Don't own VR? Despite the caveats -- you should still buy a Quest 2

If you don't own VR and are itching to jump in, the Quest 2 should be your headset of choice, despite the caveats.

(Image courtesy of Oculus)

DISCLAIMER: This article is a follow-up to the guide I published on starting your VR journey using my candid experiences as a baseline. This article is intended to explain to the dissent why despite the caveats and concerns, VR is currently and wholeheartedly an experience you should be dying to have. This article reflects my experience and opinions at the time of writing and I reserve the option to change my opinions at any time. This article is not sponsored or endorsed by Facebook, Oculus, Valve, HP or any other third-party.

The Major Caveats, Questions & Concerns

I'm waiting for VR to become mainstream / I don't feel like it's worth it right now.

This is the most common reason I hear when discussing investing in a virtual reality headset. I can't say it isn't a persuasive argument on it's face because it certainly is. VR generally does not have all the trappings of mainstream support from developers: a vast library of great games or regular updates. There's no point in lying; VR is nowhere that stage yet.. but I feel this argument has a fatal flaw: What if VR never becomes mainstream? What if there never is a yet?

The truth is most people, especially as they age, enjoy more and more passive forms of entertainment, such as television, movies, novels, videos, casual games, etc.. After working or studying full-time, not everyone has the energy to clear out a space in their room, kick the cats out and suit up into their VR gear.

And that's okay.

But the natural consequence of the effort required to even engage with VR as a medium is that it alienates the majority of people. VR in its current state is seen as a gimmicky novelty to the average consumer. Something to do at a mall kiosk.

A typical VR demo kiosk  (Image courtesy of National Institute of Health)

VR, in reality, can be and is so much more. Exploring the desolated ex-Soviet blocs littered with hyper-advanced Combine bio-technology and sprinkled with tragic splotches of humanity is breathtaking. Wildly tearing your bald-headed foes limb from limb with massive crab claws is an absurd power fantasy. Dissolving into a world of red and blue bricks as you cleave them to the bumping rhythm of a techno-dance beat is sublime.

When all is going right in all of these experiences, when the room is wide open and dark and quiet, when you mentally allow yourself, one thing is common among them: the one flailing two wands with a brick strapped to their face (that is to say the player) fades away and that very soul is transplanted into worlds unknown. And I know what you're thinking -- "I've had that experience with X game or Y movie!"

But it's so much more.

One of the many gorgeously grim views of City 17 in Half-Life: Alyx  (Image courtesy of Valve)

The gap between seeing and playing games has never been more of a canyon than with VR. Not every game will make you feel this way and not all are even meant to. But the fact that it's so possible and even so common among the highly-rated VR titles should mean something to you.

I understand the want for perfect experiences and a bountiful number of them -- but that is never going to be a guarantee. If the possibility of VR never becoming mainstream keeps you from taking the dive, I truly hope you can reconsider. These experiences are incomparable to any other interactive medium. Unfortunately no amount of gameplay videos or words in articles can properly do justice for the limitless potential of VR. In this case, experiencing really is believing.


Other options seem much more high-end / technically superior / I'm not sure which HMD to get.

At time of writing, the big two serious competitors to the Quest 2 are the Valve Index and the (unreleased) HP Reverb G2. Both headsets are based on the same frameworks and feature similar specs. Both are designed as premium VR sets and boast appropriately premium price tags, $999 and $599.99, respectively. I already stated in my previous guide that the Quest 2 is the most logical option for most people, but I would like to expand on that statement somewhat. I should preface this by saying that I have never used the Valve Index nor have I used the HP Reverb G2 -- I'm simply speaking from technical aspects and the reported experiences of others.

You can view the in-depth technical comparison between the three headsets here.


The Index

(Image courtesy of Valve)

Since the Index is already released, I'll begin with it. (I do get a bit long-winded here, so if you're not interested in the nitty-gritty: there's a tl;dr at the bottom. You're welcome 😊)

The Index's biggest problem for most is the price. $1000 for what basically amounts to a fancy console is ridiculous. I'm aware of the cost of R&D and production of the product, but I'm really not sure that my stomach would sit too well knowing one-thousand hard-earned dollars were dropped on what I've called a meager upgrade.

The Index offers a lower resolution (albeit with a better IPS screen) than the Quest 2 but with a higher FOV and refresh rate. As someone who has been playing VR for some time now I can confidently say that that maximum 144hz available on the Index is going to be very challenging for all but the highest percentile of PC builds to achieve on the games where it really makes a difference -- besides 90hz (when hitting it) is enough to lock in immersion. The extra FOV is nice but I'm not sure it's worth an extra $700 if you're buying the Index for that reason.

Many have reported the Index to have a very fine microphone and headphones as well as an attractive, comfortable, utilitarian and sturdy build. I have to give all these points in favor of the Index.

The Index's biggest problem for me is base stations. I hate those things. I hate the idea of those things. How can a $1000 HMD (and the Index controllers) require them while other, cheaper headsets don't? Drilling or affixing these bastards to your wall forever condemns you to playing in that one room for eternity; or  more accurately until you can be bothered to affix them to some other wall.

Oh, and they also need line-of-sight or else the entire tracking bugs out. And Valve recommends you buy two more for the best experience. That's another $300. If you can't tell, I have a burning hatred for base stations. At this point, I think they can be safely discarded as a relic of the past when we compare them to the Quest 2 and Reverb G2. I have never had a serious tracking issue (outside of my own user error) with the Quest 2. And I never had to climb up a wall to screw a dumbass black box in the corner of my room.

Users have reported a litany of serious technical issues with the Index. As in the Index and the controllers have been breaking. Frequently. As with all user-reported technical issues we can't accurately paint a picture of how widespread these issues really are...BUT they do seem a lot more common than any of the other VR sets for purchase. Instead of going on about the details, I'll just tell you to google "Valve Index breaking" or something along those lines and view the countless Steam forum posts, Reddit posts and YouTube videos. Valve does provide a one-year warranty (their customer service with the Index has been notedly great); however, I'm not sure it's a sufficient band-aid to the sheer quantity of problems I've seen with the system.

tl;dr: The Index has too many issues that offset the extravagant upgrades that inflate its price. And you have to use base stations... It's not the best option for the average VR-ready gamer.


The Reverb G2

(Image courtesy of HP)

This headset is not yet released, so we can only speak from what I know about the specs and information provided by HP and approved previewers.

This headset is heavily based on the framework of the Index. It has everything the Index does and then some with the exception of a slightly lower FOV and FPS -- but as I said before that shouldn't be a problem for most of us.

The price tag is $400 less than the Index and only $220 more than the Quest 2 set which is a definite boon.

Oh! As I said before: no base stations! This alone makes me more likely to purchase it over the Index.

There are still many unknowns in the comparison to the Index and Quest 2 but the Reverb G2 is shaping up to be the major competitor to the Index in the premium VR market and potentially my choice of upgrade if and when the time comes.

tl;dr: The Reverb G2 might be better than the Quest 2 and the Index -- but it's not released yet so who knows!? Keep a look out if you're in the market for possibly a more premium first experience.

THE VERDICT

The Quest 2 is certainly not a piece of hardware to be scoffed at. Its specs can be at worst be considered a very slight downgrade to the much pricier other options. If it's you're first experience with VR and you're not drowning in gold coins, you should probably go with the Quest 2.


I like the Index (formerly "Knuckles") controllers more.

The Index controllers, which I will call the "Knuckles" controllers from henceforth, are truly a bit of interesting design. Being able to completely let go of the controller while keeping it in your hand is a great feature and so is the finger-tracking. But they aren't perfect. YouTuber Super Bunnyhop explains some of the gripes he and others have had the unique controllers quite thoroughly in his review of the Valve Index over a year of ownership.

But aside from the personal problems some have with the controllers, the real issue with Knuckles is the fact that they aren't fully supported by very many games. It can be surmised from the Steam hardware survey that the most commonly used controllers in order of most to least common are: 

  1. "New" Oculus / Quest controllers (used in Quest, Quest 2, Rift S), 
  2. Vive wands
  3. Knuckles
  4. Oculus Rift controllers
  5. WMR-style controllers (these vary more significantly than the others)
  6. What is described as "other"

Developers are nearly always going to prioritize making games accessible for the biggest audience possible. It simply doesn't make sense to develop for an esoteric controller on a small (but growing) install-base. As of writing, Half-Life: Alyx and Boneworks are the only games I'm aware of that is designed specifically for the Knuckles controllers. These games have been reported to work fantastically with the controllers but playing through them on the Quest controllers has been an experience that I don't feel conned on whatsoever.

Oh...and the damn Knuckles need base stations. Kill me.

If you still really do want to use these controllers you actually can purchase them ($279) and a single base station ($149) from the Steam store and use them with any other VR headset.

I think the controllers that come with the Quest 2 are really quite nice. They are natural and comfortable to hold, the buttons have great feedback, fantastically immersive and above all almost every game you play will be designed with them in mind.


I don't like the forced Facebook integration and I'm worried about data collection.

This is a point I must unfortunately totally concede to the opposition. This factor is the most damning against the case for Quest 2 but also clearly the subsidizing factor in its alluring price. If anything causes you not to purchase a Quest 2: this is it.

You MUST agree to seven obscure terms and conditions to even use your Quest 2:

  1. Facebook Terms of Service
  2. Facebook Data Policy
  3. Facebook Cookies Policy
  4. Oculus Terms of Service
  5. Oculus Privacy Policy
  6. Enable Location access
  7. Health and safety warnings agreement
The contents of these policies and agreements are arcane at best but from what I understand Facebook (and Oculus) can record camera usage, microphone usage, location, email, phone number, third party account details, biometric data including hand size and height and any other number of details related to your required, legitimate Facebook profile. 

According to the Facebook Community Standards, which you agree to when agreeing to the Facebook Terms of Service, you may not use a false identity. If you do, you risk losing access to your Quest 2 device forever. The company reserves all rights to essentially brick your system if they find out your Facebook identity is incongruent with your actual identity.

Facebook promises not to use your data in a personalized, identifiable way. It goes without saying: Facebook does not have the greatest track record when it comes to data privacy and security.

While not using PC VR, the Quest 2 can be used without an active internet connection; however, when connected to PC VR, the Oculus application unfortunately grants internet access to the device automatically.



In conclusion, I truly believe that VR is an experience unlike any other and right now is an amazing time to get into the hobby. It is worth the $380 for the Quest 2 and Link Cable. If you have the means and burning desire to fall into immersive new worlds then it is for you -- but only if you can get past the disgust that you most likely have against supporting the awful data and privacy practices that Facebook continues to propagate.
I have chosen to accept this fate for now and hope that Facebook will get their comeuppance in the future.
I do admit that I feel somewhat bad for this decision but my love for VR admittedly heavily outweighs this feeling.

You can purchase your Oculus Quest 2 directly from Oculus here.

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