Virtual reality has existed in some form for the last few decades, but the original Oculus Rift marked the first time you could set up a high-quality VR experience in your own home. The Rift kicked off a race to own the face computer market, but adoption has been slower than many expected. However, the 2019 Oculus Quest was so popular it was almost impossible to purchase for months after its release. Oculus didn’t wait long to improve on that headset, either. The Oculus Quest 2 ($299.99) is now available, and it’s an improvement over the original in every way that matters. And yet, it’s $100 less expensive than the last release. Having spent some time with the Quest 2, I believe we might look back on it as the headset that finally made virtual reality accessible to mainstream consumers.
A Display Resolution Revolution
You could argue that the display is the most important aspect of a VR headset. After all, desktop VR systems are really just fancy monitors attached to your face. The Oculus Quest 2 contains all its own computing hardware, and it’s gotten a speed boost compared with the last-gen. Despite this substantial improvement, the new display is by far the most important upgrade.
The OG Quest had an OLED panel with a resolution of 1440 × 1600 per eye. That might sound like a lot if you’re used to looking at specs for phones and laptops, but your eyes are right up next to the screen. Modern OLEDs have a pentile subpixel array, and the “crosshatch” pattern was plainly visible when using the Quest. We call this the “screen door” effect because it looks like there’s a metal screen between you and the virtual world.
With the Quest 2, Oculus switched to a 90Hz LCD panel (1832 x 1920 per eye), which has full RGB strip subpixels instead of pentile. You lose the perfect black levels of OLED, but this hasn’t bothered me at all. On the contrary, the display upgrade has been nothing short of a revolution. I’ve always felt like my ability to see depth in VR is somewhat weaker than most. I could tell when things were closer or farther away, but everything looked a bit too flat to be believable. Without the screen door effect, I find I can focus much better and see the 3D effect without issue.
Images are still a bit blurrier than if they were displayed on a single 2D monitor, but it’s so much crisper than the original Quest. Everything looks better — menus, videos, games. I’ve also found the Quest 2 doesn’t cause as much eyestrain as the last-gen Quest. That’s probably because I’m not constantly trying to focus on images that will never get sharp enough.
The Best of Both Worlds
The Quest 2 steps up to the Qualcomm XR2 ARM chip, which powers all the standalone VR features of the headset. Like the last-gen Quest, you can also plug it into a sufficiently powerful computer via a USB-C cable to play desktop Oculus Rift VR games. I’ve tested both ways of accessing content on the Quest 2, and they each have their charm. Only one of them is the future, though.
Current desktop VR experiences can be surprisingly high-quality, and the single cable connection makes the experience less cumbersome than older headsets that required separate power and video cables. I’ve played Star Wars: Squadrons quite a bit, and it’s an absolute blast. It’s easy to forget you’re not really sitting in the cockpit of an X-Wing, but the cable is still there to occasionally pull you back to reality. Even in games like Squadrons where you can remain seated, the cable might get stuck on your chair’s armrest or maybe you clip it while swinging the controllers.
In standalone mode, the visual fidelity of VR experiences is still impressive. I’ve played a few games that are “newly enhanced” for the Quest 2, and they look almost as good as what you get on the desktop. The games aren’t as complex, of course, but the depth of a desktop game in VR isn’t as important as the freedom of ditching wires. Freeing yourself of the cable makes VR on the Quest 2 so much more engrossing, and the tracking is spot-on. Plus, there’s also no tedious setup like with most desktop VR systems. Casual gamers and the VR-curious can put on the Quest and be playing impressive games in just a few minutes.
Standalone VR might not be as technically capable as desktop VR, but you get both of them in the Quest 2. With the added power of the XR2, I think developers would do well to focus on Quest games rather than the Rift. It’s just a lot more fun to play without the cable.
The Not So Good
There are things I don’t like about the Quest 2, and at the top of that list is Facebook. I had to link my pre-Facebook Oculus account with my Facebook login to set up the Quest 2, and numerous people have complained that Facebook has banned them from their headsets for some esoteric account violation. Almost any other company would be a better steward of our VR lives, but we’re stuck with Facebook. I would completely understand if someone didn’t want to buy the Quest just because of Facebook.
Oculus also decided to change the IPD (inter-pupillary distance) adjustment on the Quest 2, and that could make it “incompatible” with your eyes. Instead of a smooth slider that changes the distance between lenses, you have three distinct settings: 58, 63, and 68mm. If the distance between your eyes isn’t close to one of those settings, the Quest 2 will look blurry regardless of the screen improvements.
While I believe the Quest 2 is a major step forward for VR, some people will probably prefer to wait for more refined hardware. The included strap is only marginally comfortable, and the halo-style “Elite” strap is another $50 (if you can even find it in stock). Even then, the Quest 2 is 1.1 pounds (over 500g), which isn’t comfortable to wear for long periods. If I’m going to get really into a game and sink tens of hours into it, I’d prefer it was on a traditional screen rather than VR. And that’s okay because the Quest 2 battery runs dry in about two and a half hours. It’s a balancing act — add more battery capacity and the headset is too heavy, take it away and it won’t last long enough. Range anxiety is still a problem for the Quest 2
Even with these shortcomings, the Quest 2 is a significant step for VR. It has the best software library, the best tracking, and now, an incredible display. I can’t wait to see what happens when developers start pushing the hardware.
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