The Takeaway: The Oculus Quest 2 is a wireless standalone virtual reality headset that creates shared digital spaces over the internet. You can walk around these virtual environments and interact with objects inside of them while joined by other people from anywhere in the world. A powerful mobile Snapdragon processor runs an onboard Android-based operating system that allows you to run apps and games directly from the headset without the need for a gaming console or computer.
There’s no external tracking sensors, wires, or PC needed, so you can take the Quest 2 on the move and share gameplay with a group using a Chromecast-equipped TV or streaming stick. If you have a beastly gaming computer, you can even connect the headset to your PC to play high-fidelity games like Half Life: Alyx. The light body, ease of use, high performance, and low price tag have never aligned for a better time to jump into the VR space. New apps, games, and software drop weekly with highly anticipated titles like Resident Evil 4: VR edition launching exclusively on the Quest 2 later this year.
I’ve used the Quest 2 for over a year and still think it remains unchallenged as the best VR headset available today. That comes down to a few things; ease of use, comfort, and performance. Unlike any other VR system that is able to fully track your body or room, the Quest 2 doesn’t rely on a separate console or computer. Its a standalone device—meaning the headset runs its own operating system and stores games internally for a completely wireless experience. Whenever I want to play a game, I simply throw on the goggles and hop right into a virtual war zone or casino within seconds. Even without the Elite Strap, the headset is lightweight and comfortable for extensive sessions, coming in at just 1.1 pounds. Lastly, each experience runs without a hitch thanks to accurate motion tracking, buttery smooth frame rates, and a crisp 1832 x 1920 pixel display for each eye with support for refresh rates up to 120 hertz.
I’m not a fan of the Facebook account requirement, especially as someone who has had their Facebook hacked. With all of your purchases tied to this account you’ll want to protect your account with 2FA. As far as the hardware goes, I wish the Quest 2’s battery lasted a bit more than two hours on average. It’s understandable as the headset is running an operating system, graphic-intensive experience, and checking for notifications simultaneously, but the $130 price tag of the extended battery strap is hard to swallow at nearly half the price of the console.
Ultimately the Quest 2 is great for anyone with even a passing interest in virtual reality gaming or socializing. I’ve come across grandparents who use their Quests to visit casinos and social spaces. On the other hand, I’ve met little kids who enjoy wreaking havoc in multiplayer games. A majority of the online crowd is made up of millennials, with fairly active experiences like rock climbing or military simulators drawing people in after the workday. The Quest 2’s real-world integrations like phone notifications, a live view of your real-world space, and immersive built-in speakers that keep you cognizant of surrounding activity makes it easy for anyone to hop in and out of virtual reality.
- All-in-one system powered by a Snapdragon XR2 processor with 6GB of RAM ensures smooth performance without the need for a console or PC
- Resolution of 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye for sharp text and clarity
- Immersive 3D cinematic sound through built-in speakers carries through the straps
- Comes in 128GB and 256GB variants
- Battery lasts between 2-3 hours
- PCVR compatible with exclusive high fidelity titles
The VR Headset For Everyone
The Oculus Quest 2 is a virtual reality headset that tracks your hands, head, and body so that you can physically walk around a digital space, interact with virtual objects, and crouch under obstacles. As a division of Facebook, Oculus excels not only at creating an immersive gaming console but also a collaborative communication tool. The Quest 2 can provide a simulated office environment so you can work from beaches or mountain tops, a home gym, and even a personal movie theater that you can use by yourself or open up to others. An accurate sense of scale, realistic physics, and expressive avatars converge to create a virtual online world that anyone with a Quest and Wi-Fi connection can access and interact with. This propelled the Quest 2 to one of the best-selling products during the 2020 holiday season, introducing the masses to the full potential of VR. In just one year, the Quest 2 has done more to bring VR to the mainstream than any other headset has done in five, since the consumer launch of VR headsets in 2016. There’s good reason this is the best-selling headset to date with a record-breaking 4.6 million shipped as of the first quarter of this year.
Setting Up Your Play Space
When you first throw on the Quest 2, you’ll be greeted by your real-life surroundings thanks to the external tracking cameras on the headset. This view is called passthrough and combines the real world with augmented-reality elements such as a virtual barrier dubbed the Guardian Boundary System and floor grid. By drawing out an unobstructed play space in your room using a virtual marker, the Quest 2 will only create a virtual world within your set confines, adjusting back to a live view when you step outside of this pre-determined space. This stops you from punching a hole in your TV or wall, which was an issue with earlier VR headsets. You can even scan your desk, keyboard, and couch into VR to map them in your virtual space to work or sit from for a Holodeck-level experience.
Confirming your play space is properly sized and obstruction-free with the tap of a button causes the real world to disintegrate, and you’re whisked away into a virtual environment facing a universal menu. Similar to a phone’s user interface, here you can download games or apps, invite friends to meet up in virtual spaces, and even cast your activity to a Chromecast so others in the same room as you can see what you’re doing in the headset. A built-in Snapdragon mobile chip is powerful enough to run the operating system and render immersive worlds without any lag for up to three hours before requiring a charge. Without any wires, sensors, or gaming consoles needed, you can simply put on this lightweight pair of goggles and take it on the move as a portable system.
The Nintendo Switch Of VR Headsets
The Quest 2 really shines if you have a powerful gaming PC. Connecting the headset to one, either over USB-C or a wireless 5GHz network, grants the headset access to high-fidelity games and experiences. Tapping into the power of your GPU provides life-like graphics and lighting effects that are too powerful for the built-in mobile chip to run. You have an accessible portable console that can travel with you, in addition to a more powerful home system to access Steam’s top-selling VR games like Half Life: Alyx and Phasmophobia with rich detail and resolution not possible on a portable device.
This is a huge deal because high-performance wired headsets like the Valve Index are much more expensive (the Index kit is $1,000) and have a cumbersome setup that requires base tracking stations and room calibration processes that aren’t travel-friendly. With the Quest 2, all of your motion and room tracking is captured by six cameras on the front of the relatively lightweight headset. Factor in the comfortable and stylish design and it becomes clear why the Quest 2 is the most accessible VR headset yet.
At the tail-end of August, Oculus swapped out the fabric face padding on both the base and premium models to silicon, in addition to bumping the $299 base model’s internal memory from 64 GB to a larger 128 GB without changing the price. For under $300, you have access to your own private office, a personal movie theater, and hundreds of virtual worlds for gaming.
While many picture virtual reality as an isolating experience, the Quest 2 is a product of Facebook—it’s intended to be used socially. Yes, I’ve gotten lost in games of Superhot and played through the meaty campaign of the Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, but 90 percent of my time in VR is spent online in social multiplayer applications with both friends and strangers from across the globe. While my childhood friends live in different states, we’ve been able to meet up in Bigscreen’s personal theater environments to watch films together. None of us ever considered that we’d watch home movies we made as kids on a giant screen from atop a virtual city roof, but we can thanks to VR. On the same token, you can meet all kinds of people playing games. I’ve spent hours fishing off the photo-realistic South Korean coast with players from all over the world. I often describe these cooperative experiences to feeling like a shared dream.
Whether that dream consists of driving balls at a TopGolf bay or exploring a post-apocalyptic Arizona is up to you, as there are hundreds of worlds to explore on your own. Nearly every game and app supports online multiplayer so your friends can drop into these environments effortlessly for short bursts or marathon gaming sessions. You live through each session in a way no regular gaming console can provide. Whenever I game on a flat screen, I’m simply pressing buttons and moving joysticks looking at a window through the world. The Oculus Quest 2 lets me step past that window into the game.
A New Way To Play
When playing a shooter like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on a console, I can use a controller to crouch and aim instantaneously, relying on twitch reflexes and a headset to communicate with teammates. In a VR mil-sim like Onward, game controller mechanics go out the window. Stepping too far away from teammates requires me to physically pull out a radio and tap a button to talk to them. With no interface, I have to reach into my virtual backpack to pull out a tablet with a map. If someone is shooting at me, my vision narrows to simulate fight or flight reflexes for maximum immersion. The differences can go on and on, but in a console game one or two taps will prepare you for a firefight. In VR, you’re forced to physically crouch and take cover behind a crate while juggling magazines.
The sense of immersion and danger is heightened by the surround sound carried through the headstrap, with 3D audio that precisely captures the direction of footsteps or the angle from which a bullet is whizzing by without the need for external headphones. Each encounter is nerve-wracking and engages all of your senses. The Oculus Quest 2 creates an authentic feeling of connection in a real-ish space with others over the internet.
Recapturing The Early 2000s Internet
I say real-ish because the environments are always fantastical in some way. When the pandemic brought poker nights to a stop, my friend group moved to playing PokerStars VR and Venmoing the winner cash. While I’m all for playing poker against a cyberpunk skyline backdrop or aboard a yacht in Montecarlo, these venues are a far cry from the cramped suburban homes my group is used to. Being together in these spaces lets us escape to the same shared dreamscape and interact with the same things, something I especially value since moving out of easy driving distance earlier this year. I enjoy poker night much more now that we can virtually rip cigars out of each others’ mouths and throw them around, shoot laser pointers in each other’s eyes, and interact with a sandbox of toys while waiting for action on the table. Unlike real life, if a player is being a jerk, you can mute them, turning their avatar into a test dummy.
You can create your avatar from scratch on a game-by-game basis, but Oculus’s Avatar creator is robust and integrates directly into a majority of social-oriented titles. Your avatar speaks only when you speak, syncing your audio and mouth movement to make conversations feel more natural. While there’s a large selection of facial features to choose from, it’s annoying that you can only choose from pre-made outfits instead of individual clothing pieces. Your Avatar connects to Facebook Messenger, which acts as your Quest’s social hub to keep in touch with friends, organize group calls, and launch into games together.
The online VR scene is nostalgically reminiscent of the early 2000s internet. While FPS games like Pavlov look and feel like old-school CounterStrike, I’m more so talking about the prevalent sense of wonder and obscurity found in virtual worlds. The modding scene across titles is thriving with creative skins and game modes. For example, step into the wild west world of VR Chat, and you’ll find chat rooms filled with users dressed as pop culture icons. You could talk out your biggest fears in life with a supportive group of people dressed as Kermit the Frog, Michael Jackson, and Shrek. Surreal and free, Facebook does a pretty good job balancing the removal of trolls through built-in security tools while also letting players have fun with the medium. While Oculus irons software kinks out and streamlines the metaverse closer to our grasp, there’s so much to do and explore both by yourself and with other people for a shared experience that truly feels refreshing.
A Killer Games Lineup
Facebook has sealed partnerships with major game developers like EA, Capcom, and Ubisoft to bring fan-favorite gaming properties to the Quest 2. This is a smart move to get hardware sales flowing, as Half:Life Alyx generated huge headset interest when it launched as a VR-exclusive title in 2019. While it’s easy to say you’ve never experienced gaming like this, it takes big games to draw in existing gamers who are so focused on graphics and performance to appreciate the big picture. One of the biggest gaming releases of this year, Resident Evil 4: VR edition translates arguably the most popular action-horror game of all time to this new medium, and it exclusively launches on the Quest 2.
Outside of established game franchises, VR developers are adding ideas and mechanics that work only in the VR medium. Population:One doesn’t hail from an established franchise but taps into the trending battle royale genre and updates it with mechanics only possible in virtual reality. You’re given a whole toolbox of abilities like climbing any surface, wingsuit gliding across the map, and taking cover behind objects. Every game I play makes me appreciate the skill needed from each player to perform well, there’s no aimbot or hacker complaints when each player has to physically climb, reload, and aim. Admittedly the Quest store can feel sparse at different points throughout the year with major releases spaced out so far apart. But games make up just a fraction of this headset’s use cases.
Made Even Stronger By Powerful Applications
During lockdown I was able to watch comedy sets, award shows, and events live with an active crowd through Facebook’s Venues social hub app. Meeting people from around the world and attending events helped me escape the dreariness of reality that was 2020. While I’m still visiting this social hub a year later, my time in VR outside of gaming has greatly expanded.
Pairing my mechanical Bluetooth keyboard to my Quest 2 and using the virtual office app Spatial allows me to work with three massive floating browser tabs in my view. Instead of using multiple monitors and a heaping amount of space in the real world, I have a clean standing desk home only to a compact keyboard. It’s a stark contrast from the three massive displays I have open at any given time which usually consists of a Google doc that I’m actively working on, Slack, and Spotify. While VR headsets are primarily associated with gaming, too few people realize the productivity benefits and potential to be a tool for the future of online work and communication.
Outside of gaming and productivity, fitness apps like Supernatural genuinely make you sweat and provide a stimulating workout environment that keeps you pushing for your goals. Keeping you on your toes, this rhythm game gives me hundreds of workouts to choose from. My Apple Watch constantly clocks me hitting a minimum goal of burning 150 calories per session.
To cool down after a workout, I like to use calming apps, especially the Google Street View app called Wander. On most nights I let the app take me to cool landmarks across the world. If I’m feeling nostalgic, I stand outside of my childhood home, watching it change over time with the ability to access historical data as far back as 2008. I’ve even used this app to plan my moves, getting a lay of the local streets, bridges, and stores.
The First “Must-Have” Virtual Reality Console
Today’s consumer VR headsets launched in 2016 when I was a bright-eyed 18-year old working at a game studio during my college years. During my time at this company I went hands-on with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR when they were the three major headsets in the game. I’ve seen models come and go, attended virtual reality conferences, and owned a majority of VR headsets to date with the exception of Valve’s premium Index system.
So I can confidently say that the Oculus Quest 2 is a great value, eliminating the biggest hurdles to VR. There’s no screen door effect where pixels used to have gaps between them and look like mesh, no need for wires or tracking sensors since multiple built-in cameras capture your movements, and lastly no need for separate headphones as the 3D sound strap surrounds you in virtual environments from all directions. You can hear the world around you and when you need to see it you simply double tap the side of the headset to see a passthrough view of your surroundings.
The UI is streamlined to make navigation simple and isn’t too far off from that of a phone. If you have an iPhone, you can even connect your notifications to pop on the headset. It’s pretty convenient to see when my partner opens the front door, receive text messages, and view social media updates. The Quest 2 does everything it can to make VR hassle-free and easy to hop in and out of unlike any other headset has before. It delivers on consumer virtual reality’s promise of creating an immersive connected world using just an internet connection. Most importantly, it removes the common barriers of entry into VR with a package that’s both accessible and affordable. For that reason, the Oculus Quest 2 earns a full five stars.