Oculus Quest 2 review: better, cheaper VR

 theverge.com  09/16/2020 17:30:00   Adi Robertson

As someone who writes about virtual reality and has been stuck at home just like many people during the 2020 pandemic, Ive gotten asked one question over and over: if virtual reality is so great and actual reality is so dangerous, why isnt everybody turning to VR? This isnt a totally fair framing, since VR usage has spiked by some measures. But it did expose a simple problem: I really couldnt recommend a headset that was friendly enough for most people to buy.

Ive spent the last couple of weeks with Oculus new Quest 2 headset, though, and thats very close to changing. The Quest 2 is a self-contained headset thats shipping on October 13th, and its an update to Oculus 2019 Quest. Oculus has kept that standalone Quest design with the same feature set, while improving its screen, reducing its weight, and  with one noteworthy caveat  making it more comfortable. Its also dropped the starting price from $399 to $299, making the Quest 2 one of the lowest-priced headsets on the market.

The Quest 2 is everything I liked about the original Quest at launch but with the benefit of a stronger ecosystem thats developed over the past year. Even with current-generation VRs inherent awkwardness, it feels like a final product rather than an early-adopter experiment. Oculus  a company owned by social giant Facebook  has done some of its best work so far. Its also provoked some of the biggest questions yet about VRs future.

At a passing glance, the Quest 2 looks like a dramatically new headset. Facebook-owned Oculus has become known for its all-black flagship devices, but the Quest 2 has a pure white body and a black foam face mask, giving it a two-toned appearance. The new color scheme isnt necessarily an improvement, but it makes sense: Facebook has consolidated its VR product line into a single device, and its making that device visually distinct.

The Quest 2 looks otherwise very similar to the Quest. Its a little smaller than its predecessor, but both headsets have the same rounded plastic front, each corner studded with an outward-facing tracking camera. The Quest had textured fabric sides, while the all-plastic Quest 2 body feels a little more sterile, although thats offset by soft fabric head straps that replace the Quests stiff rubber ones. The Quest 2s controllers are white, but theyre otherwise nearly identical to previous generations of Oculus Touch devices.

You wont get big new features from the Quest 2, but it includes some significant iterative upgrades. The headset features 6GB of memory instead of 4GB. Its base model has 64GB of storage, just like the Quest; for $399, you can get a greatly expanded 256GB. The Quest 2 uses Qualcomms Snapdragon XR2 chipset instead of a Snapdragon 835, hypothetically letting it run better-looking games (although the Quest 2s current library is heavily optimized for the original headset, and neither device approaches a PCs power) while taking advantage of XR2-specific optimization for things like tracking cameras and VR screen resolution. The headset remains chunky, but at 503 grams compared to the Quests 571, its only a little heavier than the relatively lightweight original Oculus Rift. Battery life is similar to the Quest, clocking between two and 2.5 hours for a gaming session.

The Quest 2s screen resolution has leapfrogged most other VR headsets, offering 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye compared to the originals 1440 x 1600; Oculus also promises to upgrade the suboptimal 72Hz refresh rate to 90Hz after launch. Resolution isnt the only factor that matters  the Valve Index has the old Rifts resolution, but its larger field of view and higher refresh rate make the screen expansive and crisp. Even with the update, the Quest 2 screen isnt transformationally different from the Quests. But text is notably less grainy, and in turn, the whole experience feels more polished.

The original Oculus Quest was miserably front-heavy, and even the slimmer Quest 2 can weigh on your forehead. Its soft cloth strap almost feels like a step down, with less support and a slightly clumsier tightening mechanism. Oculus is also offering an alternate strap option, though: a padded plastic ring that rests more easily around your head and tightens with a convenient wheel at the back.

This isnt as foolproof as some tethered headsets like the PlayStation VR. Ill end up having one perfectly acceptable hours-long session and then another where I fidget constantly with the angle to make myself comfortable. But its a definite step up  my husband, who could only stand the Quest for a few minutes, got through a solid chunk of Beat Sabers campaign mode in the Quest 2. Its also simpler than trying to mod your Quest with a third-party accessory, since you just pop a plastic socket at each side to switch straps.

Oculus sadly hasnt changed my least favorite Quest feature: its use of small, directed speakers instead of headphones or earbuds. The problem isnt the sound quality; the Quest 2 has reasonable audio, although I find it a little thin. Its that the sound is audible to anybody in the same room, and none of my headphones work well with the headset. Wired ones need their long cords pinned behind the straps, and Oculus apparently isnt planning wireless earbud support anytime soon  Quest 2 team lead Prabhu Parthasarathy says latency is too big an issue. Instead, Logitech is selling custom-length wired earbuds and over-ear headphones for $50 and $100, respectively.

The Quest 2 is ridiculously cheap by VR headset standards, even with its handful of upgrades. But its a little frustrating that Oculus isnt including the improved strap and earbuds by default, since new headset owners wont necessarily realize how much better their experience could be. And unlike the charger and cheap headphones that ship with smartphones, people definitely wont have these accessories floating around their home already.

Early Quest 2 leaks prompted fears that Oculus might be ditching focus adjustment  the option to move a headsets lenses to match different interpupillary distances, improving the experience for a wider range of users. Oculus hasnt done this, but its made the adjustment process more annoying. Instead of moving a smooth slider on the headsets underside, you have to remove it and snap the lenses to one of three distance settings, then put it back on to see the improvement. Oculus says this option will help newcomers understand what the adjustments do, but the benefit isnt clear. And while a single user will probably just set this option and forget it, its a bigger issue if youre swapping the headset between family members or across an organization.

The Quest 2 headset (left) versus the original Quest.
The Quest 2 controllers (left) versus the original Quest.

The controllers, on the other hand, feel as good as ever. Oculus hasnt changed the interface it established with its first-generation Touch: youll still get a pair of plastic remotes with a grip button and a trigger, two face buttons, and an analog stick on each one. The Quest 2s designers reintroduced a thumb rest that was removed from the second-generation Touch, though, fixing my only complaint with the external design.

Internally, each controller still uses one AA battery, not the built-in rechargeables youll find in some VR controllers. Parthasarathy says this is because theres no way of charging them thats not awkward, although Oculus will probably transition at some point. The Quest could chew through batteries with a week or two of solid use, but Oculus promises the Quest 2 controllers have been optimized to last four times as long. While I havent been using it long enough to confirm that, mine indicated that they were at 90 percent power after a week of heavy use.

Oculus introduced hand tracking after the original Quests release, and the feature is available at launch on the Quest 2. Its a great extra option for the home screen, letting you tweak settings or install games without bothering with the controllers. Its also slowly being rolled out to third-party apps, including the workplace social tool Spatial  a good, low-pressure test case where you dont need perfectly reliable fast-twitch motion.

Like the Quests, the Quest 2s hand recognition is accurate, and Oculus credibly promises that it will improve over time. But gestures like pinching or turning your palm can be either accidentally triggered or fail to register, and when youre using your hand to move a cursor, it doesnt always point where youd expect. So for now, its more of a perk than a full additional interface.

The Quest 2s hardware, at least with the alternate strap, improves the Quest in almost every way. And its ecosystem has come a long way. The standalone Quest catalog started with around 50 titles, and Oculus promises over 200 around the Quest 2s launch.

Standout game Beat Saber is being continuously expanded with new song downloads, most recently from Linkin Park, although its catalog remains small compared to non-VR rhythm games like Rock Band. Its also getting a multiplayer mode and a BTS song pack this holiday. Upcoming games include Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxys Edge, created by Lucasfilm effects studio ILMxLAB; a VR installment of Sniper Elite; a Jurassic Park puzzle game called Jurassic World Aftermath; a shooter set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe; and a VR adaptation of Myst.

These games werent available for review, but the existing Quest catalog already includes some relatively recent gems. The Vader Immortal trilogy pairs an enjoyable story with a satisfying lightsaber training mode. The Room VR: A Dark Matter brings a more hands-on approach to the Room series remarkably compelling puzzles. Stealth game Phantom: Covert Ops pushes the limits of the Quests power and screen with a large, dark, and low-contrast world, but its clever conceit  youre infiltrating secret bases and assassinating enemies from a kayak  easily makes up for it.

Of those current-generation titles, only Phantom is exclusive to Oculus headsets. Facebook looks to have a sizable exclusive lineup at launch, but its also promoting the Quest 2s cross-platform potential. That includes upcoming battle royale game Population: One, which will be released in the fall of 2020 and features cross-play across HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, and Oculus headsets. Some of the Quest 2s showcase apps arent even VR-only  like Spatial, which also supports smartphones and a desktop web app.

The Quest got a huge boost last year with Link, a feature that lets it play PC VR games with a USB-C connection. Link removed the Quests central sacrifice: the loss of access to particularly graphics-intensive Oculus games, third-party storefronts like SteamVR, and experiences that didnt make it onto the Quests highly curated platform. In more concrete terms: it lets the Quest run Half-Life: Alyx, one of the best VR games to date.

Link has been in beta since last year, but its becoming an official feature around the Quest 2s launch. While I expressed some frustration with the system this spring, it worked great with the Quest 2, in part because the official Link cable is an improvement over a much cheaper USB-C option like the Anker Powerline. (It unfortunately adds another $79 to the cost of a Quest 2.) The Link cable is significantly longer than average at five meters, and its plug is angled to sit neatly against the headset. A non-angled Anker cable would easily jiggle loose on the original Quest, although the Quest 2 also moves its USB-C port farther back on the headset, which could improve the overall experience for both. Add in the Quest 2s improved screen, and I didnt find myself missing the Oculus Rift. My biggest hurdle was simply getting used to a tethered headset again.

The Oculus Quest 2 retains current-generation VRs baseline flaws: its grainy, bulky, and socially maladroit compared to a modern phone or laptop. VR is also best in some specific genres right now. You can find a variety of rhythm games, shooters, simulated sports like virtual boxing, and virtual worlds in which to socialize. By contrast, 360-degree video is a more sparsely populated field, despite the work of studios like Felix & Paul.

But if youre interested in the current generation of VR games, the Quest 2 offers the best overall balance of hardware, features, and price. (Even with the upgraded strap, Link cable, and earbuds, this standalone product costs less than many PC-tethered headsets.) Its closest direct competition are business-focused headsets like the HTC Vive Focus Plus and Pico Neo 2, unless a company like Sony or Apple announces a standalone headset.

And VR developers have produced some solid anchor titles, including Beat Saber, Half-Life: Alyx, The Room VR, zombie shooter Arizona Sunshine, and social spaces like Bigscreen VR. Motion sickness can still be a problem in VR, but as developers have learned better design tricks and headset tracking has improved, its become easier to find experiences that dont trigger it.

If youve already got a Quest, the Quest 2 isnt a must-upgrade moment  all currently announced Quest 2 games will work with the Quest, and Facebook isnt letting developers ship Quest 2-exclusive content at this time. But the hardware has distinct benefits. And if youve got an older PC-tethered headset, like an original Rift or Vive, the Quest is a big step up.

So why wouldnt you get one? Basically, Facebook.

The Quest is the first Oculus headset to require a Facebook account, not just a standalone Oculus account. If youre new to the platform, youll sign up with Facebook. If youve got an Oculus account, youll be prompted to merge your accounts.

This isnt the sea change it might sound like. Facebook already owned all the information it collected through Oculus, including some data thats predictable (your app usage history) and some thats less obvious (how you draw the boundaries on your play space.) Moderators could cross-reference names and IP addresses to find a given Facebook users Oculus account. You can keep a separate friends list on the two platforms, and your profile still shows a VR avatar that you create. Theres no in-headset advertising or VR News Feed, although companies can target Facebook News Feed ads based on the games you play.

I merged my existing Facebook and Oculus accounts to review this headset, and my Oculus experience was exactly the same. I dont regularly check Facebook, but based on a recent scroll through the News Feed, its currently trying to sell me on distance learning and Nextdoor  not the latest VR shooter.

Even so, tightening the formal links between Oculus and Facebook raises new concerns. Lots of people get accidentally suspended from Facebook, and if that happens, its not clear how it affects Oculus devices. The companys new terms of use suggest you can lose access to content if you do something like make a Facebook account with a fake name, but Oculus says the details are still being worked out. Parthasarathy says Facebook is trying to strike a balance in moderation, so a brief suspension wont nuke your Oculus library. But Facebook moderation happens on such a huge scale that individual users can get stuck in the system, and the prospect of losing access to your purchased games and hardware is a scary one.

And Facebook having the technical capacity for something is different from doing it by default. Moderators could already ban Oculus accounts for egregious Facebook violations, but that required an extra step. Facebook could theoretically link VR activity to social media accounts before, but going forward, its automatically adding a whole new set of data points to an already vast catalog of your behavior.

VR is an incredibly intimate and potentially invasive medium. As Road to VR outlined last month, for instance, Facebooks invite-only Horizon social space includes the option to have a moderator invisibly surveil your conversations with another person for potential rule-breaking. This is an extension of standard gaming moderation practices  Sony and Microsoft, for instance, let you report abusive private messages. But Facebook operates at a much greater scale and has a clearer interest in analyzing and monetizing your behavior.

Also, many people may not bother with a Link cable or a gaming PC. That gives a big advantage to a subset of Oculus-approved games, which are selected not just for quality, but for perceived commercial viability. Facebook has discussed opening a less restrictive store for a wider range of apps, but it declined to offer more detail at this time, suggesting that developers build for PC if they want to experiment. That artificially limits the audience for many games that could run just fine on a mobile headset. Some social VR developers are already complaining about Facebook suppressing competition, and the Quest 2 only increases its power to set the terms of engagement  and potentially the kinds of games that headset users see.

These might seem like abstract concerns compared to the Quest 2s concrete benefits. But the Quest 2 is the first headset I can reasonably recommend for a wide audience. Facebooks VR head start is growing, and the coming year could set industry expectations for privacy, developer autonomy, and basic consumer-friendliness. This may not be VRs mass-market moment, but its the moment to start seriously thinking about how that world might work.

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it  contracts that no one actually reads. Its impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit agree to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people dont read and definitely cant negotiate.

Facebook and Oculus are in the process of updating their terms of service, following an announcement that new headsets would require a Facebook account. So the agreements youll find in October wont necessarily match what we list here, and they might differ depending on whether youre creating a new account or merging existing Oculus and Facebook accounts.

To use the Oculus Quest 2, we agreed to:

  • Facebook Terms of Service
  • Facebook Data Policy
  • Facebook Cookies Policy
  • Oculus Terms of Service
  • Oculus Privacy Policy
  • Location access: Location access is needed to discover and set up nearby headsets, and more.
  • Health and safety warnings: You understand the Oculus health and safety warnings in the [setup] video and in online resources, and you agree to show them to other people using your device.

There were no optional agreements, although individual apps may require separate approvals.

Final provisional tally: seven agreements.

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