A Tale of Two Oculuii

After a long wait, the final release dates for the new Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S have been announced: May 21st. Pre-orders went live at the time of the announcement. In about three weeks, two major new headsets are coming from Oculus to drop into consumer’s greedy little hands. You better believe I’m one of them!

Within 5 minutes of the announcement, I pre-ordered one of each. (I’ve mentioned before that I’m an early adopter. There’s proof.) With my Rift CV1 on its final legs after surgery to resuscitate it, I need a full replacement Rift unit. Buy why would I order the Quest as well? I think the Quest is just too interesting to ignore. I think it has a chance to become the product that makes VR break into mainstream, especially in a year when Microsoft and Sony aren’t dropping new consoles.

Let’s take a look at each. First off, we’ll go with the “lesser” and more interesting of the two headsets, the Oculus Quest.

Oculus Quest: Freedom, At a Price

Obviously, I don’t have either headset in hand, so I’m just going to discuss why I am excited. For a great read from a site I trust implicitly, check out Sam Machkovech’s excellent review on Arstechnica. He spent a couple of weeks living with a Quest and gave it a good workout. His reviews are always worth a look.

But I’m not Sam, so why am I excited for the Quest? It boils down to portability and freedom. I absolutely love the idea of being untethered to a PC while still being able to have a (relatively) high quality VR experience. The Quest runs on the same basic processor that powers my 2 year old phone, so I know it’s not going to drive the same level of detail my Rift does. But my Rift is tethered directly into the beating heart of a $2,000 Gaming Furnace that devours souls and gigabytes with reckless abandon. It’s apples and oranges. We’ll touch on oranges to oranges in the next section.

The quest is apples to nothing. We’re dividing by zero here. What I’m getting at is that there has never been anything truly like the Quest: a self-contained VR system with all 6 degrees of movement tracked, without needing to be in a special environment or plugged in. You need the headset, the two controllers, and yourself.

I don’t think it’s easy to explain the difference that losing that one wire (from the headset to your PC) makes, but let’s try. Did you ever use a corded phone as a kid or young adult? Do you remember the first time you used a cordless phone? You could walk anywhere in the house and keep talking as long as the battery held up. There were compromises; the battery could die, the reception wasn’t always great, but the freedom outweighed the cost.

The Quest is like that. Sure, the graphics aren’t quite as sharp as the Rift’s. But you don’t have to set up a pair or trio of cameras, then painstakingly get everything lined up, then set up your guardian area. If you never move or play in different areas, then the Quest might not be for you.

I felt that way about phones until I actually had a mobile phone. This was cordless 2.0. Now I could go anywhere and have my phone with me. Again, the costs (battery, reception, dollars) were secondary to the freedom.

The idea that I can pack up my Quest, take it out on the back porch and play some Beat Saber in the cool morning air, then take it back inside and watch a show, then take it to the park with me to make kids envious makes me giddy. I can go anywhere and use or share this experience with other people easily. Sharing my Rift with friends and family has been a blast, but it’s also a complete pain in the ass. The Quest eliminates that while keeping the core VR experience intact. Lower fidelity is a worthy price to pay.

Some folks are upset about the “poor” battery life of 2-3 hours of game time. Having had a Rift for 3 years, I can say definitively that that is more than adequate for my usage pattern. I can’t remember a time when I used my Rift for more than 3 hours without a break, and since the Quest has fast charging, a 30-60 minute break for lunch or life is enough to get you back for another couple of hours.

Anything more than that is, for now, speculation. I can’t wait to see how it handles in person. There will absolutely be a lot more on this topic after it arrives in late May!

Next up, let’s take a look at the Rift S, the successor to the very successful first consumer headset from Oculus, the Rift CV1.

Oculus Rift S: A Side-Grade to the Rift CV1?

I think the Rift S represents a clear upgrade to the Rift CV1. I am very much in the minority if you compare me to vocal users on various forums. The general consensus among the peanut gallery seems to be that the Rift S represents a taint-kick to the Oculus faithful, who would be well advised to leave and pick up far pricier competitors like the Valve Index ($1000 to buy in, not counting the PC to run it.)

I couldn’t disagree more.

The Rift S changes some elements of the Rift CV1. Gone are the OLED panels with their rich, deep black, replaced by fast-switching LCD’s which promise better resolution at the cost of color depth. The dual panels (one for each eye) of the CV1 are gone, replaced by a single LCD, which means that the ability to slide the lenses physically apart to accommodate different interpupilary distances is gone. Those are important caveats. If you have a very large or small IP distance, the Rift S may not work well for you. If you exclusively use the Rift to play dark, black games without a lot of movement, then the OLED panels may be a compromise you’re not willing to make.

For most users, IP won’t be a problem. Neither will OLED vs LCD. That’s because the Rift S isn’t aimed at Rift CV1 users. It’s aimed at new users who want to get a full system to work with their existing gaming PC (including a lot of laptops, now).

The biggest upsell of the Rift S is that it includes “inside-out” tracking, meaning the tracking cameras are in the headset itself. That means hooking it to your PC only requires plugging in the headset itself. The external camera pods are gone.

For the price of being tethered to your PC, you still get the freedom of getting rid of problematic cameras, with the USB balancing issues and light sensitivity they brought (try using a Rift CV1 in the same room as an LED Christmas tree. It’s pretty difficult.) You get a higher resolution panel and redesigned lenses that greatly reduce the pixelization in the CV1.

If you have a CV1, it’s a 50/50 proposition as to whether the S is a buy for you or not. If you don’t have VR, and you want a headset to hook to your gaming PC, you’d be a fool to get a CV1 rather than a Rift S.

In that sense, it isn’t a clear upgrade, but it is a clear improvement over the CV1.

One… Two… Three Headsets! Ah! Ah! Ah!

That means that in 3 weeks, we should have 3 VR headsets in our house. For now, I will keep limping along with my semi-functional CV1. When its new baby brothers arrive, I’ll move it to full-time desktop duty on my big streaming/gaming PC. The Rift S will move to the living room and become wedded to Heather’s gaming laptop.

The Quest? It’ll go wherever the hell I want it to.

You can watch our streaming adventures on my Twitch channel.

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