Virtual reality is an amazing experience with a fundamental barrier-to-entry problem. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift deliver a high-quality experience, particularly for first-generation products, but they aren’t particularly inexpensive at $499 and $399, respectively. The new Oculus Go is meant to serve as a standalone, entry-level VR experience that trades certain features for a lower $199 price point. If the device is properly balanced, it could serve as a gateway product into VR. The wrong mix, however, could actually backfire and leave people feeling negative about the entire virtual reality concept. But there’s good news on that front — early previews of the Oculus Go are rolling in, and they’re pretty positive.
The Oculus Go doesn’t attach to your PC and it doesn’t require a smartphone. It’s a self-contained unit that includes a single controller and a screen “overclock” option that can boost the refresh rate to 72Hz, up from 60Hz. While that’s below the 90Hz typically specified for “best” VR, Oculus’ internal testing found 72Hz is an acceptable sweet spot for players.
The included controller isn’t the full-featured model one might expect from the Oculus Touch. PCMag’s Will Greenwald describes it as follows:
[It’s] a small, oblong puck with a clickable touchpad on the top and a large trigger button on the bottom. There are Back and Oculus buttons below the touchpad, but that’s it for controls. The dual triggers, physical face buttons, and analog stick of the Oculus Touch are nowhere to be found, nor is the Touch’s large, curved outer shell used for motion tracking with the Oculus Rift sensors.
Oculus hasn’t revealed system specs yet, but Ars Technica reports the Oculus Go is identical to the upcoming Xiaomi Mi VR Standalone. That headset is based on the Snapdragon 821 (2x 2.35GHz Kryo cores, 2x 1.6GHz Kryo cores, Adreno 530 GPU).
There are currently three game demos available for the Oculus Go, two of which work well. Reviewers found Anshar Online (a space sim combat game) and They Suspect Nothing (a first-person puzzle / arcade game) both worked fairly well and awarded them solid marks. The third game, a VR version of the board game Settlers of Catan (Catan VR, natch) came in for heavier criticism, thanks to the controller’s reduced accuracy and limited features.
As for the visual effects, Ars Technica summarized Anshar Online as having “a PlayStation 2 game’s polygonal budget and an Xbox 360’s lighting and effects pipeline. Not bad for a self-contained $200 gaming device.” The screen was also praised for its 2560×1440 panel, minimal light-blur ghosting, and high-quality lenses. Ars opines, “I have never seen a low-cost VR device produce such stunning visuals.”
What’s less clear is whether the Oculus Go can move the needle on VR adoption. Right now, the market is divided between low-cost wireless devices that require a smartphone (Samsung’s Gear VR) and more expensive wired devices specifically aimed at gaming enthusiasts. But despite some solid early games and a few good AAA titles with VR support, we haven’t really seen a killer game or must-have app yet. Virtual reality is still waiting for its Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, or GLQuake.
As a matter of market segmentation, a $199 standalone device makes a lot of sense. It’ll also help Oculus build its own storefront and position it as a Steam competitor over the long term, assuming it catches on. But there’s also a real risk of confusing customers who don’t understand why they can’t play standard PC virtual reality games with their new Oculus Go. Ideally, titles would be capable of scaling down or up to run on either device, but that kind of flexibility is a long way off, if it ever arrives at all.
As a first-generation early product, however, the Oculus Go impresses. Every publication who tested the headset came away at least cautiously optimistic about its future and capabilities. And if the device sells well it could help propel VR towards a wider market and a wireless future. Oculus has not announced a ship date beyond “early 2018.” The company also hasn’t clarified if it will produce multiple versions of the Oculus Go, or what features more expensive SKUs might offer.