Standalone virtual reality (VR) headsets offer an intriguing possibility; the chance to make mobile VR not only better but more commercially viable. While putting your smartphone into a headset was a good idea at the time, it was more to serve the purpose of getting the technology out to a wider market. Not everyone wants to drain their phone battery or even has a compatible device to run the best experiences. That’s why standalone headsets have come to fruition, and the Oculus Go is one to take notice of.
Revealed during Oculus Connect 4 (OC4) about five months ago, Oculus Go has taken all the best bits from the Samsung Gear VR, refined them, and put them all into one neat little package. The first thing that’s instantly noticeable when picking up the headset is its diminutive size and weight. It’s quite surprising that so much technology is housed in this one package, making it easily transportable in a backpack. The weight also factors into the comfort level. Even though Oculus‘ demos during the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2018 were short, the feeling wasn’t in the least bit uncomfortable, gently cushioning the face.
Oculus Go continues the company’s tried and tested triple strap system found on its other VR head-mounted displays (HMDs). Whilst not quite as intuitive or as easy to use as the locking wheel system found on PlayStation VR or HTC Vive’s Deluxe Audio Strap, it serves its purpose well enough.
While Oculus Go’s design and ergonomics aren’t exactly groundbreaking, they are practical and easy to use, like the power button found at the top centre of the device. It’s not until the HMD is turned on and a videogame is booted up that the real showpiece becomes apparent. This may be a standalone device that’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chip – as found in the Google Pixel, HTC U Ultra and other smartphones – but the visuals far exceed those on a phone powered headset. This is due in part to the new LCD display which boasts a 2560 x 1440 resolution and some very well designed lenses. Content looked crystal clear and pin sharp, instantly impressing when playing Anshar Online, with edges looking sharp and colours that were rich and vibrant. Another point to note was the seemingly wide sweet spot of the lenses, which should suit a wide variety of IPD’s.
As for the Oculus Go controller, its certainly been designed to be small and compact, with a single trigger and touchpad for the main controls, with the additional back button and Oculus Home button found just below the touchpad. The 3DoF functionality worked well, with the trigger feeling snappy for those quick shooting titles. Yet it might just be too small, larger hands will likely engulf the controller, finding the back/Oculus Home buttons on the tiny size.
Impressing on the visual side the same can’t be said for the audio at this point. Oculus Go has integrated spatial audio but it wasn’t overly clear during the demo. Now this could easily be attributed to the high noise environment of GDC – not exactly the ideal place to demo sound – but this may be significant to anyone who might want to use the headset in similar noisy surroundings. For that, headphones are still the first choice.
Another, if somewhat smaller grievance was the gap around the nose. This did let light in, reducing immersion when it caught the eye, seeing the outside world.
Like any hands-on at a show it can be difficult to accurately gauge a piece of hardware and truly pick it apart. For this brief first look Oculus Go certainly offers a compelling VR experience. It may not offer roomscale, inside-out tracking like Vive Focus but for $ 199 there’s already plenty of tech built in. If standalone devices like Oculus Go become popular the days of plugging a phone into a HMD may be numbered.
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