Virtual Reality On a Budget – Oculus Go

A couple years ago everyone was excited with the release of the Oculus Rift funded through Kickstarter and HTC’s Vive. Both are basically dumb high quality stereo displays with sophisticated sensors on board to detect what position your head and feet are in relation to things in a game.

HTC_Vive
The HTC Vive.

Both the Rift and the Vive require a high end PC to be tethered to it to experience anything otherwise all you have is an expensive mound of sensors and displays.

Facebook bought Oculus and one of the first thing Mark Zuckerberg announced was a new Oculus that was much cheaper built on cell phone hardware including a system-on-a-chip (SoC) from Qualcomm. Interestingly the unit is built by the Chinese company Xiaomi which is also the manufacturer of my newest cell phone (review coming soon).

Fast forward to the preset and Oculus released it’s Oculus Go for sale to the public in two flavours, 32 and 64GB storage options. Other than the specs are identical between both Go models. What is also refreshing is Facebook didn’t ignore the rest of the world like many companies do (AMAZON for one…) when they released the new piece of hardware. It was available in Canada on day one.

34
The new Oculus Go headset.

I saw the release and initially was hesitant to plop down $329 CAD for a 64GB VR device that is essentially a handicapped version of the full-on Oculus Rift. More on that in a bit.

About a month later I decided to jump on board and picked up my very own 64GB Oculus Go. Shipping was quick which was nice. Also indicates that they have their own shipping depot right here in Canada which I appreciate. Getting taxed at the door is annoying when receiving shipments from abroad.

The Go arrived in a plain brown box and inside was a giant marketing covered box. I think Oculus was hoping that opening the Go’s box would be an “experience” but I found that it was very overdone. The box was probably 2 times the size it really needed to be but the Go was well secured so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

The go is a good weight but it feels good when strapped to your head by the elastic side bands. I wear glasses and Oculus has thought about that this time around. They offer an included spacer that makes it easy to get your glasses in behind the cover. It works really well. Oculus also notes that they are working with an online merchant that allows you to send in your personal eye prescription and they will send you special lenses to install in your Go so you don’t have to use the spacer or your glasses. In my case that would be nice but inconvenient as I am not the only person that will be using the Go.

The speakers are integrated with the side bands on the Oculus Go and the sound quality is quite impressive.

The other piece of hardware that comes with the Go is the new single hand remote. It has three buttons and a touchpad that doubles as a button as well. I have not found many apps that use the touchpad button, but the trigger style button gets a lot of use. There is also a home button and a back button. It feels good in the hand and the weight is provided by a single AA battery.

The Go itself is powered by an internal battery which is fine except I think they missed the mark on how much battery this device should have. Charged fully the Go only lasts about two hours on a single charge and to top that off takes quite some time to recharge. This has really limited my use of the device as it’s great for watching movies, but as modern movies go we are seeing some that run easily into the two and a half to three hour range these days. This limits the movies that can be watched on the Go.

I did discover, however, that the Go will charge as you play by keeping it plugged in but be aware that you will want a long USB cord otherwise it will interfere with moving your head during use.

Front
Front view of the Oculus Go.

The user interface is incredibly intuitive. After a short introduction on how to use the controls you get to the main menu which can be easily moved through with the touchpad on your remote. Selecting choices is just as easy using the trigger on the controller.

The interface does seem to be setup to push paid experiences a bit but not as badly as I expected from other reviews. There’s not spamming of any paid content. That said a lot of the good content is behind the paywall but there are some nice free apps available.

My best experience on the Go is the game Bait. It’s a fishing game but it’s great. It feels very natural to play. There’s a good Netflix app as well that puts you in to a theatre like experience. It’s really neat for a wow factor but I’d rather just have an all enveloping screen that fills my vision.

There is a Plex app but I am not setup for Plex yet at home. I am told it is neat with the ability to watch things with friends in a theatre like room. Sounds interesting.

There are 360-degree videos that can be downloaded like rides on rollercoasters and so on that reek of “look at what we can do” demos. At least they are free. And to be honest, scared the living crap outta me as I have never been on a roller coaster in the past. I definitely recommend sitting while doing that.

There’s very little that would really improve this experience without breaking the whole point of a cheap device. I would like to see a higher resolution screen where I don’t see the pixels so easily. A larger battery is a must. I can see external batteries from third parties coming out for this thing.

I am incredibly impressed to see that Oculus doesn’t force you to setup a Facebook account to setup this device and instead allows that option and using an Oculus account (of which I did). I wish you could set the thing up without a phone though. There really is no reason to do this with a phone.

I am impressed how well the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 handles this device. I perceived no dropped frames and considering the device aims for 30 to 45 frames per second it felt very smooth. The lack of full 6 degrees of movement is not terrible either though sometimes I do catch myself moving my head forward as if to zoom in further.

All in all, I feel this is a great way to step into the world of virtual reality. It’s not perfect but it’s a great start.

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