Six years ago, the social media giant bought VR pioneer Oculus for $ 2 billion. Facebook has been trying to get VR right since, and is getting closer. The new Oculus Quest 2 headset has its flaws, but overall it is the most satisfying device of its kind. And the price is right; for $ 300, Quest 2 costs the same as other hot video game consoles, such as the Nintendo Switch or Microsoft Xbox Series S.
Only about one-fifth of Americans have ever tried a VR system, much less purchased. This is partly because many early versions had to be tied to an expensive, powerful PC, or at least a Sony PlayStation 4 or 5.
Quest 2 is a standalone system, ie the headset is the computer. This is possible with a new computer chip from Qualcomm that has enough firepower for such tasks. Along with the headset, you get a pair of game controls, one for each hand. When inside a game, these controllers look like what you need them to be ̵
You will not be surprised to hear that you have to connect Quest 2 through a Facebook account. It’s probably not a dealbreaker. We’re already registered, right? Still, it means that Facebook has come up with yet another way to monitor every move on you – in this case literally.
Quest uses a series of four headphone-mounted cameras to scan the surroundings and help you set up a safe play area. By using a game controller spray, you spray a border on the floor. If you cross it, the game disappears, replaced by live video of the room, so you do not stumble across the furniture. You can also activate this function manually by pressing the side of the headset.
The headset uses a motion detector and gyroscope to detect movements in your head and body. Look up and you see a starry sky, not the ceiling in your living room; look over your shoulder and there’s a monster sneaking up on you.
I have an unusually large head and wear glasses to boot, so I found Quest 2 a little too cozy for perfect comfort. Adjustment took about a minute each time I put on the device, partly because it was attached to my head with a cheap and elastic strap with a good feel. The Oculus costs an extra $ 50 for an “elite strap”, a plastic device that attaches to the back of the head and is likely to provide much better support. For $ 130, the Elite strap also includes an extra battery to extend playing time beyond the two to three hours you’d expect from Quest ‘built-in battery. And for another $ 80, I could order a set of snap-on prescription lenses from online eyewear retailer FramesDirect. Then I could play without the glasses.
At all, Quest 2 is nowhere near as good a fit as the Sony PlayStation VR headset, the most comfortable I’ve tried. But who wants to be tied to a machine?
It’s not a big library of VR games, but I was not bored. Not when I can hang out with my favorite movie villain, in the Star Wars game “Vader Immortal.” In fact, it’s a series of three mini-games, each priced at $ 10, recruiting you as Dark Lord’s newest apprentice. There’s a lot of sabering here, but what I really loved was the total immersion in the Star Wars universe of lousy old spaceships, snarky robots and huge alien landscapes.
Or for a furiously good time, it’s “Pistol Whip”, a musical rhythm game that is not unlike “Just Dance” or even the old “Guitar Hero.” Only in this game you are armed with a gun, not a Fender Stratocaster. Your goal is to walk the entire John Wick, and shoot down a series of potential assassins, while diving incoming fire and dodging around various obstacles, all to the progress of lounge music. After a couple of laps, it was writing-bound, my body locked in pain, but I grinned like a trigger-happy fool.
I found myself wishing the family could see what I saw when I tilted away. In fact, they can, sort of. The Oculus smartphone app – the best way to buy extra content – offers a “casting” feature similar to YouTube, so you can view a two-dimensional live stream of your gaming on any networked phone, computer or smart TV .
For a break in the action, you can watch some cool VR videos. But it’s like a Quest 2 slot machine really earns its keep. For the first time in many years, it feels like VR may just be the next big thing.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.