The virtual reality revolution heralded with great fanfare five years ago has never materialized. With its ease of use, good performance and reasonable price, the new Oculus Quest 2 headset launched last week could turn the tide, however.
Friday night, 10 p.m. I am in a room in front of a giant screen with 7 other spectators. A young Tom Cruise struts around the screen with his aviator glasses. Containment may be in place in Quebec, but for now, looking at Top Gun with strangers, I feel (a bit) like in a real movie theater.
The illusion is not perfect – my neighbor keeps complaining that he is in his bed and cannot place his pillows properly – but the picture quality is good and the experience is successful enough to encourage me to endure the bad game of Val Kilmer and spend almost two hours with a virtual reality headset on my head.
Many things to do
Watch a traditional movie in a movie theater reproduction, see a documentary designed specifically for virtual reality, attend live concerts, play games, participate in virtual meetings, create three-dimensional works of art: these are the kinds of things you can do with Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2, a standalone virtual reality headset that sells for $ 459 in Canada.
None of these experiences are entirely new. Most of the games and software I’ve played over the past few weeks have been on the original Oculus Quest, but sometimes on the Oculus Rift and even Sony’s PSVR. But the Oculus Quest 2 is a model of simplicity, which prompts us to use it more often than other devices on the market.
Whereas previously you had to be connected to a console or a powerful computer to enjoy virtual reality, the Oculus Quest range can be used stand-alone. It is therefore sufficient to place the helmet on his head to be transported in a virtual environment in a few seconds. You don’t need headphones, and even controllers can be left out if you want to control the interface with your hands directly (in theory at least, because in practice, controllers are more efficient).
The Oculus Quest 2 is also a helmet known as 6 DoF (six degrees of freedom in English), or “six degrees of freedom”. We can not only turn our heads to see what is going on all around us, but we can also move in the real world to make our character move in the virtual world.
To do so, we must first indicate to the helmet what our playing area is to be sure not to hit a wall, an operation that only takes a few seconds to perform.
The first Oculus Quest already allowed to play in this way, but with its increased power, its successor allows a game to be launched more quickly, and offers better visual quality, thanks to its improved LCD screen of 1832 by 1920 pixels. The graphics in the games look more like those for smartphones than those for consoles, but they are sufficient for us to enjoy the experience.
Among the titles that caught my eye, let us note the excellent Beat Saber, a musical game that mixes Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero and Star wars. Echoe VR, a kind of Ultimate Frisbee with jetpacks, is also worth a visit, as is the climbing game The Climb. Some upcoming games are also showing promise, notably the horror game Blair Witch VR (a genre that lends itself particularly well to virtual reality) and Population: One, a shooting game inspired by Fortnite. Some software is free, but generally expect to pay between $ 20 and $ 35 per unit.
With a powerful computer and a USB cable (Facebook sells one for $ 109, but any USB 3 Type-C cable will do), you can also use the Oculus Quest 2 to actually stream PC software. virtual, thanks to the Oculus Link functionality. You can then try games designed for the Oculus Rift, but also those of other platforms, such as excellent Half-Life: Alyx.
A community platform
The thing that surprised me the most about the Oculus Quest 2 is its community. Several games are designed to allow players to meet before games, and there is a lot of software available for watching video content in groups or spending time together.
This content is put forward brilliantly. For example, the interface of the Oculus may indicate that there are a lot of people using Rec Room, a sort of youth house for virtual reality geeks. Even better, Oculus can even point out that users there are primarily playing paintball at the moment, which may inspire us to join them. Virtual reality may isolate us from the world around us, but we never feel alone there.
Interestingly, several features have been put in place to make sure everyone feels confident about it. We can thus prevent people from entering our bubble and we can mute them (that’s what I did with the tired man who talked about his pillows for Top Gun).
Some questionable decisions
For all of its qualities, the Oculus Quest 2 still has some issues.
For example, I regret that it is essential to register your Facebook account to use the platform. Players should be free to do so or not. The social network also prevails in a few other ways in the experience. The only way to share a screenshot, for example, is to post it on Facebook or Messenger. I was thus forced to create a fake private Facebook group to download the captures uploaded with this column. Facebook is big enough, the company doesn’t need to ram their service down our throats like that to survive.
The Oculus Quest 2 unfortunately also comes with a low-quality strap. This holds the device well in place, but it is not very comfortable and leaves marks on our face after a game session. There is a better option, the Elite Quest 2, but this one is sold 79 $ more. Note that there is also a strap with battery to extend the autonomy of the headset (quite short at around 2 hours), but any external smartphone battery can also be used for this purpose.
The mechanism to adjust the glasses to our eyes may ultimately not be suitable for all faces, but I personally have not had any problem on this side, and you can flip the device anyway if it doesn’t suit you. .
Despite its shortcomings, the Oculus Quest 2 allows you to enjoy virtual reality like never before. I don’t think it’s going to transform the market on its own, though: the technology should remain niche for a few more years. But while my other VR headsets mostly gather dust in my drawers, I plan to use the Oculus Quest 2 in my everyday life. This is a big step forward.