Oculus Quest: the new Oculus standalone headset system

The Oculus Quest (centre) with the Go and Rift flanking it. Credit: Facebook.

Update, Thursday September 27th, 2018: hands-on reviews, such as this one from Techcrunch, report the Quest is powered by a Snapdragon 835 chipset.

On Wednesday, September 26th, Facebook announced the Oculus Quest, billed as their “first all-in-one VR gaming system”. The new headset is due to start shipping in Spring 2019 with a price point of US $399 and 64 GB of on-board storage.

The Quest isn’t actually the first Oculus standalone headset unit – that honour went to the Oculus Go, launched in May 2018. It provides an experience similar to the Gear VR system offered by Samsung (and using Oculus optical hardware), and sells for US $199 with 32 GB, or US $249 with US $64 GB of storage. The unit was seen as easy to use, albeit with limitations.

Oculus Quest is intended to sit between the Rift and Go, and “first” used with it is in relation to the “VR gaming system”, as Facebook see this new headset being specifically about gaming. It offers capabilities far above those of Go, and even exceeding the Rift. These capabilities include:

  • 1600 x 1440 per eye resolution.
  • Two Oculus Touch style controllers.
  • 6DoF (6 degrees of freedom).
  • Built-in 360 degree audio.
  • Adjustable spacing for its lenses.
  • Four ultra wide-angle sensors for motion tracking / positioning, with “arena sized” tracking capabilities.
The Oculus Quest on display at Connect 5. Everything – battery, CPU, GPU, etc., is contained within the headset. No separate battery case processing unit. Credit: Windows Central

As a standalone unit, the headset uses a dedicated operating system, based on Android (as does the Go), so it will not natively run existing Rift VR titles, although it is anticipated that Rift-focused games will be ported to Quest alongside Quest’s own list of titles – there will be a portfolio of at least 50 titles available when the Quest starts shipping. Interestingly Facebook have indicated that they plan to have a Single button” process to allow Quest centric games to be converted for use on the Rift “with no code changes”.

The key differentiator between Quest and the Rift – other than the standalone nature of Quest – is, as mentioned above, that Quest is being touted as a games-centric headset, while the Rift is seen as more “video” oriented. However, and allowing for development of titles and applications, it’s hard to see such an artificial division between the two remaining in place over time.

In keeping with this, the 50-title line-up for when Oculus Quest starts shipping is games centric, and will include a three-part cinematic Star Wars “6DOF” experience, centred on Darth Vader. Called Vader Immortal, players using it will, to quote, “Be able to step inside the world of Star Wars in the comfort of your living room and, for the first time, truly feel free.” Also as a part of the games element, Facebook note that Quest headsets can be used in multi-player scenarios right out of the box.

An image said to be from Vader Immortal, the new Lucasfilm 3-part VR experience set to launch when the Oculus Quest starts shipping in 2019. Credit: Starwars.com

The sensor system on Quest, now officially called Oculus Insight, sounds particularly impressive. The four ultra-wide-angle sensors coupled with “advanced computer vision algorithms”, allow for full position tracking in real-time. the sensors look for edges, corners, walls and furniture to build up a 3D map of the wearer’s surroundings, while input from the headset’s gyroscope and accelerometer allows an estimate of the wearer’s head position to be calculated every millisecond. Quest also includes a capability called “multi-room guardian”, allowing multiple environments where the headset may be used to be mapped and saved, removing the need for constant recalibration when using Quest in different locations.

The new Quest controllers (seen below) are very similar in nature to the Touch controllers, offering joysticks, menu buttons, a pair of trigger buttons for each hand, and an AB/XY array. The major difference is a new halo that goes around the hand. It is thought this may link with another element of the Oculus Quest ecosystem: an RGB sensor, which may be used to translate controller location in virtual space, and which can double as a “camera” a Quest wearer can toggle in order to see a (greyscale?) view of their real-life surroundings.

The Oculus Quest controllers, similar in nature to the Oculus Touch. Credit: Facebook

No detailed specifications have been given in terms of CPU / GPU for Quest – although it is believed a  high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon is providing the necessary processing. In introducing the headset, Facebook refer to it as rounding out their “first generation” of VR systems:

With the introduction of Oculus Quest, we’ve completed our first generation of best-in-class VR headsets. Oculus Go remains the easiest and most affordable way to get into VR, while Oculus Rift leverages the power of your PC to push the limits of what’s possible. Thanks to Oculus Quest, we’re now able to combine the best of both worlds and welcome even more people into the VR community.

Oculus VR, Introducing the Oculus Quest, September 26th, 2018

With HTC recently having launched a US $300 wireless adaptor for the HTC Vive and Vive Pro – both of which require a high-end gaming rig, Oculus VR may just, with this announcement of the Quest priced at the same level as the Rift, stolen a march on their competition. That said, it’s likely still not enough to get me to invest in a VR headset just yet. I’ll see what the next generation of hardware brings. But for those who are interested in the Oculus Quest, hands-on reviews should be appearing on the web, “real soon now”, to coin a phrase.