It’s no secret that I love virtual reality (VR). There’s nothing quite like exploring alien worlds such as those found in Alice VR or Obduction to work up an appetite (and there’s nothing like fighting zombies in the sweltering heat of the Arizona Sunshine to give you a sleepless night).
In fact, it was hearing that Obduction was coming out in VR that persuaded me to take the plunge and place an early order for an Oculus Rift, which finally arrived in 2016.
When they were launched, the Oculus Rift (and HTC Vive) defined the high-end of the consumer VR market. The low-end was occupied by devices like the Gear VR, which used a Samsung Galaxy smartphone as its main processing and display engine. Sometime later, Sony entered the fray with its PlayStation VR, which occupies the mid-range of VR space.
With a per-eye resolution of 1080 × 1200 running at 90 Hz and providing a 110° field of view, the Oculus Rift’s graphics were state of the art for the time, and they still blow people’s socks off to this day. Having said this, there are a number of shortfalls to the Rift as follows:
It requires a honking computer and graphics system to drive it (I use a souped-up notepad with two 1-TB solid state drives, 32 GB of SRAM, and an NVIDIA GTX-1080 graphics card).
The headset is tethered to the host system by an HDMI/USB combo cable. I augmented the original 12′ cable with an additional 12′, but it’s still a pain being tied down.
It requires the use of external sensors (I use three to give me a 360° field of play).
You can’t see through the headset, so you have to keep on taking it off and putting it back on again when you are setting everything up.
I’m a simple man. I get confused when I’m presented with too many choices, and there are so many choices these days. On the one hand, I’m pretty much tied to the Oculus universe based on the number of games and applications I’ve purchased for my Oculus Rift. On the other hand, the folks at Oculus have introduced a plethora of possibilities.
The Oculus Go is an untethered all-in-one headset, meaning it contains all the necessary components to run applications and display graphics, and doesn’t require a connection to an external device to use. The Go essentially killed the Gear VR. Instead of a Samsung smartphone, the Go uses a Snapdragon 821 System-on-Chip along with a single LCD display providing a resolution of 1280 x 1440 pixels per eye at a refresh rate of 60 or 60 Hz, depending on the application.
Although the resolution is higher than the Oculus Rift, the Go’s processing and graphics power is far, far less. It may be of interest to a beginner, but — having sampled the joys of an Oculus Rift — it’s of no interest to me.
Oculus Rift S
The original Oculus Rift is no longer available — it’s been replaced by the Oculus Rift S. This is where things start to get confusing, because the Rift S provides a higher per-eye resolution of 1280 × 1440 and a slightly wider 115° field of view, but at a slightly lower refresh rate of 80 Hz.
Unlike the original Rift, which required external sensors, the Rift S uses an inside-out tracking system, called Oculus Insight, which employs five cameras built into the headset. By monitoring the external views through all these cameras, the headset can determine where you are looking and how your head is moving.
These cameras also support a feature called Passthrough+, in which the feed from the forward-facing cameras can be passed through to the headset’s displays, thereby letting the user navigate through the real world and set everything up without having to remove the headset.
One slight “gotcha” if you want to swap out your Oculus Rift for a Rift S is that you’ll also need to upgrade to second-generation Oculus Touch controllers, because these have the tracking ring on the top so as to be seen by the cameras in the Rift S.
As for the Oculus Rift, the Rift S requires a honking big host computer and graphics system, and it’s tied to this system via cables.
Last, but not least, we have the Oculus Quest, which was launched in May 2019. In the case of graphics, the Quest provides a per-eye resolution of 1440 × 1600, which is great, but a refresh rate of only 72 Hz, which is not-so-good.
The Oculus Quest features the same inside-out tracking system used in the Oculus Rift S. It also uses the same second-generation Oculus Touch controllers used by the Rift S.
The Quest’s main claim to frame is that it is fully standalone (no trailing cables and no host processor). As part of this, the Quest boasts a Snapdragon 835 System-on-Chip, which provides significantly greater graphics performance than the Oculus Go, but also significantly less graphics performance than either of the Rift headsets.
Is it Time to Head Out on a Quest?
Recently, I took my Oculus Rift round to one of my neighbors — we’ll call him Kerry (because that’s his name) — and we spent a happy afternoon exploring VR space. Kerry loved the VR experience, but he was less impressed with the requirements for a humongous host processor and the associated training cables.
I since heard that Kerry is going to get an Oculus Quest for Christmas. I’m really looking forward to trying it out, because I think I’d spend more time in VR if it didn’t take so long to set everything up. Furthermore, as reported by Tom’s Hardware, and as shown in this video, in 2020 the Oculus team are planning on adding a new hand-tracking capability to the Quest.
Although you may still prefer to use the second-generation Oculus Touch controllers for some applications, the fact that you will be able to use your hands as controllers takes us one step closer to a Ready Player One future.
There are a couple of things that have been holding me back from investing in a Quest, not least that I’m flat broke at the moment. One was the fact that I wouldn’t be able to access my original Oculus Rift games and applications; the other was that I would miss the Rift’s high-end graphics, which I would love to see presented using the Quest’s 1440 × 1600 per-eye resolution.
However, the aforementioned Tom’s Hardware article also notes that the guys and gals at Oculus are poised to released something called Oculus Link, which will allow Quest users to access Rift Content. The first release of Quest Link will use a USB 3.0 cable, but this will soon be followed by an optical fiber version, which will provide maximum throughput coupled with the best ergonomic experience you can hope for with a trailing cable.
So, my current plan is to wait for Kerry to get his Oculus Quest at Christmas to see how it compares. If I like it, I might start hinting to my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) that this would make a wonderful present for my 63rd birthday next year.
How about you? Have you tried any of these systems? In particular, have you experienced both a Rift and a Quest? And, if so, do you have any thoughts you’d care to share?