As you may (or may not) have noticed, the mainstream groundswell of virtual reality has yet to take hold. A few years ago, companies such as Oculus, HTC and Sony were pushing VR as the future of gaming, the next level of immersion and an entirely new way of playing. And, to some extent, they were not wrong. VR has provided some tremendous experiences above and beyond the traditional screen and controller --think losing yourself in PSVR's Tetris Effect, pulling on a detective's suit in Rockstar's LA Noire or, more recently, the brilliance of Half-Life: Alyx.
But these games were generally played by a subset of the gaming audience. The barriers were clear: cost, space and comfort. Heavy and expensive early headsets needed beefy gaming PCs (or a PlayStation 4) to run them, sprawling cables, external cameras and a decent sized play area. A multi-pronged commitment beyond all but the hardcore. VR would grow and impress, but impeded by these barriers.
Bit by bit, these are being chipped away, with the Facebook-owned Oculus Quest the most notable attempt in 2018. A standalone headset with enough technical grunt behind the goggles to run higher-end (if not the highest-end) games and the smart motion controllers that are integral to involving VR. Oculus and Facebook look ready to capitalise on the groundwork already laid with the just released Oculus Quest 2, a remarkable upgrade over its predecessor and one of the most impressive pieces of VR kit yet conceived.
And, importantly, relatively affordable. At £299, the Quest 2 is £100 cheaper than the original Quest was at launch despite all of the notable improvements. The black of the original goggles and controllers has been swapped for a lighter hue. Sorry to say that wearing a VR headset is never going to look stylish, despite what the movies tell you, but this one is smarter than most.
Underneath the casing is a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 platform, while the goggles offer an 'almost 4K' resolution LCD display of 1832x1920 per eye. What this means in practice is a more powerful headset with a much improved screen. Visuals and colours on the Quest 2 are far clearer and more vivid than earlier headsets. Even the jump from the original Quest in a relatively short space of time is remarkable.
The headset is lighter than much of the competition too, making it relatively comfortable to wear. Though still not without caveats. There is a fabric strap which you use to secure the headset to your noggin, with a velcro strap at the front and a tightening strap at the back. It is a bit of a fiddle to get right and for the clearest view, I found it would sit a little heavy on the front of the face without a sturdier strap on top.
This is in part due to being a glasses wearer, with the goggles pushing down on my nose a little too much for my liking. The Quest comes with a plastic 'glasses separator', which can slip into the eyepiece to give you a little more room in the headset. However, it does make the gap at the bottom of your view more pronounced, letting in a little more daylight around the nose. It's good that Oculus has considered the option, but glasses remain a conundrum that VR hasn't yet solved.
The result is that my personal experience was considerably improved when wearing contacts rather than specs. But either way, once you are strapped in it is impossible not to be impressed. The Quest achieves its head and controller tracking by using outward-facing cameras built into the headset. You can 'see' your room in the headset via video feed, allowing you to 'paint' the edges of your play area for you to be able to move around in. It will also warn you of stray objects (or, for me, a dog wandering in). If you break the barrier while in-game, the view will revert to the camera so you can find your bearings.
Movement and tracking of the two handheld motion controllers is more or less impeccable, be it for fast-paced shoot 'em ups, more precise exploration or sporty games. You can also simply use your hands, with the camera picking up finger movement and 'pinches' to control menu options. In truth, using the controllers is more accurate, but it is an undeniably impressive technological feat.
Its in-built speakers also create a surprisingly effective surround sound effect. While headphones are still the most involving option, being able to still hear 3D audio without further encumbrance around your head is a real boon.