Meta Quest 2 Revisited: For Its Price, Still the Best VR Headset
Editors' Choice: The Meta Quest 2 is two years old and $101 more expensive. For now, though, it's still the VR headset to beat.
Updated Nov. 1, 2023 5:00 a.m. PT
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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
Editor's note, Nov. 1: Meta's new Quest 3 VR headset has a faster processor, better graphics, higher-resolution displays, clearer lenses and color cameras that enable mixed reality on a budget. However, at this point, the limited number of updated apps and games to take advantage of the new hardware, and its more expensive price, mean the Quest 2 is more than fine for most people. It's why it's still our Editors' Choice pick, until Meta's software library evolves to better justify the Quest 3 upgrade. The Quest 3 is the best headset regardless of price, but the Quest 2 is the best pick for many people (and families). Our original review from 2020, updated slightly, is below.
There's a pair of magic goggles I've gone back to again and again over the last two years, opening up worlds of games, theater, conversations, art and experiences that are tough to even describe. The Meta Quest 2 (formerly, and sometimes still, the Oculus Quest 2) is an improved, less expensive sequel to the 2019 Oculus Quest. It's already been my portable holodeck, my little magic fitness room, my escape space and one of my favorite game consoles.
The Quest 2 is still the best VR platform, although Meta now has an even more improved Quest 3. Right now, the Quest 2 can run all the same games and apps the Quest 3 can, but for $200 less. Sure, it's not quite as good... but I don't think a lot of people who aren't VR specialists would notice the difference.
Even now, there isn't a standalone VR headset in existence with the app library or value that the Quest 2 has.
Meta upgraded the base storage on the entry-level Quest 2, doubling it from 64GB to 128GB. 128GB should be more than enough storage for most, but serious VR gamers will appreciate the 256GB storage tier step-up -- there's no way to expand storage otherwise.
But, yeah, you have to accept that this is Facebook's world (and that involves possibilities for future ads, too). While the Quest will soon allow account creation without using a Facebook login, it's still worth keeping in mind the Quest 2 isn't designed for kids, even though lots of parents I know have kids who use it. Parental controls are steadily being added, but they're still not at the level of everyday game consoles like the Nintendo Switch, Xbox or PlayStation.
The Quest 2 has a VR-optimized Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor, a higher-resolution display than the older Oculus Quest and Rift headsets, and it works surprisingly well as a tethered or wireless PC VR headset, in case you need it to.
I find I use the Quest 2 mainly as a game console, or a fitness device, or as a social tool for meeting with friends in virtual worlds. I don't use it all the time. It's an experience I dip into once in a while.
If you think of the Quest 2 as a game console, it's a fantastic little game and experience machine. It might even be my second-favorite game console right now next to the Nintendo Switch. But if you imagine it fulfilling needs for work and the rest of your life, it raises deeper questions and complications.
Oculus Quest 2: How the VR Headset Compares to the First Quest
Mark Zuckerberg and Meta remain focused on trying to turn VR into a better work and connectivity tool, but all of that's still very much a work in progress. There are work apps in the Quest app library, but none of them work well enough for me to use them. Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms are trying to build out social places for work and play.
Meta's social media ambitions are clearly aligned where VR and AR are heading, and the Quest 2 still feels like the centerpiece of those efforts. Meta is allowing accounts to bypass needing a Facebook account login soon, but to be clear, you'll still be under Meta's umbrella in some way or another.
If you treat the Quest 2 as a motion-enabled game console for your face and hands, or a way to socialize with friends in magic worlds where you can run around as invented avatars, it's fantastic. It's also a great little machine for playing Beat Saber. The Oculus Quest was already the best self-contained VR headset on the planet, and the Quest 2 is even better.
The experiences I've had in Oculus Quest have been surprising and strange, magical and active. The Quest 2 looks to be walking that same path with its curated app store and self-contained ecosystem. The full-motion six degrees of freedom (aka 6DoF) tracking, using four in-headset cameras, is all the same right now. The controllers are complex but well-designed. It's more of a VR mini game console than anything, but its other tools -- virtual big-screen computer monitors, fitness training software, immersive theater portals -- could add dimensions you may not even have considered.
There are work tools in the Quest ecosystem, and ways to have virtual meetings: Spatial's app brings people into shared spaces with workflows and cloud storage tools. Virtual monitor apps like Immerse can turn the Quest into a virtual series of monitors for your real computer. Plug in a USB cable, and the Quest 2 can be a PC VR headset and work with a lot of Steam apps as well. Meta's Horizon Workrooms shows possibilities, too. I'd still consider these work apps experimental right now, though, and not essential.
Still, the Quest doesn't really interface with Apple iOS or Google's Android OS, although it pairs with a phone app like a smartwatch for some basic syncing and screen casting. You can't just hop into a Zoom call or share a doc, and the flow between my virtual computer work life and the VR virtual flow isn't there yet. I hope it can arrive because in my opinion, VR headsets should be more like immersive visual headphones. Right now they're more like customized and different toolkits with positives (physical immersion) and negatives (no face-to-face camera conversation, and no easy work tools like a mouse and keyboard).
A great example of VR's limits is the Quest 2's still-evolving hand tracking. I can use my hands to reach out and touch things, controller-free, which is wild. But I can't get physical feedback, and mastering the specific gestures needed to open an app, drag an object somewhere or type a response to a message feels extremely difficult.
The display resolution:The 1,832x1,920-per-eye pixel resolution is improved from the 1,400x1,600 on the older Quest, and it makes everything smoother, removing a lot of the "screen door" pixelation. The Snapdragon XR2 processor also cuts down on the lower-res halo on the edges of the display that happened previously due to fixed foveated rendering (which only made the center of the display look ultrasharp to help the older processor). It's more universally clean and crisp now, although there is still some pixelation at the edge of your vision if you look carefully.
Built-in audio doesn't need headphones: The ambient spatial audio that comes out of the side straps is fine, and I prefer it to using headphones. It sounds a bit better to me than the first Quest. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The XR2 chip looks pretty versatile, still: Qualcomm's XR2 chip remains the best standalone processor for VR at the moment, and VR graphics on recent games have been pretty impressive. The Quest 2 can also handle hand tracking and mixed reality by overlaying virtual objects with its black and white passthrough cameras.
The refresh rate is smooth:The first Quest could run at 72Hz, a bit less than PC VR headsets that can go to 90Hz. The faster the refresh rate, the smoother the experience. The Quest 2 can even do 120Hz for some games and apps.
The size and weight aren't bad: The Quest 2, at 17.7 ounces, or 503 grams, is not super light, but it's still pretty portable for a self-contained headset. It's still a pair of goggles, but it's possible to carry it around. The elastic flex straps are easy to pack down, too, although the Quest 2 still isn't as portable as an iPad or a Nintendo Switch.
Great controller battery life: The revamped Oculus Touch controllers have the same buttons and analog sticks and triggers, like a split-apart PlayStation controller. But the new controllers are bigger and sturdier-feeling, and have a bigger button area with a thumb rest. The controllers still use AA batteries as opposed to being rechargeable, but last a lot longer on a single battery: Mine lasts on a pair of AA batteries for months. Also, the battery cover doesn't randomly slide off like it sometimes does on the older Quest controllers.
The game library: The Quest 2 is full of great VR game options. Many of these games can even look as good as their PC versions, although there may come a time in the next year or two when the hardware starts to feel its age.
What's a bit of a letdown
It's not as friendly to my larger glasses: The eye area on the new Quest is a bit smaller, and the included foam padding feels firmer and cushier. But my glasses now seem a bit more jammed in than on the older Quest. Meta sells a fit pack ($50) with a few different snap-out foam frames for different face types, so maybe I need one of those.
It takes a long time to recharge:The headset lasts two to three hours, which is like the last Quest. I find battery life can run down in just one evening, and then I need to recharge. And recharging takes a long time -- an hour or more, which means you'll need to take a VR break whether you like it or not. Meta does sell an Elite Strap with an extra battery pack, plus a helpful case, which helped my longer-term play sessions a lot.
The included USB-C cable is a lot shorter now: The original Quest included a super long USB-C cable that could be used to charge while playing, or tether via USB-C to a PC. The shorter charge cable with the Quest 2 makes that impossible, but guess what? Meta sells a longer cable for $80 (or you could buy your own for PC tethering via Oculus Link).
No expandable storage: The 128GB on the $400 Quest will hold enough games and apps for most people (a few dozen, roughly). Still, no expandable storage means that you need to choose carefully. Hardcore VR users should consider the 256GB option.
The LCD display's blacks aren't as black as the original Quest OLED: The fast-switch LCD on the Quest 2 is generally better, but the black levels are clearly less black. In a darkened virtual movie theater or with a dark game like The Room VR, I'm a lot more aware of the display's light. (On the upside, bright images and text like web pages seem more vivid.)
IPD adjustment for my eyes was a bit of a learning process:The older Quest fit my eyes perfectly, and also had an interpupillary distance slider to fit eye distances for nearly anyone. The Quest 2 replaces the slider with three preset eye distance settings (53, 63 and 68mm) that are meant to fit most people, but at first my vision didn't feel 100% with any of them. Over time, I readjusted the straps to my head and started to get better results. I also have thick prescription glasses, FYI.
You can't really use it in sunlight: The Oculus Quest 2 is like a vampire -- keep it indoors. Direct sunlight can cause permanent damage to the displays if beams go through the inner lenses, and when I played outside, the headset tracking had some trouble finding the controllers. It's a reminder that VR headsets still aren't everyday take-absolutely-anywhere things quite yet, though I've done some outdoorsy experiments from time to time.
A possible magic doorway to more, but what happens next with Meta?
Meta's road to the future is set toward augmented-reality smart glasses that can blend the virtual and real, but that could still be years off. The Quest 3 is a bridge towards working with mixed reality as a stepping-stone to AR, and while the Quest 2 can do a bit of that with its black and white cameras, the Quest 2 is clearly an aging piece of tech that might get removed from the lineup sooner or later.
In the meantime, though, it's still a good portable game console with a lot of benefits. That's exactly what you should get it for. My teenage son loves it, and friends I know have started using it for home workouts. It's a clever and still-good device.
Besides whatever concerns about Facebook and data you may have, there's also the question of how open Meta will allow its VR universe to be. While the Quest connects easily with PCs, what about the future of phones? How will the Quest dovetail with the apps we use every day? Right now, it doesn't. Mark Zuckerberg keeps pledging that the Quest's future will be open. But the future ahead will be about phones and tablets that plug into VR and AR, and the Quest needs to find a way to be part of that future, too.
For now, the Quest 2 remains a great budget VR headset pick. Most people don't want to spend a lot on the novelties of VR. $300 is about as good as you're going to get.