The $399 virtual reality headset, shipping May 21, is being positioned as the industry’s first true mass-market product.
If you list people’s complaints about virtual reality, they usually include how expensive the headsets can be, how clunky they are to connect by wire to a computer, and how there aren’t enough compelling games and apps.
Facebook believes it’s about to make a big dent in all that with its new Oculus Quest.
Powered by a self-contained onboard computer, the device is more powerful than the entry-level $199 Oculus Go and works with a pair of hand controllers.
It can play many of the popular games on the high-end computer-connected Oculus Rift S, like the popular rhythm game Beat Saber and the boxing movie tie-in Creed: Rise to Glory. It’s also got an upcoming Star Wars game, Vader Immortal, planned around its upcoming launch.
And it’s priced at $399, less than other high-end headsets like the new Valve Indexor HTC Vive, both of which start at $499.
Bottom line, it attempts to answer most of people’s complaints about VR headsets so far. And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks that could be a game changer.
The Quest is “the all-in-one headset that we’ve all been waiting for,” he said Tuesday while announcing the device’s shipping date of May 21 during his company’s F8 developer’s conference. “Quest just blows people away.”
CNET’s Scott Stein agreed, declaring the Quest “the best thing I’ve tried this year.”
What we don’t know, even with all that, is whether it’ll succeed.
The VR world has been riding a wave of hype for years. It started in 2012, when Oculus was a startup, co-founded by the device’s teenage inventor, Palmer Luckey. In a Kickstarter video, the company pitched a $300 headset that promised to let you “step into the game.”
Fast-forward seven years, with a more than $2 billion acquisition by Facebook and the 2016 launch of the then-$599 Oculus Rift, and VR hasn’t yet proven to be the world-changing technology it promises to be. Headset shipments, which started in 2016 at about 6.6 million units, are estimated to rise just to 8.4 million this year, according to estimates from market watcher Nielsen’s SuperData Research.
“VR has no necessity to it yet,” said Stephanie Llamas, who oversees VR research at SuperData. The technology has caught on with gamers, artists and tech enthusiasts, she added, but it’s struggled beyond that.
That’s where she thinks the Quest could succeed. Facebook boasts at least 50 titles that will be available around when the Quest launches, including that Star Wars game.
“The Quest could be the opportunity to bring in the second wave of users,” she said. “It depends.”
Beginning the Quest
The Oculus Quest and Rift S aren’t just new devices from Facebook’s VR division. They represent a second generation of VR, from one of the most influential device makers in the industry.
One way Facebook is telegraphing the importance of the Quest is through retail stores. The company is updating its retail displays for stores like Best Buy with new large touchscreens that help people learn what the Oculus Go, Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S are, what games and apps are available for them, and why they’re different.
The company’s also expanding its retail presence into GameStop retail stores, in an effort to draw gamers too.
“We hope the Quest will mark an inflection point,” said Sean Liu, director of product management at Oculus. The company is beginning to sell to businesses as well, and plans to begin offering software to manage fleets of VR headsets soon. “There’s a lot of foundation work we need to do, and I think this is a stride in that direction.”
Betting on Quest
Some nagging issues could hold the Quest back.
A recent survey by IDC sponsored by PlayStation VR maker Sony found that some of the top reasons people still hold off buying VR devices are the cost of hardware and a lack of compelling games and experiences. Lapsed VR users don’t have enough reasons to keep coming back.
“Getting people to put the headset on for multiple hours per month is hard,” said IDC analyst Lewis Ward, who authored the study. He found that on average, VR owners spend less than seven hours per month in the headsets. That makes owners question the wisdom of their $250 to $800 purchase, not including the cost of a game console or PC to power their devices, he said.
“What can be done to drive up hours of use?” he said. “You’ve got to drive that number up. And then those people will go tell their friends, ‘You gotta put the headset on, you’ve gotta try it.'”
For game developers like Survios, which made Creed: Rise to Glory, that means coming up with even more must-have titles that work well with the new device. James Iliff, the company’s co-founder and creative chief, said he’s already pushing his teams to build their next games with the Quest in mind.
“The Quest is a starting point,” he said. What excites him about it is the wire-free design, including cameras that can track your movements, so when you duck in the real world you do so in the game world too. That, in addition to offering the same hand controllers the higher-end Rift already uses, makes it a compelling device.
“Quest is finally a synthesis of all these different technologies,” he said. “Things are taking longer, but progress is happening.”
That’s likely how Zuckerberg feels too. “This is gonna be a big year for VR,” he said Tuesday while talking about the Quest and Rift S launch plans. “These are a real step forward.”