Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Oculus Go - The Best Casual VR Set You Can Get Right Now

Prior to acquiring the Oculus Go about two months ago I would have described the VR landscape like this:

Oculus Rift and Vive - cool tech for early adapters that appears to be too much bother and too costly for average people (primarily in finding a PC and GPU equipped to handle them).

Playstation VR - The most accessible VR headset for most households, it's an impressive chance to experience what something close to a real VR gaming experience is like, with the caveat that the experience must still be dumbed down a bit for the PS4's somewhat leaner processing power; has lots of oddities and issues when you play it enough, most notably related to the free space you may (or may not) have and need for many of the games.

Daydream - the cheap phone option I found most convenient and enjoyable for VR gaming, but plagued by a variety of issues which included compatibility problems, phone overheating, limited processing power and or visuals depending entirely on your choice of phone, and lots and lots of fiddling around to get it all to work right.

All the other Phone VR Options - like Daydream but even less coherent and organized.

Then along came the Oculus Go.

Now I have the Oculus Go, which I decided to purchase after much deliberation and hesitation. It's essentially a game changer, especially for those who are unwilling to spring for the expensive PC option, but who want to see what a genuinely enjoyable, consistent VR experience is all about.

Here's the seven reasons that Oculus Go is absolutely worth your time and interest if you are keen on discovering what the VR experience is like (as of 2018):

1. It's self-contained. No phone or external PC needed. This is the first stand-alone VR headset of its kind, I believe. Next year the Oculus Quest is planned, which will be much like the Go except with more dynamic controllers and motion/spatial sensitivity. For now, however, Oculus Go lets you enjoy all the elements of VR from the comfort of a swivel chair, and provides you with its own controller, which is all you need.

2. It's light weight,and works with glasses. The controller has adjustable straps, but it's not much weight on your head (hardly noticeable after a while), and is a comfortable viewing experience. It includes a spacer for glasses. I have tried the unit with and without glasses (I wear contacts normally) and was surprised to learn that the glasses were actually easier to focus with, and the resolution snapped in much better for me....it turns out my difficulties with focusing in VR were driven largely by my contact lenses not quite force-correcting the extremely sharp near-sightedness in my left eye relative to my right eye; the glasses are not trying to force-correct my vision, however, so the experience suddenly felt normal and easy to focus on.

3. The resolution is great. I have no doubt you can get better resolution on Rift or Vive with a super computer and smoking GPU, but I can only afford the Go, so in terms of the experience of higher definition resolution I am very impressed. Downloading hi-res virtual films really hammers home just how relevant the experience is with crisp resolution. Oculus Go isn't 100% there (yet) but I will be shocked if in about five years we don't see a headset that can operate at close to 4K resolution. My son's desire for a Ready Player One future seems that much closer now, if they can eventually manage a self-contained headset that handles extremely high res graphics and imagery.

4. Dedicated OS Environment. Oculus Go's marketplace ties in to GearVR and I am told if you have stuff for GearVR it translates your purchases over to this store as well. The entire experience is exclusively aimed at the VR market and experience, so you're shopping for stuff you know will work on the Go. No guessing if this game or that game will work, and in almost all cases I've found that you can easily identify good games and apps from the reviews and ratings (many reviews are from customers buying the product for other phone-based VR options though and don't help so much).

5. Good Game Selection. It's not as amazing as I imagine the Vive or Rift have it, but Oculus Go has some games that work very well with the machine's hardware, and take advantage of the resolution capabilities quite nicely. If you've played some of these on other phones you will notice they look a little better here. If you've ever experienced any glitchiness on other phones, odds are you may see less of that here (I've only had one or two odd glitches so far). Most of the games are top notch; there are a few duds, and a few my son and I can't agree on at all, where dad loves X and he loves Y, but we hate the inverse....I'll talk more about the games in a future blog. There are a few duds, though, mostly amongst the free games I've tried, at least one of which was the worst VR experience I've had to date, just disgustingly unplayable. That has been contrasted by another ten titles we can't get enough of, thankfully.

6. The Apps and Movies. The Oculus Go shines with its range of apps and movie viewers. From Within to Wander, there's a range of apps that let you view 360 degree films, explore Google Streetview from its native 360 degree resolution (I Had no idea Google Streetview was intended to be viewed in VR, but it totally is) and browse the internet or watch movies and Netflix on virtual screens. The latter is amusing but I will continue to ask "why bother?" so long as the resolution is not as good as what I can get on my native 4K television, but the experience of watching actual 360 degree recordings or VR-viewable films is intense and unique; Oculus Go's graphics are just strong enough to pull this off and make the experience memorable. I can safely say I've now spent more time navigating with the Wander app to explore Google Streetview in exotic locales such as Teotihuacan or northern Alaska just to experience these places than I have (almost) anything else on the Go.

7. The Sound is Great. The onboard speakers are positioned to funnel to your eardrums without having to put on a headset, and the result feels very close to actually wearing headphones without needing to. People around you will hear the sound, especially if you crank it up to max volume, but it isn't nearly as bothersome. Put it at half volume and it's almost unnoticeable to everyone else. That said, there's still a conventional old headphone jack if you want to go that route, and you could easily wear a headset with the straps for this thing without any discomfort.

One other thing worth noting is the onboard Samsung browser is great for browsing the web, and it's easy enough to find VR content online as well that just plain old works (most of the time). It also includes a code-locked private mode if you're keen on discovering the dystopian, Kafkaesque out-of-body nightmare that is VR porn.

It's not 100% sunshine. Here are my negative observations so far:

Battery power could be better. I think three-four hours is the most you can get out of the device, depending on what you are doing with it, and two hours may be normal for some graphics-intense games and experiences.

Lingering Compatibility Issues. The storefront seems to share space with the GearVR, and you will find yourself wondering on occasion if the app or game in question will work right with the Go. I've run into a few apps that are built to assume no controller, and a couple free games that did not behave correctly at all. It does look like the games identified for the Go that cost money all seem to have been okayed for sale in the storefront, though.

Only One Controller. Oculus Go plays best when you are sitting in a swivel chair with the intended controller. I don't think there are other controllers available for use with the Go at this time, although the one it comes with is absolutely perfect for what most games demand.

No Spatial Recognition. Oculus Go is assuming you are in a swivel chair or standing, and all games/apps require you to use the controller to move or teleport around. In reading up on it, it looks like a major goal of the next iteration of the console...Oculus Quest....is to add spatial recognition and movement to the experience. Yes, I will totally snap that one up when it releases next year.

If you decide this is for you, I suggest the $249 64GB version. It's double the memory (I still haven't used all of it up) but given it has no expansion slot, you might as well spend the extra $50 and go for it. The set comes with a glasses-spacer and a hand controller, as well as a USB charger. For my money, this is the next best gadget purchase I have made this year, right next to the Nintendo Switch, and is currently getting more play time than conventional consoles.

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