Earlier this year, I reviewed the Oculus Quest and called it "the sweet spot in terms of consumer-grade virtual reality." I've been into the idea of virtual reality as a new platform for gaming, but it's always been relatively expensive or difficult for the average person to set up. On the other end, mobile-driven platforms like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, or the cheaper Oculus Go, lack the proper support and power for actual virtual reality. The Oculus Quest is different though: it splits the difference between the high and low-end, coming in cheaper and removing the cords and sensors that underpin more expensive headsets.
"The overall selection on the store isn't as big as modern consoles or the Rift, but the available games are excellent proof-of-concepts for the future. If developers want to support the Rift S or the Valve Index, by all means, but the Quest is where it's at. It's powerful enough for great VR games and untethered to allow for freedom and easy set-up. Knock another $100 off the price and I think you'd have the perfect VR headset for mainstream consumption. This is virtual reality's real contender," I wrote previously.
Today, during Oculus Connect, it seems like Oculus VR internally decided the same thing. Of the $100 million spent on the Oculus Store to date, 20 percent of that was on the Quest alone. Most of the major announcements from the keynote presentation weren't aimed the flagship Oculus Rift S headset. Instead, the new features were all focused on the Oculus Quest.
First and foremost was the announcement of Oculus Link. This is a software update to the Quest that will be available in November, allowing players to connect the Quest to a desktop PC with a USB 3.0 cable to play Rift content. If it works as illustrated, it essentially opens up the entire Rift library for the mid-range headset.
One of my major issues with the Quest was the lack of game support. Virtual reality developers were largely working with the PC-based Rift, and the portable Quest simply didn't have the power to compete. This lead to some of the simpler Rift titles like Beat Saber and Superhot making the transition, while more demanding titles like Lone Echo or Robo Recall simply couldn't cut it. Oculus Link brings those titles to Quest, seemingly without any development effort. It makes the $399 Quest look immediately more enticing to those who are even just vaguely interested in VR, considering you can play the Quest on its own, or connect it to a more robust PC.
Another software update for the Quest will activate proper hand tracking. Currently, all input is done with the wireless Touch controllers, but the update will allow players to use their hands for direct input. Oculus VR is demoing hand tracking at Oculus Connect 6, with a plan to launch the full feature in early 2020. The tracking is done via the external cameras on the front of the Oculus Quest, meaning the feature could technically work on the Rift S, but it was only announced for the standalone platform.
Oculus VR parent company Facebook sees hand tracking as a step towards larger adoption of virtual reality and potentially augmented reality. "In the future, this technology could help solve the challenges of input for AR glasses, letting you seamlessly interact with ambient AR experiences," said the Oculus Blog. Indeed, much like getting rid of all the cords and the desktop PC requirement removes barriers for mainstream users, allowing them to interact with content using only their hands makes VR something they can root themselves in more easily.
The Oculus Quest is seeing some smaller changes and additions as well. The current Passthrough system that lets a user see the real-world without removing their headset is going to be beefed up with the Passthrough+ update next week. Apps developed for the low-end Oculus Go are also coming to the Quest too, with 50 apps coming next week.
It's evident where Facebook and Oculus VR see the future of virtual reality when in a trailer for for Facebook Horizon, Facebook's new PlayStation Home-like service, not a single Rift is seen. Instead, everything in the video is about Oculus Quest, though it is confirmed for both platforms in 2020. The Rift Platform remains likely important in terms of research and high-end development, like Valve's $1,000 Index headset, but the Quest is clearly where Facebook and Oculus VR see consumers going in the future.
"We have a lot of work to do before we're going to get to that perfect form factor that we all want, but you can already see glimpses today..." said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the Oculus Connect 6 keynote. "Quest is off to a great start. It's only been on sale for about four months now, and we are selling them as fast as we can make them. More importantly though, retention is good. People are using it week after week, which is a great signal for how the content ecosystem is getting stronger and VR is becoming something that more people are stepping in and out of on a day-to-day basis."
Oculus VR wants to press its advantage. "We’re already working on the next Oculus Quest, and we want to ensure that everything developers build for today’s headset is fully forward compatible. Beyond shipping new hardware in the future, we’ll continue releasing more software updates for Quest just as developers release new content so that its value increases over time as a dynamic VR product," writes the Oculus Blog.
Quest is here to stay. While virtual reality hasn't really taken off in appreciable way—$100 million sold in the three years since the Oculus Store and Rift launch is tiny—Quest seems to be the platform that Facebook believes will push the tech forward. When I reviewed the Quest earlier this year, I saw something transformational for VR. I still think the price needs to drop another $100, but that is a thing that could come in time. I'm glad that it looks like I'm not alone in seeing its potential, because from the looks of it, Facebook and Oculus VR see it too.