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Oculus Quest Review

Tuesday 1 September 2020 - Filed under Default

In April of this year, we were just at the beignning of lockdown, sheltering in place, paying homage to the fragility of our bodies and clinging to whatever seemed to be operating normally, namely the digital world. The thought struck me as I looked a power pole in my back yard. Everything on that pole is working fine. Internet, mobile devices, computers, and minds are thus far unaffected. This made me think of the future where another virus, or as people fear, a series of lab-created viruses kept us inside with greater fear for our fallible and static immune systems. How would things develop then? Where would the growth opportunities be? Tech is working fine, but what about the interface. How might we have deeper experiences in a strictly digital world? I played with virtual reality in the Google Cardboard before but to go further, I ordered an Oculus Quest.

The Oculus Quest is a standalone virtual reality system based on Android, that comes with two wireless controllers. This is in contrast with several systems that must be tethered to a computer and require designated space to use. In contrast, once you put the Quest headset on it allows you to setup boundaries by drawing a box or circle on the ground. They recommend a box bigger than 6 feet on a side (social distancing!). You can also setup a stationary boundary if sitting in a chair works for a game.

Once I got the quest setup, I tried their demo called First Steps, played a zombie shooter called Arizona Sunshine and for the past couple days have been playing with a sculpting tool called SculptrVR. Before I get into those experiences, let me share general impressions of the Quest. The base model is $399 retail with 64GB of storage, enough for 30+ high quality apps. The headset is well made and comfortable enough hour or two long sessions. The built-in speakers helped me get into the action while staying aware of what’s around me. The screen resolution is much better than Google Cardboard and well-focused as long as the headset is well positioned. The controllers are one of the Quest’s strengths. They track really well and have buttons for grip, trigger, normal ones, and a thumb stick. The trigger and thumbstick sense when a finger is merely resting on them which helps with gestures like pointing and making fists. The Quest can also cast, allowing its screen to be viewed on another mobile device.

Games and Apps

First Steps is a demo/training app that helps you get familiar with the controllers. You can throw around some virtual blocks, drive a remote control blimp and launch cute toy rockets with a satisfying pull of a string. There is also a mini-game where you shoot blocks and another where you dance with a robot. First Steps has a futuristic feel which helped the overall feel of dabbling in the unknown. After watching some “best oculus quest games” videos on YouTube, I realized there are a ton of titles to choose from.

Out of the list, I start with Arizona Sunshine, a zombie shooter with a comical, foul-mouthed main character. In the game you fight off hordes of zombies with pistols, machine guns, and grenades. In a dark cave system, you find a flashlight which helps you obliterate the zombies that you hear all around. I chuckled at the main character’s commentary and enjoyed this kind of inner voice helping to mentally orient to the zombie-infested desert land. I only played the campaign mode on normal difficulty and finished it in about 4 hours. There’s probably another 5-10 hours of gameplay in the other modes and harder difficulty.

The digital sculpting app/game called SculptrVR drops you into a digital space with a palette on the left hand and tool on your right. From the first lumps of digital clay that I painted this was a blast. Layered sculpting, painting, and stamping are all intuitive next steps waiting for you when ready. ScultprVR works best for organic shapes like characters and can generate terrain on which to build towns or castles or tunnel systems. This app packs in a ton of tools that are fun to use and help to make the experience enjoyable. Hours flew by as I wanted to try one more design, one more character. one more scene. It’s a trip to grab your work, say a face, and scale it up as big as a building and do fine detailed work, then shrink it back down. You can save and upload your creations, export to OBJ for 3d printing, and browse others creations. There is another part of the app that’s more like a game,  where you can join a scene with others, voice chat, and build things together. In terms of images, you can import reference image and enter screenshot mode to capture your scenes to share with others. There are some lighting tools as well to get your scene to look something like what you want. Overall, this is an extremely powerful, fun app and definitely worth the $9.99 price.

As for free stuff, Oculus provides some Oculus TV that I watched for perhaps an hour though the content was on the lower quality side. Otherwise, the best free app I used was Mission ISS, which puts you inside the international space station. The experience of moving sideways in weightlessness made me want to sit down immediately after which I climbed and thrusted around the station, watching videos attached to various equipment in the station. One mission was to man the cuppola, the part of the station with several windows and external arm controls which you must use to grab and dock a spacecraft to the station. This was harder than expected and a voice came over the radio a few times imploring me not to fail this $100 million dollar mission.

Final Impressions

Over a couple weeks of testing there were a few glitches. In order to ensure a safe space around you when you’re playing, the Quest has a system called Guardian. When you’re setting up a roomscale Guardian, a grey-blur version of your surroundings should be displayed but I didn’t see anything so needed to reboot the device. Another time, some sort of menu appeared upside down and stretched across. This reminded me of when I was viewing a normal non-split screen in the Cardboard. Again, rebooting fixed that. Casting I found to be hit or miss to initiate. The way it failed was via ~30 second timeout after starting from the mobile device. I found casting worked better to an iPad than to Android. At one point, I was casting to the iPad and shared that screen to an AppleTV which was pretty cool for demoing to the whole family.

My goal with the Quest was to experience a better interface to the digital world. I consider it a good sign that time flew while I was inside. Even now, I want to get back into ScultpVR and try out more ideas, or just play around. Since the headset covers the face, it will be challenging to integrate with videoconferencing. I suppose attendees more focused on observation could turn off their webcams and enjoy better immersion. I’m excited to try out more sculpting tools and for all the other categories of apps that will arise from this improved interface with the digital world. Now if we can just fix the physical one and have the best of both!

2020-09-01  »  David Sterry

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