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Will Facebook convert more VR skeptics with Oculus Quest?

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

If last year’s Oculus Go was a solid starter headset for virtual reality newbies who don’t like being tied down with wires, think of Oculus Quest as its pricier and superior successor.

At Facebook’s annual F8 developers conference this week, Oculus announced that its next hardware release, Oculus Quest, would start shipping on May 21 for $399. While that price is almost $150 more than last year’s Oculus Go, the Quest is a substantial step forward for wireless VR running on more powerful hardware.

During his keynote on Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described Quest as another significant step towards eventually getting 1 billion people in virtual reality — a lofty goal he made onstage at F8 in 2017.

"[Quest is] the all-in-one headset that we've all been waiting for," Zuckerberg boasted onstage on Tuesday. "Quest just blows people away."

A step forward

The Quest, which will come with either 64 GB or 128 GB of storage, sports an OLED display panel with 1440 x 1600 resolution — significantly higher than the PlayStation VR’s 960 x 1080 pixels per eye — powered by the Snapdragon 835 mobile processor with eight computing cores. (In comparison, last year’s Oculus Go runs on a Snapdragon 821 mobile processor with four computing cores.)

The Quest also comes with the two controllers, meant to go in each hand, versus Go’s single remote, which enables users to move more freely in their virtual environments and lets the device more precisely track their movements. Depending on the game, players will be able to walk around, crouch, and generally move around more than with Go.

“Oculus Quest is really about VR gaming, so if you want to have, you know, really immersive content where you step into the game you can really interact with the Oculus Touch controllers,” explained Sean Liu, Oculus Director of Product Management, to Yahoo Finance at F8.

Oculus Quest will certainly have enough games at launch — at least 50 — to keep early adopters busy for a while, including the Star Wars-themed “Vader: Immortal,” an adventure viewed through a first-person perspective that has you swinging a lightsaber around surroundings in the Star Wars universe. “Beat Saber,” meanwhile, is a more straightforward rhythm game where players frantically slash at different beats timed to the rhythms of music tracks.

Riding a wave of hype

The VR world has been riding a wave of hype for years if not decades. (Remember Nintendo’s failed VR game console Virtual Boy from 1995?) But Oculus, which Facebook (FB) acquired for over $2 billion in 2014, has helped reignite interest in the space, first with the 2016 launch of the then-$599 Oculus Rift and later models that have dropped in price.

Still, VR has a long, long way to go before it goes mainstream. Headset shipments, which started in 2016 at about 6.6 million units, are estimated to rise just to 8.4 million this year, according to estimates from market watcher Nielsen's SuperData Research. To be sure, that’s a far cry from Zuckerberg’s 1 billion goal.

Through the end of this year, Liu says to expect a slew of “bigger, cooler, more immersive titles” for Quest that may help change the public’s perception that VR is simply for anti-social, gaming geeks. A game-changer? Maybe not. But Quest is decidedly another step in the right direction.

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