When it comes to experiencing virtual reality, I have been extraordinarily fortunate.
It all started with a nerdy brother who scored me an HTC Vive back when it launched as one of the very first consumer headsets in the spring of 2016. With an eye-watering price tag of $800, the headset — and the amazing frontier of virtual reality — would have remained on the shelf.
Since then, and a couple career changes later, I’ve had the opportunity try out many virtual reality headsets ranging from the PlayStation VR headset (which is surprisingly competent) to the mega deluxe Valve Index (which comes in at an even more difficult to stomach $1,000, but at least it’s a business expense … I tell myself). There’s very little dispute that the Valve Index is the current pinnacle of virtual reality with a great screen, an immersive field of view and some excellent controllers. The barrier of entry, though, doesn’t stop with its price tag as it requires a PC on the beefier end of things to pump out the pixels and a little bit of home improvement work to securely mount the tracking stations to the walls of your play space.
Though the Valve Index is the best way to experience virtual reality, I would not recommend it to anyone but the most dedicated of techie dorks.
Instead, enter the Oculus Quest 2, a standalone headset that doesn’t require a PC, drywall screws, a dedicated space or even much tortured financial justification. At a starting price of $300 ($400 for more onboard storage space), the Oculus Quest 2 brings plenty to the table in an easy-to-use package that doesn’t require you knowing the ins and outs of graphics cards.
From a hardware perspective, the Oculus Quest 2 is a near-masterpiece, standing on the shoulders of all the headsets before it. The Oculus Quest 2 has a big, clear picture, its controllers are light and responsive, and its inside-out tracking is astonishingly good. And, honestly, the lack of a hefty cable running from the back of the headset to your computer (a requirement even with the Valve Index) is a huge game changer. Instead of getting tangled up with the cables, you’re able to move around freely.
From a performance perspective, the Oculus Quest 2 isn’t going to rival a PC-driven headset anytime soon as its graphics seem to be somewhere from a very fast smartphone to mid-range game console. While the different may be noticeable in some games (as well as the fact that not all VR games are available on it), it gets the job done with plenty to spare in the games that you’ll be spending the most time in anyways: “Beat Saber,” “Superhot,” and other arcade-y games. For me, high-fidelity graphics have never been the selling point of VR as much as the quality tracking that allows you to interact directly with the games.
But if you’re willing to fiddle with cables with the Oculus Link Cable ($79) will allow you to hook the headset up to your PC to play. If you have the brand-spanking newest of WiFi routers, you can also give their wireless streaming ability a shot and have the best of all worlds.
The biggest downside of the Oculus Quest 2 and the entire Oculus ecosystem is that it is ultimately reliant on Facebook, which owns Oculus. You must have a Facebook account that’s in good standing (as a ban to your Facebook account could lock you out of your purchases) and it also limits the games to whatever has Facebook’s blessings. And I must admit that’s a pretty big downside, but then again that’s also where all the “Star Wars” virtual reality games are.
But if you can hold your nose on the Facebook-ness of it all, then there’s no better way to bring home virtual reality.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.