Oculus Quest 2 is a great game console. Can it be more?
Commentary: One year on, Facebook's VR headset is still a technological marvel, but the challenges will increase as Facebook tries to make it a doorway to much more.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
The year has gone by in a blink and, throughout it, Facebook's VR headset remains one of my favorite pieces of tech. As Facebook pushes to reinvent itself, perhaps even rename itself amid recent turmoil, and makes a new wave of AR/VR communication the backbone of a metaverse, the Oculus Quest 2 seems like the little $300 device at the center of it all. Right now, this VR headset remains the most immersive piece of mixed reality tech Facebook has -- and it can truly become more. But as Facebook's push to make the Quest 2 more of an essential device could be an uphill battle.
As Facebook nears its next Connect conference to discuss how the company is going to propel itself further into AR and VR, despite being under immense scrutiny for its practices, keep an eye on that Oculus Quest 2: It's the centerpiece of where Facebook's ambitions are focused.
Quest 2 as a game console? Fantastic
The Quest 2 headset is like a distillation of all the previous Oculus VR headsets, reduced to an efficient package. Every time I use it, and then try something else and come back again, I appreciate how good it truly is. New games that push the limits of the system's graphics still manage to impress. Capabilities like hand tracking, while a bit wonky at times, are so much better than most other competition right now. And even the Quest 2's ways of scanning a room for obstacles before playing, or recognizing desks and keyboards and bringing them into some VR work apps, are a taste of a future that still isn't here. It's easy to use the Oculus Quest 2 and feel that it's beginning to play with new ideas that could bend the definition of computers.
It's also easy to love the Quest 2 for its fascinating, often inventive, and surprisingly active games (I have a bunch I love and admire). However, a little goes a long way and I find my sessions end up being pretty contained. Although it connects to others elsewhere, VR for me is still a solo experience at home where I'm closed off from the rest of the world.
And the Quest 2 is mainly a game system. That's still what it does best. Everything else, from fitness to collaborative work apps to virtual travel apps, they feel like works in progress to varying degrees. But that's exactly the territory Facebook wants to go to next, having used the headset's success as a game console as a stepping stone.
The Oculus Quest 2, however, has some of the world-scanning camera capabilities that Facebook could lean on to experiment further with AR ideas before making its own more advanced smart glasses. Mixed reality using the headset's passthrough cameras is already being used in Facebook's computer-connected virtual workroom app, Horizon Workrooms. The next year could see more apps and games that dip into mixed reality on the Quest 2. It's capable of handling it.
A Quest Pro could be Facebook's entry into eye and face tracking
The Quest 2 might stick around for a while, pushing the lower-end price zone while Facebook tries for a more advanced headset, called the Oculus Quest Pro, with additional sensors. Mark Zuckerberg told me earlier this year that possibilities of new sensors would be the most useful thing a Pro could add. Face tracking and eye-tracking cameras would be the most obvious additions. Facebook could also add compatibility with fitness trackers and smartwatches, for fitness and wellness apps.
A Quest Pro would certainly have a higher price. However, it could be the tiered, step-up way that Facebook works on incorporating eye tracking without making it mandatory for Quest owners to buy a headset that has the feature.
Facebook's Facebook-focused VR ecosystem is still a bottleneck
The Oculus Quest 2 is a Facebook product, and it requires a Facebook account to use. This is the hardest thing to accept, but it's pretty key to the whole equation: Facebook prices its VR hardware low, but it can potentially use that hardware to lock you in its ecosystem. Facebook's changing policies on delivering ads into VR bear close scrutiny, too. While Facebook has promised that some data generated from cameras and sensors while using VR and AR tracking won't ever be collected or used for ads, this is the same slippery slope that makes phones, smart home speakers and most super-connected devices feel so invasive.
Facebook's promising that its VR ecosystem will work better with other cloud services for things like work, or with other devices (the Quest 2 already pairs with iPhones and Android phones, and connects to Windows laptops). How open will all of this hardware continue to feel? As Facebook tries to evolve the Quest into a multipurpose home device, will it be good enough for us to trust it? Gaming is one thing, but fitness, work and every computer is a whole extra level.
Facebook could see lots of 2022 competition
Facebook's Quest 2 is a weird product: It's really the only standalone VR gaming device right now. But other big VR gaming competitors could emerge next year. Sony's PlayStation VR 2 looks to be a considerable upgrade for PlayStation 5 owners. That headset won't be standalone, though, and could end up being a more expensive all-in proposal (a PS5 console would be required). New PC VR headsets keep arriving, too. Companies like Apple are expected to have a headset, too, although whether Apple's first expected AR/VR product would be expensive, or productivity focused, or even aimed at the mainstream crowd are still complete unknowns.
Finally, there could be other companies looking to do what Facebook's done, using mobile chips for standalone VR headsets, or smaller ones that plug into phones like HTC's upcoming Vive Flow.
Facebook needs to figure out its kid VR situation, though
Almost everyone I know who owns an Oculus Quest 2 is using it with their kids, or it's specifically for their kids. I find this unsurprising, and concerning. Facebook has never made the Oculus Quest platform kid-friendly: There are no kid accounts, no kid content filters and no discrete controls over things like public chat in games. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg told CNET the Quest isn't meant for kids, and isn't designed with kid safety in mind yet.
I agree with Zuckerberg on VR not being ideal for kids, and I have no interest in having my kids, or anyone else's, spending time in Facebook's VR worlds. But the problem is that it's already a kid's gaming console, with or without Facebook's consent. Putting better focus into making the Quest safer and more self-contained for kids needs to happen now, not in 10 years.