The Oculus Go, that we previewed last December, has finally arrived. And make no mistake, it's a game changer! Because it comes into a market that is currently divided between high-end systems that need base stations and high-processor computers on the one hand, or headsets that simply serve as housing for smart phones. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift lead the former category, while Google Daydream and Samsung GearVR lead the the latter.
However, you must pay a king's ransom for the former - and that's just the headset. Add to that the cost of a high-end computer, and you're spending tops two grand! If you buy a smart phone VR headset you save money but get limited graphics and tracking. Having said that, tracking is limited with the Oculus Go too.
Of course, you could get a cheap alternative to the high-end Vive or Rift buy purchasing one the new range of Windows Mixed Reality products that we reviewed in February. You don't need a base station for WMR. But to use a WMR headset you still have to plug it into a computer.
Versatile, flexible and affordable
Now you can buy a true standalone VR headset: the Oculus Go. And at under $200 for the 32GB version, it's going to be a serious competitor. Because, the fact that it is a standalone product, and doesn't need any other hardware, makes it intensely competitive. (There is a companion app for Android and iPhones, but this is only used for the initial setup. There is also a 64GB version that comes in just under $250. (In the UK, you pay more unfortunately.)
The first sign of change was Facebook's acquisition of Oculus. Just that act signaled a clear goal to bring virtual reality to the masses. That is why Mark Zuckerberg stated in a keynote speech that "we have to make sure virtual reality is accessible to everyone and we have to work both on affordability and quality.”
Oculus Go specs
Inside the books is the Oculus Go headset, a wireless controller with a trigger button and two other buttons (attached to a lanyard that loops round the wrist), a power adapter and USB cable, the battery, a cloth to wipe the lenses and a "glasses spacer".
As we predicted in our earlier article, the display is a single panel Quad High Definition, 16:9, LCD display with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. This is better than the Rift’s 2160 x 1200 OLED display that was, split between two panels. The pixel density is also better than its high-end rivals, at 538 PPI compared to 455.63 for the Rift and HTC Vive. However, it is less than the Vive Pro's impressive 615 PPI.
But Facebook have given the Oculus Go better lenses than the Rift. These lenses are designed to eliminate the screen door effect in which the fine lines between the pixels become visible. Also, contrary to our original report, Oculus have built a microphone into the Oculus Go. They also very thoughtfully provided a 3.5 mm din jack for those who wish to use their own headphones instead of the built-in speakers.
It has Cons as well as Pros
The Oculus Go powers up fast, at the press of the button. When the battery is fully charged it runs between 2 and 2.5 hours of passive watching video or between 1.5 and two hours of gaming. The problem is that the charging time is longer. You can wait for up to three hours. That's a serious negative - excuse the pun!
Both the Oculus Go headset and the controller have only three degrees of freedom instead of six. That's pitch, roll and yaw, but no positional tracking. But then again, you could call that a safety feature. If you don't have a play area, protected by lighthouses and chaperone mode, you might run into a wall. This way, there's no incentive for the player to move about. Of course, you might think that's a waste the Go's main feature - the fact that it is not tethered. But Facebook decided to make compromise for space and cost as well as safety.
Fortunately, the designers have also paid attention, and not merely lip-service, to comfort. Thus, like the Google Daydream, the Oculus Go is made with breathable fabrics. The elastic straps are soft and make the Go adjustable. You can wear it with your glasses and Oculus will soon be selling accessories to make it even more customizable, including prescription lenses and an alternative facial interface, to accommodate wider faces.
Content is King
And the good news is that it comes with a lot of content already available. There are over 1000 items currently available, a mixture of games, movies and other apps. Some of these are old. But about 100 of them are new or major updates of older content.
There are also several new, exciting things scheduled, or maybe I should say planned. These include Oculus TV and Oculus Venues. The former is in some ways like what is already on offer from the Royole Moon. You will be able to use it to watch content from Netflix, Showtime and Hulu, Redbull, Pluto TV, ESPN and of course content from Facebook itself. Oculus Venues is an app designed to bring the user live concerts and sports events from all over the glove.