Way back in the hazy days of 2016, in the midst of the annual Oculus Connect keynote, Facebook-owned Oculus VR announced something nobody expected: a standalone Rift headset.

At the time, the headset went by a codename - Santa Cruz. Things have changed a bit since then and in 2018 Oculus revealed that the Santa Cruz was now to be known as the Oculus Quest

What is this headset, how does it work and why is it a step towards the future of VR? Read on to find out. 

What is Oculus Quest?

Oculus Quest is the company's first all-in-one virtual reality headset. It's not only wireless, but also doesn't require a powerful gaming computer to run. It's therefore designed to be more affordable, accessible and easier-to-use too. All you need is a smartphone to set it up then you can get started with VR fun!

This new headset joins a line-up of Oculus VR headsets that includes the incredibly affordable Oculus Go (itself a step-up from mobile VR devices) and the high-end, PC-tethered Oculus Rift.

The Oculus Quest is a wireless headset like the Oculus Go, but it's a more powerful device that supports accurate tracking, better freedom of movement and an enhanced gaming experience. As it's wireless, you can simply pop on the VR headset and freely move around as you game. You can also use it in any room of your house provided you have space. 

How does Oculus Quest work?

6DOF

The Oculus Quest is basically a cable-free version of the Oculus Rift with slightly toned down performance. Naturally, the experiences won't be quite the same as the Rift requires a powerful machine to run and it's the gaming machine that does the grunt work in helping the headset to display the audio and visuals.

With the Oculus Quest, all the hardware is internal and that hardware includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile chipset. 

This internal hardware includes built-in sensors plus a new "inside-out" tracking system. This includes four ultra wide-angle sensors on the front of the device that process data in real-time. 

The headset is designed with a system called Oculus Insight which allows it to track your position in real-time, map the room as you play and ensure you have accurate tracking.

This system means the headset can offer six degrees of freedom (6DoF) spatial tracking. With this technology, you can physically walk around and the virtual environment should respond to your movements accordingly. It will track movement up and down, side to side and around the play space. This means you can duck, dodge, dip and more while you play and it will all be accurately tracked. 

Having the sensors built into the headset also means your gaming experience isn't hindered by the setup of the room. You're not relying on static IR sensors or base stations to track your movement. This means you're free to move around a lot more. So much so, in fact, that the company claims the headset is capable of tracking large play spaces up to 4,000 square feet in size. 

A guardian system is also implemented to track objects in the real world while you play - creating virtual barriers to ensure you don't fall over a chair, bump into a table or accidentally punch a mirror. 

Hardware

Oculus Quest is said to use the same improved lens technology that we saw with the Oculus Go. This includes lenses that offer 1,600 x 1,440 resolution per eye and no doubt similar field of view and refresh rates to the other device (there's no official word on that yet). 

There's also a built-in spatial audio system meaning there's no need to use your own headphones with this new headset. This is great news as having a wireless VR headset, then adding wires to it sort of defeats the point. However, there's also a 3.5mm jack, should you feel the need for a more private gaming/viewing experience. 

The Oculus Quest comes with two controllers - similar to those included with the Oculus Rift but with a slightly new design to allow them to be more easily tracked by the sensors on the headset. 

It requires access to the Oculus mobile app in order to set up, but then doesn't need any extra connections in order to run. It does have a USB-C port for charging though. 

What's it like to use Oculus Quest?

The experience using the Oculus Quest is much like you'd expect. It's aimed at casual gamers and doesn't quite have the power that the Oculus Rift does. That said, it's a step up from the Oculus Go. Also using a VR headset wirelessly is an utter joy. We certainly loved it when we made the HTC Vive wireless. Wireless freedom and integral tracking is much more convenient and convincing.

The visuals are also impressive considering the price point and technology involved. There will only be 50 games available at launch, but that list includes the excellent Superhot VR, a game we've played in VR already on the Vive and Rift. The fact this new headset is capable of running that game speaks volumes to the power within. 

During testing, we also found the Oculus Quest to be comfortable to wear. It's not too weighty, the tracking is excellent and the spatial audio really makes a big difference to the feel of games. We're also happy to see how well this headset fits over prescription glasses. 

Is Oculus Quest like Oculus Go?

Yes and no. The new Oculus Quest is a step up from the Oculus Go in the same way the Oculus Go was an improvement over Gear VR. Both don't need a phone or other device to run, both are wireless and both also offer built-in spatial audio, but Quest is so much more. 

It also has improved tracking - the Oculus Go only offers three degrees of freedom tracking, where the Quest is capable of six, so you can move around more accurately and immersive yourself full in games. It also has a newer processor and improved lens resolution too. 

Although technically both headsets can be used anywhere, the Oculus Quest will actively track your movement around the room - something the Oculus Go cannot do. 

Of course, the extra power does make the Oculus Quest more expensive, but you get what you pay for. 

When will Oculus Quest be available?

Oculus Quest is expected to be released Spring 2019 with prices starting at $399.