The tech may not be cutting edge, but with no wires, a low price and 1,000+ games and apps already, Oculus Go is the VR headset the world’s been waiting for
The Oculus Rift kickstarted the current wave of interest in virtual reality. So far it has proven to be more of a gently lapping, Mediterranean kind of wave rather than a Malibu-style point break, but there is definitely a lot of interest.
What nobody has quite been able to do so far is put virtual reality in an affordable, simple format that doesn’t require donning a massive pair of astronaut goggles tethered by wires to a PC or console. Okay, there is the Gear VR, also made by Oculus, but that’s only for Galaxy phone owners and it requires you to use your phone as the screen and processor, which feels a bit weird to us.
But now Oculus has released the Oculus Go. It costs $299 (32GB memory; $369 for 64GB) and is self-contained: the headset houses the computer required to run it, and the fast-refreshing LCD screen, which has a resolution of 2560x1440 pixels and an excellent spatial sound system. You also get a single controller, with a thumb pad, two buttons and a trigger.
The resolution is higher than the full-size Oculus Rift, although we wouldn’t say the results are anywhere near as good. That’s down to the refresh rate being slower at 72Hz to the Rift’s 90Hz, and the fact that your Rift is tethered to a massive PC with an expensive gaming graphics chip that costs more than the Oculus Go’s smaller price tag on its own.
As VR headsets go, the Oculus Go is quite attractive. It’s obviously been
designed to sit stylishly in the homes of ‘normal people’, as opposed to hardcore gamers, and comes in a chic yet neutral putty tone.
It’s the easiest VR headset we’ve come across to put on, and the most comfortable to wear. That’s not to say it’s entirely objectively comfortable, because it’s not. But, as large plastic masks full of electronics that you strap to your face go, it’s hard to imagine anything more pleasant.
Even with glasses on the lenses sit comfortably, and a spacer is included if you prefer them to sit further away. You can also buy VirtuClear custom prescription lenses for the headset.
VR for beginners
Using a material sourced from ‘the intimate apparel industry’ – yes, this is the bra for your face that you’ve always dreamed of! – the Oculus Go sits comfortably over your nose and cheeks, blocking light effectively.
Admittedly, the controller isn’t amazing. The trigger is good but the two supplementary buttons aren’t very satisfying, and the touch joypad thing didn’t exactly feel like a pro-gaming experience.
Setting up is easy: download the Oculus app to your iPhone or Android, create a new account or log into an existing one, add a credit card if you intend to buy apps or games, and pair with your headset, which will then pair with the controller. And that’s it. Compared to the HTC Vive this greatly simplified version was among the most pleasant set-up processes of our lives. Yes, Vive pays off with a far more sophisticated experience overall, but at least Oculus Go didn’t require us to stick small cameras to the walls with duct tape, then spend 97 hours trying to get its Windows app to run.
The thing about Oculus Go is that it’s resolutely not aimed at people who are already well into VR. Some of the most fun things we’ve done in recent years (involving tech, at least) have been on full-fat Oculus Rift and HTC Vive rigs. There is nothing here to match that crazed level of adrenaline pumping, two controller, full-body-tracked immersive glee. With the major caveat that the Oculus Go is a complete cinch to set-up and so affordable, we’ll say that no VR power user is going to be terribly impressed by it. However, those looking to dip a toe into VR for the first time should be knocked out by it.
The quality of the graphics is okay, but the field of view (Oculus doesn’t specify what that is) feels decidedly tight. Developers might want to have your in-game character wearing a helmet – or snood, in Oculus Go games – in order to ‘explain’ this. It’s not like having toilet roll tubes taped to your eyes, as such, but you sure as hell don’t get much peripheral vision.
Also, if you’re looking for versatile dual-handed controllers, you won’t get them here. Want to physically move around in a 3D VR space? Not on the Go. You can either stand or sit, with the Go tracking your head movements. This caused us a certain amount of confusion when playing space flight games such as Anshar
Online. With these you steer with
your head, as in your ship moves in the direction you’re looking. To begin with we thought there was a bug in the game because we could only steer in a limited way, until we realised that we needed to be stood up or sat on a revolving chair in order to execute a 180. Most games have you moving ‘on rails’, which is probably just as well for dummies like us.
The Oculus Go’s integrated audio system is excellent, though. Speakers in the headset do a very good job of delivering music, speech and sound effects, giving you a decent amount of spatial awareness where appropriate. It’s also impressively loud for you without being excessively noisy for others nearby. On that note, if you want to be completely confident of not annoying others sat in your front room or alongside you on the bus to work, you can plug in some proper headphones instead.
As noted, the Oculus Go’s visuals may be primitive compared to a full-on PC gaming rig or current-gen console, but you still get that extra intensity that the best VR games all rely on. If you suffer from pesky motion sickness in actual reality, unfortunately you may well get it in virtual reality. Even if you don’t, the vertiginous drops of something like Coaster Combat gets your adrenaline pumping. Played in non-VR, Coaster Combat would seem reasonably dire; VR is transformative.
The Oculus app store has a lot of quantity, with over 1,000 titles, and a fair amount of quality, but there isn’t one app or game we would point to as the must-have, killer title. That’s hardly surprising, as it’s the same even on PlayStation VR. Funnily enough, that leaves Netflix as probably the most recognisable title in the store. If you’re one of the many
users of Plex, you can access all your Plexified media in VR form. Because of the way VR headsets work, you can also watch stored or streamed 3D films and pretend it’s 2012 again.
As you know, Oculus is owned by Facebook, so it’s naturally having to at least pretend that there’s a social purpose to the Go’s existence, and so it makes great play of its communal experiences. These include an updated Oculus Rooms, which lets you doll yourself up as an avatar and invite fellow Oculus users around to your groovy virtual pad, where you can hang out, play board games including Boggle, and watch movies.
Oculus Rooms and Oculus TV (the over-arching space within which content providers can peddle their wares) are a lot of fun. However, and with the best will in the world, watching a movie on a VR headset is just not like seeing it on a big screen. It’s kinda like watching a live video feed of a movie, very, very close to your eyeballs, on a sub-HD screen with a relatively slow refresh rate. It’s potentially handy on a long plane or train journey, but personally we’re not going to call up a friend on the other side of the world and watch The Martian like that with them.
Much more useful (and weirder) is Oculus Gallery. This enables you to view your photos and videos on a similarly ‘huge’ screen. Because your home movies and photos lack the production values of a Hollywood film, this is much less jarring. It’s also, finally, the perfect way to view all those neglected panoramas and 360 videos you’ve shot.
Oculus Gallery displays photos so they’re not only seemingly enormous, but also in such a way that you feel very near them. In fact, it’s rather like you are literally in the picture – when watching a demo video of a toddler taking their first steps, the picture was so big we got distracted by admiring the decor elsewhere in the video. A 360 video camera’s-eye-view of cats being fed in a Japanese cat café, by contrast, was absolutely freaky, bordering on scary. We liked it.
So, we kind of have two verdicts to give here. First, those seeking the most intense gaming thrills and a peak into a near-future world where reality and computer-generated fantasy are indistinguishable will not find it in the Oculus Go, unless they’re very easily impressed. However, as a sellable consumer device it’s fantastic and exactly what the second wave of VR has been crying out for since day one. For the mere $299 you pay, it’s hard to get too annoyed about its limitations.
Will the Oculus Go revolutionise social interaction and entertainment? No. But it will open more minds to the possibilities of VR. It’s not a door to the future, rather a stylish hallway that eventually leads to that door.
The putty colour is nice enough, but here’s hoping for some funkier shades soon
It’s easy popping the Oculus Go on and off, so you don’t feel as firmly ‘strapped in’ as with some headsets
The buttons on the unit are a good size to find and press, even when it’s on