Last week, Facebook released the Oculus Go, a $200 virtual reality headset. Outside of the initial setup that’s handled with your phone’s Bluetooth connection, this is an entirely standalone device. It doesn’t connect to your PC like the Oculus Rift, and you don’t snap in your phone like you would with the Gear VR. The screen, sensors, radios, and processing power are all inside the Go headset.
For better or worse, we’ve covered a lot of VR tech over the years. The early hype was massive, and the headsets were promising, but the first round of major helmets were something of an anti-climax. Even so, consumer VR isn’t dead as long as giant companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook keep pumping in a ton of RD dollars.
I have a generally positive view of the PSVR sitting in my office, but I’m often hesitant to use it because of the elaborate setup process. As such, I’ve been looking forward to the influx of standalone VR solutions for months now, and the Oculus Go is my first real opportunity to try out VR unplugged.
Look and Feel
While the Oculus Go doesn’t cost much in comparison with other VR headsets, the build quality doesn’t seem to be compromised at all. The headset itself is encased in a nice hard plastic, and it feels solid without being heavy. And when the straps are fitted properly, it doesn’t press into your face during long sessions. Intentionally slipping in and out of the helmet is a snap, but it remains steadfastly in place during swift movements.
The part of the helmet that touches your face is padded, and it’s covered in cloth. It’s comfortable to wear, but I wince a little bit when I think of all of the face oils I’m swapping whenever I lend it to a friend. The soft rubbery material used in the PSVR seems, if nothing else, easier to clean thoroughly.
As for the included remote, it feels substantial in the hand – not like some flimsy afterthought. The buttons are nice and clicky, the layout makes sense, and the touchpad is responsive. And while it doesn’t offer the same kind of positional tracking that a PlayStation Move or Oculus Touch would, the movement does feel smooth and precise. The judder we see in other controllers is nowhere to be found here.
Like most other mobile VR solutions, the Oculus Go can’t really do proper positional tracking, so room-scale VR is entirely out of the question here. The helmet can’t tell if you’re leaning in or out, and that means games like Job Simulator simply don’t work within the limitations of the hardware. It’s disappointing, but that doesn’t mean that the Oculus Go can’t successfully transport you to another place.
The head tracking is impeccable, the 1440p resolution allows for fairly crisp images, and the screen and lenses work together to all but eliminate the screen-door effect. For a $200 standalone device, the tech is quite impressive.
Somewhat amusingly, the most convincing implementation of presence I’ve experienced so far with the Oculus Go has been viewing stereoscopic 360 images of a location I’ve visited dozens of times. Using the Gala360 app, I loaded up a gallery of images from the Longwood Gardens conservatory. Taking in both the crowds and the spectacle of the foliage properly transported me. Of course, some of us aren’t even capable of perceiving stereoscopic images, so your mileage may vary.
Because the fundamentals of the Oculus Go are solid, and it entirely lacks the failure point of outside sensors, it’s not surprising that the Oculus Go didn’t make me hurl. The head tracking worked exactly as expected at all times, so there simply isn’t anything to complain about on that front.
It should be noted that I’m not especially susceptible to motion sickness. Even when other VR helmets have completely freaked out, I’ve never been close to puking. At worst, I felt mildly uncomfortable when the batcave began spinning entirely out of control when my PSVR had a hiccup. With the Go, I haven’t felt even the tiniest hint of nausea.
However, my father regularly suffers from motion sickness, so I had him fiddle about in the Oculus Go for about an hour. Happily, I can report that no lunch was lost, and my dad’s queasiness level barely even registered.
There are countless dedicated apps on the Oculus store that deliver 180- and 360-degree videos in both 2D and 3D flavors. Discovery VR, Amaze, and Visbit are solid representations of what’s available, and that’s good news if short documentaries, virtual tours, and slice-of-life experiences are what you’re after.
YouTube is also a treasure trove of 360-degree videos, but the Oculus Go lacks a native client. Even so, simply visiting Google’s video site in the built-in browser allows you to quickly jump into the entire catalog. Similarly, you can get VR porn up and running quite easily right from the browser.
Of course, stereoscopic photography isn’t a new concept, so we have well over a hundred years of relevant media to draw upon. If you want to explore these works of art, Looking Glass VR offers up dozens of stereoscopic photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the effect is stark. Even in grainy black and white, the addition of depth adds a kind of tangible sense to what could otherwise be considered unremarkable photos.
Since we’re more-or-less dealing with smartphone hardware here, it’s no surprise that the polygonal worlds that can be rendered on the fly aren’t pushing the envelope here. And since it’s only $200, nobody would ever expect it to blow the doors off.
Polygonal experiences like Ocean Rift and Tomb Raider VR: Lara’s Escape are perfectly acceptable on the Go, but the fidelity is closer to what you’d expect on an Xbox 360 – not an Xbox One X. We’re still a long way away from high-end games being able to run on an affordable standalone device like the Oculus Go, but that’s not a deal breaker. After all, this headset isn’t being target toward hardcore gamers.
[Image credit: Oculus]