New Oculus wireless VR device called ‘Quest’ shows potential

It’s been five years since Facebook shelled out $2 billion to buy Oculus — and finally, the virtual-reality startup has produced a device that may grab the attention of more than just tech geeks.

The $400 Oculus Quest is the company’s fourth headset, but the first that is completely wireless. This eliminates a literal pitfall of VR geekdom: getting tangled up with the cord as you twirl around your room battling orcs and shooting down enemy planes.

By packing the Quest’s VR brains entirely inside its 1.2-pound housing, Facebook is betting that consumers will be willing to surrender the processing power of a bulky gaming PC in favor of portability.

After spending several weeks with the Quest, our verdict is that it’s a fair trade.

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Setup is a breeze. Using one of the two hand controllers that are normally used for throwing punches and wielding virtual weapons, simply draw the boundaries of a safe area in your room that’s not occupied by furniture, yoga balls and the litter box.

Minutes later, depending on which game you choose, your room will soon be transformed into a boxing ring with Rocky Balboa coming at you, or into Darth Vader’s lair, with the evil Jedi brandishing his pink lightsaber.

With its four built-in tracking cameras, the Quest makes moving around in virtual worlds feel surprisingly realistic. The two controllers feel natural in your hand, and register movements without lag.

Should you stray outside your pre-determined boundaries while a game is in progress, the Quest instantly switches its view to its external camera so that you don’t inadvertently bump (or step) into anything. It’s a feature that quickly helped put me at ease while I flailed around my apartment with a plastic box over my face.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has set a goal of getting a billion people into virtual reality. Whether you think that sounds like a good thing or not, the latest Oculus gadget shows that he’s making progress.

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When I recently brought out the Quest to show it to friends, they first treated it like a novelty. None plays video games, and they were initially doubtful of the entertainment value. But within a half-hour, they were fighting over whose turn it was to play.

The Quest isn’t without its faults. With all the gear packed into its headset, it’s uncomfortable to wear for long stretches of time. After 30 minutes of playing games — featuring a lot of intense head swiveling — my neck needed a break.

My bleary eyes also needed rubbing. Indeed, playing an intensely physical game such as the “Guitar Hero”-like “Beat Saber” (which sparked intense headset envy among my friends) for any extended period of time resulted in a sweaty experience inside the fabric-lined headset. On top of that, it’s hard not to feel silly knowing what you look like wearing it on your face.

Though the Quest’s size and all-in-one functionality makes it easy to take with you anywhere, its battery only lasts between two and three hours, and effectively kneecaps its portability.

Still, the Quest feels like a truly new device: It’s a VR headset that I’ve actually had the urge to use more than once.

It’s also a device that, for the first time, makes me look forward to the future of VR.

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