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Is the Oculus Quest the breakthrough standalone HMD the industry desperately needs?

Unless you've been living under a rock this past week, you've probably heard nonstop discussion about a product Oculus hopes to sell to the masses in 2019. It's a new standalone HMD gaming system called the Oculus Quest. The Quest could probably be best described as a bridge between the high-end and low-end. On the low-end, Oculus has their Go headset. It's wireless, priced affordably ($199, $249), and just powerful enough to give users a small taste of our inevitable VR future. Then on the the high-end, you have the Oculus Rift. It leverages the full power of a required gaming PC, along with a more robust tracking system and legit hand presence. The problem for Oculus/Facebook, is that while the Go does a wonderful job of introducing VR to newcomers, does it have the necessary capabilities to convert them into lifelong VR enthusiasts? It's not as if Oculus can easily transition these neophytes to the Rift, considering it's daunting requirements for a full-fledged gaming PC, potentially costing well over one thousand dollars. This is where the Oculus Quest comes in. It could be the perfect marriage of high-end and low-end VR.

The Oculus Quest hopes to bridge this gap with a combination of improved horsepower driving the experience under the hood, while two Oculus Touch controllers provide that crucial hand presence. No wires, phones or gaming PC's required. That's the true beauty of the Oculus Quest. You pick up the headset, grab your two controllers and you're ready to hop into a breathtaking VR adventure at the drop of a hat. All of this comes together at the relatively mass-market price of $399, for the standard 64 gig version. Other versions of the headset with expanded storage and a more robust headstrap/audio solution could be forthcoming. The Oculus Quest will be available to consumers sometime in the Spring of 2019.

Of course, Oculus plans to launch this new product with a full catalog of interesting VR games and experiences. A library of over 50 games are expected to be available immediately upon, or within weeks of the launch. Many of these games will be ported from the Oculus Rift library. Dead and Buried, Robo Recall, Super HOT, The Climb and many others are expected to come along for the ride. The Oculus Quest uses Touch controllers, just like Rift, which allows developers to port their games over seamlessly, without worrying about clunky control translations. In addition to porting key Rift classics to the Quest, we'll also see plenty of brand new, exclusive experiences. Vader Immortal: Episode 1, a new Star Wars themed VR game has already been announced as a launch day release for the platform.

One of the biggest questions still remaining about the Oculus Quest, is whether or not there's enough raw power in the system to give users the kind of experiences they crave. Getting rid of the gaming PC, and cutting all the cords is a dream come true, but at what price? It's been revealed that the Oculus Quest is using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. This processor is being assigned two very important tasks. It needs to drive the VR experience the user is interacting with, while at the same time powering the custom inside-out tracking solution. Oculus is calling this new tracking technology, "Insight". Four sensors on the front corners of the HMD handle tracking the HMD in 3D space, along with keeping tabs on the controllers moving about. This is a lot to ask of the Snapdragon 835. In fact, many VR enthusiasts were hoping that Oculus would have opted for the more powerful Snapdragon 845.

Certainly, cost was a critical factor in determining exactly how much processing power the Quest would feature. The $399 price tag is a much easier to swallow proposition than a system priced at $600 or even $500. Including a Snapdragon 845 would have pushed manufacturing costs too high for mainstream adoption, at least initially. Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly emphasized their goal of getting 10 million users on each Oculus platform sooner rather than later during the OC5 keynote. The $399 price tag could be absolutely paramount in this regard.

There is some concern however, that the Quest may be too under powered to placate current VR enthusiasts. This core base of VR enthusiasts are extremely important, especially early on in the life cycle of a product like this. These are the types that will pre-order the Quest the second it's made available. These are the types that will evangelize the device to family and friends. While this same group supported the Go in great numbers, it can be argued that the Go filled a very specific need. It gave the enthusiasts a low-cost headset they could take on trips, vacations and family gatherings. They could share this low-cost headset, knowing their higher-end HMD would be safe and sound in their PC den. Will the Oculus Quest have enough horsepower for them to consider it more than just something to show off to the less informed around the holidays? Will they begin to use their Quest systems so often that their Rifts start to collect dust?

Early examples of Oculus Quest gameplay look surprisingly decent. Darth Vader's character model in the Vadar Immortal trailer doesn't seem obviously watered down like you might expect from a mobile VR game. The comparison image above shows the difference between Dead and Buried on the Rift and Quest. The Rift version is using 700,000 polygons, with the Quest version trimming it down to only 75k. Still, in the heat of battle, you'd be hard pressed to notice much difference. The other thing to remember, is that developers will use clever tricks and techniques to cut corners, while mostly delivering the full experience to users. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if most Rift ports capture a solid 85 percent of the original experience. There will be slight degradation's to be sure, but three minutes into the gameplay you'll be too distracted and entertained to notice. At least this is what Oculus and Facebook are banking on. Ultimately, if VR enthusiasts are unable to get past the slightly watered down graphics, it could be tough going for Oculus initially. Their most ravid fanbase would serve the company well in the early days of marketing this new platform.

Ultimately, we're chomping at the bit to get our hands on the Oculus Quest system, and we can hardly wait for Spring 2019 to hurry up and get here. We'll certainly have much more to say about this promising upcoming VR hardware and all the wonderful software to surely come along for the ride. Whatever happens, it's going to be exciting!

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