Oculus Quest hands-on: This is the standalone VR we wanted

Goodbye wires, hello total freedom

We've known Oculus Quest as Santa Cruz for the past couple of years, and we've seen it evolve from a mock-up VR headset with exposed wires and circuitry to an almost-ready prototype.

Now it's fully ready, and our third look at the hardware is perhaps our most comprehensive. I was able to try multiple demoes with the Quest, with both single player and multiplayer game experiences with multiple room spaces to try out.

Read this: The best Oculus Rift games

So how did it go? Is Oculus Quest the VR headset we've waited for? Here's what we make of it so far.

Oculus Quest: Design

Oculus Quest hands-on: This is the VR we wanted

The Quest is only slightly different when compared with the Rift. It has a more rounded front compared to the flat front of the Rift, for instance. It also features four wide-angle sensors that are used to scan the room.

The headset supports 6DoF (degrees of freedom) while also being wireless, which means you basically have total freedom while walking around. As far as weight goes, you wouldn't be able to tell that this was a standalone headset.

It doesn't feel like it has all the processing power, battery and 64GB of storage that are needed to power it. It doesn't feel as light as an Oculus Go, but it's not too heavy. It legitimately feels like a Rift with the cord cut. The inside, where the new lenses are - the same lenses from the Go, giving you a resolution of 1600x1440 per eye - feel more comfortable.

There's a nob on the underside of the device that lets you change the distance between the lenses, and Oculus has performed a cool trick here. The lenses are blended into a more contoured interior, which makes the Quest feel like it's hugging your face more.

However, there is a pretty sizeable nose gap. Like the Go, you can look down at your nose and see the real world. This isn't totally noticeable all the time, especially when the game or show you're watching is good, but the fact remains that if you look down at your nose you're going to see the real world.

The Touch controllers have also been redesigned. The ring has been moved above the joypad, freeing your fingers to move around a little more. With the Rift's Touch controllers, it was easy for your trigger fingers to touch the outer ring every once in a while, which could be distracting.

The buttons have also been placed in a way that makes the controller easier to hold. The two buttons and analog joystick (which an Oculus rep told me is new) are directly next to each other. Below that is the menu button. The grip button and trigger button are on the same side. The controllers do feel improved though, they're more comfortable to hold and easier to forget about.

Oculus Quest: Experience

Oculus Quest hands-on: This is the VR we wanted

I was able to try out the Quest with three demos: Superhot VR, Project Tennis Scramble and Face Your Fears 2. All three provided different ways to test out the new standalone capabilities of the Quest.

The interesting thing about using the Quest is that it takes getting used to if you've used the Rift before. It doesn't feel like a compromised experience in any way, it feels like you've just put on a Rift. From the responsiveness of the apps to the quality to the Touch controllers in your hands, it feels high-end.

However, because it feels that way there's also a small mental hump to get over. I felt like I needed to mind my movements to account for a tether to a PC, but there was none there. So I had to spend some time getting comfortable with how much I could move.

When I did move, it felt liberating. The initial stage of Superhot VR has you walking down a twisted hallway. I roamed around freely, never once encountering Oculus' Guardian system. The Superhot space was fairly large, and I never had a problem dodging and moving and Superhotting it up.

Where I did run into some problems was with Face Your Fears 2, which gives you a fairly large area to explore. Unfortunately, the room the demo was placed in wasn't the largest. So I had to resort to using the analog joystick to do a lot of the moving around. I still was able to move around naturally, but I did run up against walls, and I'm pretty sure I tapped the wall with the Touch controller at one point.

Oculus Quest hands-on: This is the VR we wanted

Still, it's a good sign that the only limitation I encountered was the physical space I was in. A lot of this has to do with the new Insight system, which helps enable larger play spaces for Quest to use. This can go up to large arena-sized spaces, but that's something Oculus is working on the future (and something we'll be trying later this week - stay tuned).

The best utilization of Quest's standalone abilities was Project Tennis Scramble, which literally feels like you're living inside Wii Tennis. Oculus reps warned me not to run or jump around the arena, but I felt like I could easily do both with no problem. I was able to move back and forth the tennis court to take on my competitor, who was an actual person directly across from me. If not for Project Tennis Scramble's ability to re-size tennis balls and have you using an inflatable giraffe as a racquet, it would feel like no real difference between it on Quest and real tennis.

All three demoes showed off the new bass-heavy sound built into the headset. It's definitely louder and fuller than the Go's built-in audio. For instance, I struggled to listen to the Go on the busy and noisy Oculus Connect 5 demo floor. That wasn't a problem with the Quest, especially during the sound-sensitive Face Your Fears 2, which uses distant wails and creepy sound design to try to scare you.

Oculus Quest: Initial verdict

The Quest delivers an excellent VR experience. While there is a nose gap to prevent you from feeling fully immersed, it's easy and comfortable on the head, and I could easily see wearing this for an extended amount of time.

It also provides very good sound, and was able to create a genuinely scary experience with Face Your Fears 2. Scary is hard to do, because immersion needs to be nearly unbroken so you don't get sucked out of the experience and can stay on edge.

All of this adds up to a freedom that really is liberating. You'll feel like you can run across a court and smack a tennis ball, or wander around outside a haunted house, or walk down a twisty hallway.

We do have some questions though. We're still unclear on battery life. We observed a number of Oculus Connect attendants trying out the headsets one after the other, but there's no telling how many hours of life you're going to get here.

The long term viability of the Quest is another concern. The Rift is not going away, Mark Zuckerberg himself said it was going to continue as a high-end VR experience that can push boundaries. How long until the Quest needs a graphical update to keep up?

At its $399 price point, the Quest is double the price of the Go. That seems fair, as it feels like an experience twice as good. What will be more interesting to see once we get our hands on it for a full review, is how it and its price point match up against the Rift.


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