Oculus Go

I tried out the Oculus Rift last January (see Oculus Rift Impressions) and I was impressed, but not convinced enough to drop the cash on building a two-grand PC to run one. Now, the Oculus Go is out, and I picked up one last Sunday. Now I’m convinced.

The Oculus Go is a free-standing VR headset. It looks similar to the Rift, except it doesn’t hook up to an expensive computer. It is self-contained, with the Qualcomm CPU from a cell phone contained inside the headset. It’s like a cross between those headsets that require you to put a phone in front of your eyes and a Rift. For $200, you get the headset and a single handheld controller, and are ready to go.

I’ve been wanting to write a long article on this, but every time I start, I go back to playing with the Go. So here’s a quick bullet list of impressions.

  • The Go is roughly the same size and weight as a Rift. The fit and finish are not bad; maybe the straps are a bit more cheap-feeling. But it fits well, and once I put in a spacer piece, it worked great with glasses.
  • You can’t change the PD (width between lenses) or focus at all, but they are fine for me. I’ve noticed the focus is really, really finicky depending on the fit and angle. Sometimes it is 100% blurry, and I adjust my glasses or the angle by like less than a percent and it’s completely in focus.
  • The sound is amazing. There are small speakers built into the strap mounts that aim right into your ears, so you can hear perfectly. (There is also a standard headphone jack if you need to be silent to everyone around you.) The spatial sound is also amazing. If you are listening to someone speak in front of you and you turn your head to the right, you will hear them mostly in your left ear.
  • I thought the lenses and graphics would be a big step down from the Rift, but they are very close. I’m not saying it is exact, but it would take a serious A/B test to demonstrate that they are very different.
  • The basic interface — the home room, the control menu, the store — are all fairly identical. I think that’s a big selling point, that someone can start on a Go and then easily transition to a Rift or whatever future model.
  • The Go has 3DOF (degrees of freedom) while the Rift has 6DOF. That means on a Go, the three axes of your head movement are tracked; on a Rift, it additionally tracks your position. Big difference for activity games; not a big deal if you’re sitting around watching 3-D videos.
  • There is a single controller with a touchpad where your thumb is, a trigger at your index finger, and two buttons (back and home) below the touchpad. It will sense the position of that controller inside the Go. It usually looks like a laser pointer, which you use to point at various items in the interface. The Rift has two controllers, one on each hand, which is really amazing, but the Go’s controller is pretty handy, too.
  • I’d say the generated graphics quality is maybe on par with a PS3. I haven’t done the math; that’s just my impression. With pre-rendered items, like 360 videos on YouTube or Facebook, it is phenomenally good, incredibly realistic, and when you turn your head and look at another view, it is instantaneous.
  • Generated graphics vary, though. It just doesn’t have the horsepower a PC with a GTX-1080ti does. The best comparison here: an iPad retina has a screen that is as good or better than a high-end gaming rig. Pixel-for-pixel, it’s going to look better, and watching a movie on either one, the iPad screen will probably win. But the iPad doesn’t have the GPU power to run a AAA game at max settings. It’s for casual gaming, and isn’t going to run Overwatch. But you aren’t going to bring your water-cooled tower computer on a plane to watch movies for a cross-country flight, either.
  • The game situation is at best casual on the Go. Not enough horsepower, and the controls and latency won’t work for a Call of Duty type thing. Where it really shines is media consumption, and “experiences” – moving through 360 environments and looking at things.
  • Battery life sucks. It gets maybe two hours at most. It charges from a USB jack.
  • A phone app is used to initially connect to WiFi and to do basic management of the headset, but you don’t need a phone nearby after that point. The phone app is handy for browsing the store and checking your battery level when it’s plugged in and put away.
  • Oculus is Facebook, so it’s somewhat tied into its ecosystem. It’s very easy to view your FB photos, livestream to FB, etc. It could use better integration, though. I’d love a way to check Messenger without going to a web browser.
  • Yes, there’s a web browser in the interface. It’s really weird to be in a room, looking at a big screen with web pages on it.
  • You also have this concept of having a room where friends can meet you and you can chat, watch videos, and play simple board games. I don’t know anybody else with an Oculus, so I haven’t tried this, except to go in my room and change all the artwork and colors and stuff.
  • My favorite game so far is Ultrawings, which is a sort of cartoonish flight simulator with very good simulation. The graphics and music sort of remind me of Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64, but the flight control is very good, and it works well.
  • I’ve also wasted a lot of time in Viso Places, which is an app that lets you wander around Google Street View data and see everything in 3D. Very strange to be wandering around Bloomington in this, completely immersed.
  • There are two Blade Runner experiences. One has an intro where you are flying in a spinner in downtown LA 2049 at night, when it’s pouring rain. Someone is talking to you on the video phone, the rain is dripping on the windows, and the neon lights are whizzing by next to you, and below you in the windows by your feet. You can look all around the car as it flies, and it is truly incredible.
  • I’ve had no nausea problems, although doing a quick look to the side while doing a barrel roll in a flight game does make me half-dizzy for a second. I’ve also had zero fogging problems with the lenses, a problem I did have on the rift.
  • One strange side effect is you cannot really multitask in VR. If I had a writing program in it, it would be ideal, because I couldn’t open a second window to look at FB, or pull out my phone and start checking stuff. When you’re in it and watching something, that’s all you’re doing.
  • The biggest plus to the Go is that it’s self-contained, and instantly on. No cables, no Windows 10 Updates on the host computer, no power-sucking gaming tower in the corner. If you have a Windows PC, it’s a big ritual to get the computer started, then get the headset plugged in and started. With the Go, you put it on, done. It’s like the comparison between a PC and an iPad. The iPad isn’t going to do everything a PC will, but it’ll be on instantly, and if you just want to mess around, the convenience is amazing. Maybe they could come out with a more expensive model with more horsepower, but they really hit the sweet spot for market penetration here.

Overall, this is the best two hundred bucks I’ve spent on a computer gadget in a long time. Very exciting stuff. I’m not sure if Best Buy is doing demos of the Go, but if they are, check it out. Or go get one on Amazon. And if you have one, drop a line and we can connect inside there, play a game of Boggle or something.

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