Great offline VR experiences are quickly defined by how comfortable the headset is, the amount and quality of games available, and the price of the headset. Oculus has been working hard to make sure its upcoming Go headset ticks all those boxes, and at GDC 2018 the Oculus booth puts the headset front and center to showcase just how successful that experience will be.
After a few minutes in those demos and chatting with developers offering games for the new headset, it was clear that Oculus was gearing up for this launch to be a huge success.
The Oculus Go is a standalone headset, which means the computer is built in. No phone to connect, no computer to connect and accessories to connect. You press the power button on the top of the headset and the software immediately springs to life. It doesn’t get much easier.
Everything Oculus has done to make these speakers work is impressive because they are fantastic and people will love them.
Because the computer is baked straight out, the headset is a bit heavier than you might expect from looking at it. The Oculus Go has a mostly plastic body, with a bit of fabric and rubber material where you put your eyes. It doesn’t scream «premium» when you look at it, but the design is undeniably Oculus. Down to the unique shapes made by the straps and railings on the sides, it looks like the little brother of the Oculus Rift — which helps add some surprise when you pick up the body and find it’s about the same weight.
With the power and volume buttons at the top and the Micro-USB port located next to the headphone jack on the side, it’s clear that the design isn’t so much aesthetically pleasing as it is more functional. You won’t find side buttons on the body to navigate the Oculus interface. Everything you do inside a real headset is controlled with the included Three Degrees of Freedom (3DoF) controller. If you’ve ever used a Gear VR controller, it will feel familiar enough, but this design is a bit more cylindrical and the buttons fit more snugly into the body.
Although the headset has a headphone jack, you may never need to use it. The Oculus Go has built-in speakers, and perhaps the biggest trick to this design is how well these speakers are hidden. You won’t see any obvious holes in the design because they are built into the straps. They are loud too. Sitting in a noisy conference room did little to stop them from fully immersing me in the game I was playing. Everything Oculus has done to make these speakers work is impressive because they are fantastic and people will love them. At the same time, I am very happy that there is a real headphone jack for private VR sessions.
The interior of the Oculus Go is as close to perfect as you can get with something this size. The lenses are surrounded by a dark matte black material that tries to keep light from reflecting around it. This is a problem with many other headsets, and it’s good to see that it’s done so well here. Very little light seeps into the headset from the outside, and very little light from the inside illuminates the surface around the lenses. This means you get nice deep black bezels around the lenses, which helps them feel bigger than they are. They don’t look noticeably different from the Gear VR lenses from the outside, but when you combine the way the Oculus Go increases the eye buffer to 1280×1280 (Gear VR 1024×1024) with the way it reduces lighting issues on the other side of the lenses, you get more immersive VR experience.
Oculus Go feels like the culmination of years of research into previous Oculus releases, including many revisions of Gear VR and Oculus Rift. The headset itself looks almost minimalist compared to its other designs, no doubt an attempt to keep costs down, making every inch of this headset useful in some way. Even the face pad, the part that rests on your skin, looks somehow more purposeful. The rubber material will be easy to clean and the bending of the material helps to avoid the headset from being pulled too tight on the face.
Simply put, we don’t know much about software yet. Oculus hasn’t let anyone take a trip to the home interface, but there are some things we know for sure. First, this headset is built on a special version of Android that most people will never see. When you turn on the headset, expect to see a very Oculus-like store and navigation bar. Think about Oculus’ gaming console interface and you’ll know what to expect when this headset finally becomes available.
We also know that Oculus is focusing heavily on three important things to launch this headset. We first heard about it at Oculus Connect 4 last October: the company wants developers to bring as many Gear VR games to Oculus Go as possible to keep the store looking nice and full at launch. Second, Oculus is working with third-party developers to create experiences that encourage users to wear their headphones every day. It could be competitive games, replayable games, or apps with a deeply social aspect, but either way, Oculus wants to make sure people have a lot of reasons to use a headset all the time and people want to take it with them. Third, Oculus wants to keep the social momentum going with the Oculus Go. The ability to play games, watch moves, or just chat in a visual space with friends have all been great ideas for other headsets, but on the go, this experience will be prioritized.