When Facebook unveiled the Oculus Quest 2, it hailed the updated virtual reality (VR) headset as lighter, cheaper, and more powerful than ever. As a huge fan of the original Oculus Quest, I immediately jumped on board and ordered the sequel. And now I regret it. The Oculus Quest 2 isn’t truly lighter or cheaper. But worst of all: It’s a downgraded experience.
The original Oculus Quest changed the name of the game for VR. Before the Oculus Quest, most “mainstream” VR headsets called for an expensive and tethered gaming computer to run your games and apps. That made VR headsets expensive and incredibly inconvenient to use.
Most didn’t offer any room tracking either; you sat in a chair or held still. The few that offered room tracking required a large-scale camera setup that meant spending even more on the system and more room for all your equipment.
The Oculus Quest changed all that. It didn’t need a powerful gaming computer, and it didn’t need a sensor setup. The headset did everything, even tracking your controllers and your movements around the room. You got all that at a much more affordable price and with graphics that were “good enough.” Not as good as a gaming computer, but find enough to enjoy the average VR game. Once upon a time, VR seemed like a fad destined for the dustbin of failure history. Now it’s the future, and Oculus played a large hand in that.
Facebook promised the Oculus Quest 2 would take everything great about the original Quest and make it better. It has a higher resolution display with a higher refresh rate, weighs less, costs less, and is more powerful. What’s not love? Well, all the broken promises. Ticking off those boxes led to shortcuts, and those shortcuts compromised the system.
Wear any VR headset for long, and you’ll find out why weight is such a big deal. You’re essentially strapping a small computer and monitor to your head and face. The heaviest part, the screen and lens system, goes in front of your eyes, leading to an uneven drag on your skull.
A lighter headset should be more comfortable, but the devil is in the details. Facebook didn’t reduce the weight of the heaviest parts of the Quest, the display system. Instead, it swapped the head strap system from a robust rubberized halo strap to a cloth belt loop system.
The old system did an excellent job of lifting and balancing the heavy front design; the new straps don’t provide as much pull without really winching it down. Worse, they’re more challenging to put on and resize, an issue if more than one person uses the headset. Now it pulls at the front of your head more than the original Quest. Technically it weighs less, but instead of relieving discomfort, it adds to it.
Facebook seems to know that the new strap system isn’t a good option because it sells an optional headset strap accessory system. But that breaks this promise and the next in one go.
To solve the terrible strap system, you can use the Oculus Quest Elite strap. That gets you back to something closer to the original Quest’s rubberized strap system. It’s easier to use, too—just put the Quest 2 on and turn a dial to tighten. And because it’s heavier, it balances out the VR headset better. But there goes that “it’s lighter” promise.
Plus, it’s an extra $50, eating into that promise of a system that costs less than the original. Worse, it doesn’t work for everyone. You’ll find the dial at the back of your head, which is convenient if you have short hair. But if you have long hair or a ponytail, it’ll get trapped in the dial. It won’t work for everyone.
Still, with an Oculus Quest 2 and the Elite Strap, you’re paying $350; that’s still a $50 saving, right? Not quite. Because the battery life on the Oculus Quest 2 is shorter than the original Quest by at least a half-hour, as much as an hour. Facebook likely knew that, too, because it also sells the Elite Strap with a battery pack option.
The battery pack straps to the back of your head, around the dial of the Elite strap, and has the double benefit of increasing battery life and serving as a counterbalance to the heavy display. For an extra $129, you can finally have the fit, comfort, and battery life that the original Quest has, but that eats through the $100 “savings” and adds $29 to the final cost.
Maybe that’d be acceptable if that were the end of the story, but the Quest 2 suffers from other shortcuts that downgrade the experience. Most of that boils down to the “upgrade” display, which introduces new problems.
The heart of any VR headset is the display. After all, you’re essentially strapping a couple of screens to your eyes to trick them into seeing 3D. On paper, games on the Quest 2 should look better than on the original Quest. It uses a higher resolution display capable of a higher refresh rate.
But you won’t see (literally) those benefits immediately. Developers need to update games to take advantage of the new display and processor. That’s a process that’s still ongoing. And that’d be fine if the new screen didn’t look worse than the original Quest … but it does.
The first Oculus Quest uses a pair of OLED displays to beam images into your eyes. That comes with two distinct advantages. OLED is better at displaying “black” than LCD because it simply turns pixels off. In games with dark settings, that leads to a better overall look. It also means you won’t deal with as much light bleed because those pixels aren’t glowing.
Separate displays also mean you can properly position each in front of your eyes. Everyone is different, and in the case of VR, one of those important differences is interpupillary distance—how far apart your pupils rest. If the screens aren’t placed directly in front of your pupils, it can ruin the 3D effect and cause you headaches. Because the Oculus Quest has two displays, one for each eye, getting that right is as simple as adjusting a slider until everything looks right.
But none of that is true for the Oculus Quest 2. Instead of pair of OLED screens, it uses a single LCD screen. That change is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you get a better overall resolution, leading to better clarity and a reduced screendoor effect. On the other hand, the rest of it is awful.
Let’s start with the LCD portion of the setup. Instead of deep blacks that immerse you in true darkness, everything is a little greyer, and more light shines onto your eyes. That leads to light bleed and compromised visuals. Take Vader Immortal, a VR game set in the Star Wars universe. Early in the game, there’s a breathtaking moment where Darth Vader steps out of the shadows and walks up to you, stopping just feet away. He towers over you (no matter your height), and he seems to melt off of the shows on the original Oculus Quest. It’s an awe-inspiring moment.
On the Quest 2, instead of Darth Vader, it feels more like Grey Vader. Instead of melting out of the shadows, you see him slink out of a shady area. The effect isn’t the same. And it might not be something you’d notice if you haven’t played on an original Oculus Quest, but I have, so it’s impossible to unsee.
But the bigger issue is the single display setup. Because of that choice, you don’t get a slider that moves two independent screens to just the right spot. Instead, you have to reach inside the display area, grab the outside of the lenses with your fingertips, and physically move them to one of three choices. That’s it, three possible locked locations. Let me tell you; humans can’t be categorized into just three eye shapes.
And it feels awful grabbing the lens hardware to move it. You never want to touch the lens with your fingers, that will smudge them, and they’re hard to clean. To make matters worse, I share my Oculus Quest with my wife, so anytime the other person wants to use it that means adjusting the lens again. So, this adjustment mechanism makes no sense. And if you’re one of the many people who don’t fall exactly into one of the three options, like I am, well you’re kind of out of luck.
You can try to move the lenses between the hard-locked positions, but that doesn’t really work. Because as much as you’re moving a physical lens, the three positions also account for the single display by pixel shifting the image to the right location. Moving “between” leaves the image pixel shifted in the wrong spot.
All of that leads to rainbow effects that both my wife and I experience, which cause headaches. Thankfully you can tile the display towards or away from your face to eliminate that, but in turn, you get more screendoor effect. I didn’t need to do any of that with the original Quest.
Sadly, if you’re interested in picking up a new Oculus Quest, your only choice is to buy the Quest 2. Facebook discontinued the original, and short of ridiculously overpriced options from sketchy third parties on Amazon; you can’t buy it anymore. There were rumors of an Oculus Quest Pro, but that’s not coming anytime soon. And already, Facebook is moving towards only supporting the Oculus Quest 2, eventually, you’ll have to give up the original. I tried Facebook’s new Horizon Workroom remote meeting experience, but I had to use the Oculus Quest 2. After an hour I was ready not to put on my VR headset again anytime soon.
And speaking of not having a choice, there’s another worrisome detail with the Oculus Quest 2. With the original, you could create a login with an Oculus account. But now Facebook owns the company, and you’ll have to use a Facebook account instead. That means tying all your VR data to your social network data. That might not seem so bad, but there’s a secondary downside. If Facebook locks, suspends, or deletes your account for any reason, you lose access to your VR headset and all the purchases you made for it.
But you can probably look past that if you’re not worried about losing your Facebook account, and to be fair, most people probably won’t. What’s unfortunate is just as Virtual Reality is really starting to take off, the Oculus Quest 2 took a step back instead of a step forward. Reaching a “more affordable” price is a laudable goal, as is reducing weight for comfort.
But by the time you finish “fixing” the Oculus Quest 2, you’ll spend almost as much (or more) and get a system that weighs basically the same. And there’s nothing you can do about the display issues. If it doesn’t fit your eyes, you are out of luck.
If you really want an Oculus Quest, you have no choice but to accept the lackluster sequel. As for me, I’ll probably keep using the original model. It’s just the better option.