Oculus Go was finally released today! Here are my hands-on impressions as an owner of several VR headsets, and my analysis of its potential impact on the industry. Update: added additional info on using the Oculus Go to view 360 photos and videos.
Six months after it was first announced, Oculus Go has finally been released. It’s a standalone VR headset with no cables, and doesn’t require being connected to a desktop or smartphone, and most of all, it’s relatively affordable at $199. In this post, I will discuss its significance to the VR and 360 industries, along with my first impressions as an owner of all major VR headsets at the moment: the Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, Windows Mixed Reality, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream. I used to have an htc Vive too, and I will have Lenovo Mirage Solo (a Google Daydream 2.0 headset) by next week.
WHAT IS IT?
Oculus Go is a VR headset that doesn’t have to be connected to an expensive desktop or high-end smartphone, and it needs no cables. It is also one of the most affordable VR headsets. Whereas some VR headsets can cost $399 or more, the Oculus Go comes in at $199. It’s designed to make VR accessible to everyone.
Intro to VR
If you’ve never tried at least the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream, or any of the desktop-based VR headsets, then it can be hard to understand what VR is like.
Babies aren’t born with a sense of objective reality. Instead, they first believe that if they stop seeing something, then it must have disappeared from existence. This is why peek-a-boo is surprising and delightful to babies — mommy seemingly disappears and magically reappears. But babies quickly learn that there is a world out there that has an independent existence, that even if they lose sight of an object, the object is still there, i.e., object permanence.
Virtual reality creates an illusion that virtual objects have permanence. It has nothing to do with how realistic the graphics are. Rather, VR creates this illusion by displaying objects that seem to stay solidly in place regardless of how you move your head. When a VR headset does this accurately, your mind is persuaded to believe that the objects have their own independent existence just like objects in the real world, hence virtual reality.
You may have tried Google Cardboard and wondered, isn’t that VR? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that it has a similar function of tracking your head movement and allowing you to look around a photo or video or even a game. However, the tracking on a Cardboard headset is not as good as a ‘real’ VR headset. The end result is that with a Cardboard headset, you remain fully aware that whatever you’re viewing exists “in” the headset, instead of fooling you into feeling that they exist outside the headset.
True VR has such persuasive power that some new users have jumped face first onto the floor, believing that they were jumping down some virtual platform (search YouTube). And of course, VR has famously persuaded Mr. Zuckerberg to take a figurative leap himself — to invest billions into Oculus to develop VR for the masses.
WHY OCULUS GO MATTERS
Oculus Go is just the latest headset to become available — what impact could it possibly have?
Until now, decent quality VR (excluding Google Cardboard) has been available to very few people. Desktop VR systems such as Oculus Rift, htc Vive and Windows Mixed Reality all require a desktop with a powerful graphics card. Other than gamers, most consumers simply don’t have such a PC (and Mac owners only recently got the chance to use htc Vive, and only if they bought Macs costing thousands of dollars). The most accessible desktop VR system is the Playstation VR, which requires a Playstation 4 (indeed, the PSVR has the widest user base among all desktop VR systems).
It’s possible to get affordable decent-quality VR with a $99 Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream, but those mobile VR headsets require high-end phones. Gear VR works only with Samsung S6 or above. Daydream works only with a few Android phones. Perhaps more importantly, excluding Cardboard, there is no ‘real’ VR headset available for iPhone users.
For the many people who would otherwise not have access to a desktop VR system, or a decent quality mobile VR system, Oculus Go provides a way of getting access to decent quality VR. And yes, it’s available for iOS as well.
I already have several VR headsets but I was still excited to try Oculus Go. Oculus Go looks similar to the Oculus Rift, but they’re actually different. Besides being white / gray, Oculus Go is made out of a more rigid plastic. Oculus Go’s lenses are also smaller than those of the Rift.
Ergonomics: Oculus Go feels reasonably comfortable. However, I did not see any diopter (like the Gear VR) or a way to adjust the distance between the lenses (like the Rift).
The Go does feel a little lighter than the Gear VR or Google Daydream. More importantly, Go feels much more balanced, whereas the Gear VR and Daydream feel front-heavy when a phone is inserted.
Another thing I liked about the Oculus Go is its invisible speakers. It doesn’t have built-in earphones but it does have speakers that are invisible yet mysteriously direct sound to your ears (the secret is that the sound is channeled through the headstrap frame). The speakers feature spatial audio that will change the sound depending on which way you are facing, so you won’t need to wear earphones, although it does have a standard 3.5mm earphone jack.
I thought the Oculus Go looked pretty good with barely any screendoor effect. The display and tracking accuracy felt similar to that of the 2017 Samsung Gear VR. It is much sharper than the Rift or Vive. This is not surprising, considering that the Oculus Go’s display is 2560 x 1440 (5.5-inch, 538 ppi), higher than the resolution of the Rift or Vive (2160 x 1200), and comparable to the resolution of a Samsung S8+ (2960 x 1440, 529 ppi).
The Oculus Go uses fresnel lenses and does have a bit of flare (aka “god rays”) when viewing bright objects against dark backgrounds.
The Oculus Go’s diagonal field of view is almost the same as that of the Rift, but somehow it looks squarish while the Rift’s looks somewhat round, so the Go’s field of view feels smaller.
Oculus Go has 3-axis rotational tracking, like the Samsung Gear VR. This means it can track your head movement, but cannot track horizontal or vertical movement. To get the best experience with Oculus Go, I highly recommend using it while on a swivel chair.
In terms of performance, Oculus Go uses a Snapdragon 821 and uses foveated rendering. It was able to smoothly play apps that can be challenging for my Samsung S6, such as Cerevrum and the opening sequence in Suicide Squad.
Viewing 360 photos and videos:
Oculus Go works well for viewing 360 photos and videos. As I mentioned above, its display is actually sharper than that of the Rift.
It’s easy to load photos or videos on Oculus Go. I just connected the Go to my desktop via the USB cable, and a dialogue box showed up in the Go to confirm that it’s ok to allow the desktop to access the files. Once I confirmed that, the Oculus Go’s folders appeared in Windows Explorer. I transferred videos to the Movies folder and photos to the Pictures folder. In Oculus Go, they appeared in the Gallery menu option, under Internal Storage.
Oculus Go was able to display a 134mp photo from the Panono (16384 x 8192) from local storage with no issues. It also had no problems with 4k video or 4K 3D video, and played them back smoothly with spatial audio. It was also able to correctly recognize the 3D 360 video without having to change the settings. However, it could not play a 6K 3D 360 video nor a 6K 2D 360 video (5760 x 2880) — the screen was simply black.
I also tried watching 4K 3D 360 video from YouTube (using the Oculus browser app). The first time I tried it, it could not play the video smoothly but it turned out that it was because the Go was downloading apps at the same time. Otherwise, it was able to play 4K 3D 360 at 60fps (the Blu: Whale Encounter) smoothly. However, it could not play 8K 360 videos.
Controller: Oculus Go includes a controller with a clickable touchpad, trigger, back button and menu button. The controller has 3-axis rotational tracking, just like the headset. The controller’s tracking accuracy seems similar to that of the Gear VR, and better than Daydream’s controller tracking.
One issue re compatibility is that Oculus Go has no touchpad on the headset, unlike the Gear VR. And so far I haven’t been able to pair it with a Bluetooth gamepad that otherwise works with the Gear VR. As a result, I haven’t been able to play some of the games that require a gamepad such as Hero Bound. Hopefully they will enable gamepad support in the future.
No expandable memory: Oculus Go doesn’t seem to have a Micro SD or SD card reader, which would have been nice.
Battery and charging: Oculus Go has a battery that lasts about 2 hours for video or 1 hour for games. It can be charged via a Micro USB port on the side, and it’s possible to charge it while using it.
Easy setup; software
Setting up the Oculus Go is easy. You simply need to download the new Oculus app for Android or iOS. After turning on the Oculus Go, it will pair automatically with your app. The app will then update the software on the Oculus Go. After the Oculus Go is setup, it’s ready to be used independently from a phone.
Oculus Go uses the Samsung Gear VR’s software and has the same exact interface as Gear VR. This is good because Gear VR has a very solid library of over 1,000 games, apps, and 360 videos. If you already have Gear VR, games that you purchased will also be available for use with Oculus Go. I saw a few titles that seemed like they might be exclusive to Gear VR, although I haven’t confirmed that.
Where to buy
Oculus Go is available on Amazon with either 32GB ($199) or 64GB ($249). I highly recommend getting the 64GB version because VR apps and 360 videos take up a lot of space. With 32GB, you’ll find yourself constantly deleting apps and videos. Even 64GB is actually not a lot.
You can bookmark this page – I will be updating this page with a more detailed review of the Oculus Go.