Sometimes "beta" does mean beta. It means things aren't entirely going to work and things are being tested. When Oculus VR says that Oculus Link is in beta, they aren't lying. I spent an entire day trying to get Oculus Link working on Oculus Quest. It was a day of hunting for the right cables, updating, uninstalling, and reinstalling the Oculus desktop application, and trying to update the Oculus Quest. But at the end of it, I can confirm that Oculus Link not only works, but it works well.
For the uninitiated, the Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S are two virtual reality headsets from Oculus VR. While the Rift S is meant to work with a desktop PC, connected through a dual USB 3.0 and DisplayPort cable, the Oculus Quest is completely wireless. All the hardware needed for the Quest is inside the Quest itself, but this portable nature means it can't run higher-spec VR games. Both headsets costs $399, but you're choosing between better graphics while being tethered to a PC, or mobile game-level graphics while being free to move around your room.
Oculus Link is a new feature for Oculus Quest, allowing to you connect the portable headset to a desktop PC using a USB cable. Like the Oculus Rift and Rift S, the desktop PC does the hard work on the graphics, while the headset is just a viewpoint. Link turns the Quest into a Rift S essentially, while still retaining its ability to go portable. Same price, the best of both worlds.
Finding the Right Cable
The first step on my Oculus Link journey was finding the right cable. Oculus VR will eventually be releasing a 5 meter fiber optic USB cable, but for the beta you need to find your own. For the service, you need a USB-C cable with support for 5Gbps bandwidth (USB 3.0/USB 3.2 Gen 1). The USB cable included with the Quest will not work, because it's only USB 2.0.
As part of the recommended system spec for Oculus Link, Oculus VR recommends an Anker cable sold over at Amazon. Unfortunately, I needed to test the service immediately, and the cable is currently backordered until November 30. I found a USB-C to A USB 3.0 5Gbps cable over in my local Microcenter, but that cable was only three feet long; unless I'm planning on doing VR on the floor, that wasn't going to work. I headed over to Best Buy and while they also didn't have a six foot cable, they did have a 12 foot USB 3.0 extension cable. I decided to try the longer extension cable. Fingers crossed.
Fighting With the Oculus App
For Oculus Link to work, you need to have the Oculus Quest and Oculus desktop application updated. I was trying to get the Oculus desktop app updated properly, but it kept hanging at around 51 percent. I tried several restarts and one repair to no avail. Then I reinstalled the entire app. There were folks on the Oculus subreddit who indicated that the desktop app needed to be switched to the Public Beta branch. I tried that, but ultimately, that was not the case. The desktop app simply needs to have the current build, which is App Version 188.8.131.524220.
Then I hooked up the Quest to my desktop PC. It took a few tries for the device to show up in the Oculus app, but I couldn't get Link to actually bring up the Oculus Home desktop on the Quest. The issue here was getting the Quest itself to update its software. This required a few resets of the Oculus Quest, and I'm not sure why the update did finally go through on the last reset. Regardless, it looked like I was about to get to the main event.
I still had one last hurdle though. When the Quest would begin to load up Oculus Link, I'd get an error for "com.oculus.os.vrmtpapp". A quick search for others with the same issue pointed me toward an Oculus Quest subreddit thread. An official Oculus Support spokesperson notes that one of the fixes involves turning off the Nvidia overlay in GeForce experience. Once that was done, BOOM, we were in Oculus Link land.
Playing With Oculus Link
With Oculus Link running, the Quest works just like the Rift S. You get the whole Oculus Home experience like on Rift S, as opposed to the smaller Quest homescreen. From the Home area, you can check your library, see what games others are playing, and look into what your friends are doing. Currently, only two games are officially available for Oculus Link play: Stormland and Asgard's Wrath. I only had access to the former game, which is Insomniac Games' latest foray into premium triple-A VR.
Running Stormland on Oculus Quest was simply fantastic. The graphics were definitely above the Quest's normal operating standard. This is not entirely surprising, as the work is being done on your PC and the visual prowess of the Quest (70Hz, 1440×1600 per eye) isn't that far below the Rift S (80Hz, 2560×1440 single fast-switch panel). But the fact that you can now go from playing the visually-sparse Quest games to the more impressive Rift S just by plugging in a cable is great. Assuming Oculus VR can clean up the setup process in beta, this only cements Oculus Quest at the VR headset that might truly break into the mainstream.
It only gets better too. With the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx, you might also be interested in playing SteamVR titles. While in Oculus Link, I was able to bring up the Virtual Desktop, which allowed me to open up Steam and access those titles. When you open up SteamVR on the Virtual Desktop, Steam's VR operating system takes over, allowing you to play all VR-enabled Steam games. It's an unofficial and inelegant solution, but even in beta, you can play SteamVR games on Quest thanks to Oculus Link.
Personally, I don't have many Steam VR games, since my big foray into VR has been through Oculus' headsets. Still, I loaded up No Man's Sky VR and Sairento VR, and both of them worked great over Oculus Link. There are still a few tracking issues with Quest, especially once the Touch controller move beyond the front facing cameras on the headset, but otherwise I had no problems. I'm looking forward to trying out a few more SteamVR titles and Half-Life: Alyx in particular.
When I touted how great the Oculus Quest was, I never imagined that Oculus VR would use it to undercut the Rift S like this. It makes sense, considering the Quest is already 20 percent of the total $100 million sold on the Oculus Store. There's momentum there. But being able to pick up a $15-20 cable and instantly turn the Quest into a full-fledged PC VR headset? That's magical. And it's something that Oculus VR should be building on strongly, because it's the future of the entire product line.