I’ve been an early adopter for VR, starting way back in 2014 with Oculus’ Development Kit 2, or DK2 for short. Two years later the first Oculus retail headset came out and since then, there has been a steady flow of iterations on the hardware, and some very notable software releases as well. Back in 2016, I kept telling everyone I could about how absolutely amazing and paradigm shifting this virtual reality technology really was going to be. The key phrase was “going to be”. At the time, I said I believed that it would be about 6-7 years before VR really became cheap enough and mainstream enough to be heavily integrated in our lives, like smartphones are now.
Oculus, bought by Facebook years ago has been releasing quite a lot of hardware over the last several years, and their newest piece of hardware is the first iteration that I really feel like is getting into the realm of possibility for most people. Making it cheaper than any video game console, and making it fully wireless without the need of a powerful PC makes the Oculus Quest 2 absolutely essential in getting it into the hands of normal people. This is a headset that I could see my parents wind up buying for themselves and actually using it, if not only for Google Earth VR, or maybe Flight Simulator in VR for my dad.
I skipped right over the second iteration of the Oculus Rift, called the Rift S, and the first portable iteration called the Go, and also the Oculus Quest (the first one) as well. I already have heavily invested in lots of VR headsets already, and the Rift is easily the most uncomfortable for me to wear, and also the oldest as well, being the first available consumer VR product back in April of 2016. So I never got to see what the real talking points were for those other oculus products, but with moving across the country and not having a VR setup, I really wanted to have something available, and the Quest 2 was quickly picking up steam with word of mouth during the week of Thanksgiving 2020. And not having anything else I wanted and sitting in lots of hotel rooms, I wanted something; anything to kill some time as well.
The Quest 2 is a little white headset with what look like inverse Rift controllers, the reason the “Hand Guards” are flipped up around the top of the controller is for the tracking thanks to the Quest’s inside out tracking method which is the first real game changer. Instead of having to setup lighthouses around a room and have them both powered on and also synced up to each other and a PC, you don’t have to deal with any of that. Also, with the inside out camera tracking, it makes it possible for the Quest 2, to have hand tracking, which isn’t amazing from the few times I have used it so far, but I can see it being improved with software updates, and I think we’ll quickly get to the “Minority Report” style of navigation quicker than I even was anticipating.
The second major change is that the Quest is fully portable, meaning it’s got an integrated battery and graphics that doesn’t require a powerful VR capable PC, which is what puts most people off of VR immediately. Sure the headset is capped at 72hz which isn’t spectacular for VR, but if you do happen to have a VR PC, and also a grip ton of VR software and games on Steam or Oculus’ store, you can simply plug in a single USB C cable and tether your headset and use your PC like a normal VR experience, while benefiting from the graphics card and additional power, the headset will actually increase the framerate of the screen to 90hz, and also have better graphics thanks to the PC hardware…. But it doesn’t stop there…
While the Quest 2 is locked in a walled garden of only being able to use Quest 2 software officially from their own store, you can use a secondary piece of software on your PC and unlock the capability for not just sideloading normal VR games and software, but bypass some arbitrary restrictions, and give you full wireless streaming VR from PC to Headset. This is THE reason I decided to get the Quest 2. I wasn’t sold on Quest 2 just for portable VR, especially not when I learned that Oculus won’t let you use the Rift games and software you bought previously, but instead having to buy a Quest version of the software again from the only storefront available on the Quest, and completely curated….Luckily the sideloading software, called SideQuest (which is quickly becoming the go to software, and basically endorsed by Oculus themselves) which has a patch for the best piece of software called Virtual Desktop.
Virtual Desktop is a program that runs on the PC and headset in tandem. The PC uses the server side software, that connects the headset and streams the entire desktop to the Quest. Along with integrating both the Steam and Oculus games you have installed on your PC, giving you full wireless access to your full VR library from both storefronts. And again, this is the real reason to get a Quest 2 if you have a VR PC, but want a portable experience.
During the first couple nights with my Quest 2, I used the SideQuest software to sideload fan made programs that easily allowed me to play the original Doom, and Doom II, Quake and Quake II and even the first Half-Life game in VR super easily, which is something even the PC has a bit of a setup to. Along with a real Nintendo Virtual Boy emulator, that not only allows you to play Virtual Boy games like any other emulator does, but because of the VR aspect, the games are presented with their original 3D gimmick intact, a way of playing the games in their fully intentioned presentation. It was pretty mindblowing to me, and this is coming from someone who’s been in the emulation scene hardcore since 1999.
There still are some small issues for me, the biggest one being comfort. The Oculus hardware has never felt comfortable to me, and is the biggest reason why I rarely ever even use my Rift. The Quest is still very uncomfortable to me, but I think with a bit of tinkering, and some upgrades from VRCover.com, I’ll be able to have a more comfy experience.
If anyone is thinking of getting into VR, the Quest 2 is honestly the best option at this point. You don’t need anything else besides the headset. It’s cheap at $300 and there is a few demos and free things you’ll get to at least get started. The software is still overpriced for certain things, but as long as you do a tad bit of research before purchasing anything, you’ll be just fine. Mainstream VR is still several years off, but this is easily the best time to get into it, and it’s only going to get better as time goes on. There is nothing like actually being transported fully INTO the games you are playing, and for those who don’t like games, Google Earth VR is honestly one of those moments in life that will leave you legitimately breathless.