the new, incredibly superior Quest 2 is pretty hard to argue with.
BIG BOTHER IS WATCHING YOU
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Look it straight in its leathery, huge, sad eyes and emote, in clarion voice – we know what you’re up to, Facebook. If you’re the sort of person who worries about your data privacy being infringed on by Facebook, then you have to consider whether the Oculus ‘ecosystem’ is right for you. Oculus/Facebook is aggressively trying to corner the VR market and make sure you buy into the whole social thing. So you need a Facebook account to use the Quest 2, no way around it. Yes, you can create a dummy account, but then you run the risk of FB shutting it down or suspending it and of losing all of your game purchases, as your FB account is bound to your Oculus Store account. This debate is raging on several fronts, but my personal feeling is that whilst I do have concerns about my personal freedoms and data being violated, I’m already a pretty big user of FB. Everything I post seems to confound the algorithms, so I’m not really bothered about my Quest knowing that I like hitting zombies with frying pans or that my living room floor is usually compromised by Lego and dogs. It hasn’t been visibly intrusive; it doesn’t post to FB every time I earn a pedestrian achievement in a game or make my aunt feel left out that I’m having a great time in VR. That’s my job. Just be aware – of FB and cookies and how your digital data is being used and monetised generally.
With that issue out of the way, or at least acknowledged as an undercurrent, let’s move on to the hardware. As usual, I’ll get the whinging out the way first.
UPSIDE YOUR HEAD
The Oculus Quest 2 is smaller and lighter than the original; still a matter of some amazement to me. I’m one of the few people who simply never had a problem with the weight or form factor of the first Quest. Quest 2 feels almost comically light now, and it is, no doubt, a technical marvel. In a few short years, we’ll have VR headsets with the form factor of a pair of Bono’s sunglasses. Still, for now, the Quest is as light and sleek as standalone VR gets. For me, the biggest weakness of the out-of-the-box Quest 2 is the new head strap, for a couple of reasons. In a disappointing retrograde move, reminiscent of the Oculus Go but even more basic, the strap is an elasticated cotton strap with adjustable side clips at the back. The familiar Quest velcro strip is still on top. Personally, I find that when it’s appropriately adjusted, it’s comfortable and supports the headset just fine. Getting it adjusted properly, however, is a fiddly nightmare involving an annoying level of inconvenience. Putting the headset on, or keeping it on the forehead while attending to something in real life, feels like a faff. It’s very easy to get smears and marks and sweat on the lenses.
The other point which I need to make about the strap is that it has the same slightly greyish white colour as the new plastic body, but it’s fabric and picks up dirt incredibly quickly. After only a couple of days use, it looks like a soiled bandage. It’s always disappointing to see this kind of ill-thought-through garbage on an otherwise classy piece of consumer electronics. It’s become pretty standard that the first thing you do with any VR headset is to replace the foam cover that comes with it with an aftermarket solution. This is bad enough, but now as expected as buying a case and a screen protector for a new phone. It would be a shame if Oculus brought this sordid state of affairs to head straps too. When you buy a car, you don’t expect to have to replace the seats or the steering wheel – the two most basic ways of interacting with the straight away to make it driveable. Sadly, it’s a similar case here. The strap is crap, and if you’re sharing a headset with other family members, it’s an exercise in frustration. The overpriced but comfortable ‘elite’ head strap really is essential if you’re planning on using the Quest 2, basically – so factor it into the price.
The same is true of the face foam; initially, it’s not exactly uncomfortable, but any amount of activity or sweat renders it a strange mixture of dripping wet and coarse. It creates the worst (temporary) VR face marks I’ve seen from any headset. The go-to VR face cover company, VR Cover, have officially partnered with Oculus to produce leather, PU and cotton replacement versions, but these aren’t available yet and tend towards the pricey. Sadly, the VR cover replacements for the original will not fit the Quest 2. Don’t fool yourself – if you see yourself spending more than a few minutes a day using the Quest 2, you’re going to have to factor in a replacement strap and faceplate, so add another £80 at least to the RRP when you’re budgeting, whichever of the two models you go for.
THE QUEST IS THE QUEST
So, you’ve fannied about with head strap and got it comfortable. You’ve had to do it all again when you’ve been messing with the three-stage IPD selector to get the display looking clear. Then you’ve had to use your microfibre cloth to clean the lenses off because in all this they’ve picked up fingerprints, hair grease and sweat. You’re in there, in the menus, finally. What is it like to use? Well, basically, it’s like the Quest. But a lot slicker.
You aren’t going to see any changes to the menus or general look of the system. It’s a beefed-up Quest. The display is sharper. The system is noticeably faster at booting, loading apps, recognising your room guardian, and generally feels that bit more powerful. Onscreen text is a lot more legible and sharp. It’s lovely. The new controllers are larger, more substantial in hand. I love the form factor of the Quest 1 controllers – I think they’re the most pleasing VR controllers ever made; I know that some people found them a bit small and had problems playing the likes of Beat Saber with them. The Quest 2 controllers have longer, wider handles and a flatter control face, including a capacitive thumb ‘rest’; they feel great. Definitely better for pretending you’re holding swords, fishing rods, guns and, yes, sabers.
Games that don’t directly support the enhanced power of the Quest 2 (yet) load faster and seem to run more smoothly. Games that do support it at launch are noticeably more impressive. Arizona Sunshine has better zombie models, textures and lighting, and now looks like a game from 2003 rather than 1999. Red Matter, already quite a beautiful game, is simply astonishing. Best of all, the sublime Real VR Fishing – in my opinion, one of the very best reasons to own a Quest – has received a significant boost to its visuals, which are now crisper and more detailed and even more immersive. In the next few months, we’re going to see some really impressive stuff here. No, it’s still not going to run Half-Life: Alyx natively, but it’s already clear that the Quest 2 is a massive step up in terms of power.
OLED, WHERE ART THOU?
If there’s one thing I will miss about the original Quest, and which I think will really make it worth holding onto particularly as a PCVR headset, is the beautiful deep black of the OLED display. The Quest 2 may be faster, sharper and more powerful, but the LCD panel display is noticeably lacking depth when it comes to the contrast of the display. Blacks are more grey now, and there’s no way around it. Go from the Q1 to its snazzier younger brother, and this becomes hugely noticeable. In all the time I’ve been using the Quest 2 there really hasn’t been a session I’ve had where I’ve not missed the OLED display. On games which have lots of darkness, it’s a definite loss. I’m currently enjoying the hell out of The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners (review coming soon), and that is set largely in the half-light. The Quest 2 display looks washed out in comparison, and it definitely offsets the higher resolution and better framerates of the new headset. I’d happily pay a premium to have an ‘Elite’ version of the Quest 2 with an OLED display. I think that would be the perfect VR headset.
HEAR ME NOW
The onboard sound is equivalent to the original Quest. I continue to be bemused by those who don’t think it’s fairly incredible on either headset. It’s immersive for those using the Quest and non-intrusive for other people in a shared space. The spatial audio is pretty impressive, considering it’s just coming from two little holes in the headset. Of course, there’s also the option of using whatever wired headphones you like. It must be noted that for Quest 2, there’s only one headphone socket on the headset, as opposed to the choice of left/right sockets on the original Quest.
BATTERY LIFE, LINK, VIRTUAL DESKTOP
Headset battery life still isn’t amazing, but it is better than the original Quest. A good run will be about an hour and a half to two hours, depending on your usage. Yet another reason to invest in an Oculus Elite Battery Strap. Oculus sure know what they’re doing. The battery life on the controllers is pretty incredible though – in the four days of pretty constant use, the single AA batteries that were supplied with the Quest 2 are still showing as fully charged.
Oculus Link for PCVR works the same as it did on the original Quest; it might be my imagination, but it seems to boot faster and be a bit less prone to glitches. When Oculus patch in the 90Hz support as a standard it will be a truly amazing VR headset. (It can be enabled via a simple hack with ADB in the meantime). Virtual Desktop and its patch via Sidequest means that, with a decent 5GHz router, you can play PCVR wirelessly with excellent response times and fidelity, and it’s truly astounding. Guy Godin, the sole developer of Virtual Desktop, is a true hero. I prefer using VD for PCVR, and I completed Half-Life: Alyx using it on the original Quest while the HTC Vive was gathering dust. I’d say if you’re looking for a decent VR headset purely for PC VR gaming, even just the 64GB Oculus Quest 2 is something of a steal. But then the original Quest will be cheap as chips soon, and that also works a dream – albeit without the tantalising option of the imminent faster 90Hz refresh rate of the Q2.
Fantastic VR Headset
There are a few considerable provisos to heed, but the Oculus Quest 2 is a fantastic VR headset which throws down the gauntlet to other hardware manufacturers and will be hugely important to the future of VR. Even with the necessary upgrades to head straps, face cover and battery factored in, it represents remarkable value for money and is a worthy next step in the evolution of the Quest. It doesn’t quite render the original headset obsolete, thanks to the slightly greyish LCD display, but no one who upgrades will be otherwise disappointed.