In 1994, I was in Boston/Cambridge, MA on a press tour for the release of an innovative CD-ROM, Meet Mediaband, with its creator, Marc Canter. We had chosen Boston because of its unique social collage of musicians and tech wizards. To maximize the ‘impact’ of this marketing blitz, we set up three retail events. The first was at Tower Records near Berklee School of Music, the second at the MIT campus bookstore, adjacent to the MIT Media Lab (legendary!) and the third in Harvard Square at Cybersmith (think Barnes & Noble for media software). When we arrived, Kate Schram gave us a quick tour of the space and there, on the far side of the room, was a 10 foot circular area defined by a waist-high railing. “What is it?” I inquired. “It’s our Virtual Reality pod, a techie named Jaron Lanier invented it.” From what I was able to determine, it cost $9,000, required massive computer power, and was very temperamental. However, for $5.00 a minute, you could put on the heavy Darth Vader-like headset and be immersed in Don Bluth’s Space Ace animated sci-fi adventure. While it was clunky and primitive, it was so very cool.
The concept of consumer VR incubated for the next few years until its mainstream debut via the Oculus Rift (PC) in 2015 @ $600, followed by the HTC Vive system (PC) in 2016 @ $800, then Oculus Quest (stand-alone) in 2019 @ $400 and the Valve Index system (PC) in 2019 @ $999. The hardware kept getting better, the price/performance value proposition increased and the software currently borders on magic.
Yesterday, the next chapter unfolded with the release of the Oculus Quest 2, a 256gb lightweight VR headset @ $400. I have only had it for exactly twenty-four hours, but so far, it exceeds almost all of my expectations.
The Oculus Quest 2 provides an impressive 6 degrees-of-freedom (6DoF) VR experience with double the memory for the same price of its predecessor; Moore’s Law at its best.
The unboxing experience was memorable, we were paired, connected and software-updated in under 20 minutes, with just a couple hiccups which I’ll address later
It’s lighter (1.1 lbs.), more comfortable, gender-neutral, stylish and infinity less threatening, thanks largely to its matte white finish and smooth design. Quest 2 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, their first microprocessor designed specifically for VR/AR/XR experiences. The battery life, so far, is around 2.5 hours, but is rated at up to 3 hours, depending on the complexity of the games and videos.
Oculus Quest 2’s new optics & electronics combine to provide an ‘almost 4K display’ (according to the Oculus press kit). This is accomplished by fast-switch LCD, with a published resolution of 1832×1920 per eye. Whatever the numbers, it looks great!
There is an included frame to space the headset properly, should you need to wear your glasses. Additionally, there are 3 settings for fine-tuning focus, which Oculus believes will satisfy most users.
Without headphones, the sound is excellent, with headphones even better! The OQ2 uses a schema which ‘pipes’ the audio down the strap arms, providing a spatial sound experience. The low-end reproduction is impressive, whether it is bombs exploding or the bass line in Billie Eilish’s Bury A Friend, the audio amplification voodoo delivers.
This is my first Oculus, so I have no frame of comparison. But, based on the message boards, the new controllers are bigger, more substantial and deliver improved haptic feedback. I find them comfortable, solid and intuitive.
Oculus was purchased by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion dollars. This gave them the funding and the needed runway to be all that they could be, but it was, as always, a devil’s bargain with the Zuck. Effective yesterday, all Oculus user accounts are required to be merged with your Facebook account. This has created significant issues for:
Combine this with significant technical failures all day yesterday in merging/establishing this unwelcome combined account, and you have severely dampened the launch success.
Get one! The price is right, the tech is solid, the Oculus Quest 2 is a great solution to the monotony of sequestering and social distancing. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch! That said, Netflix is an improved experience in VR!
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