The Oculus Quest is a standalone VR headset that runs games on a Snapdragon 835 rather than relying on a PC headset. This gives the headset far more flexibility when it comes to an untethered VR experience, but it also means the platform has been limited to running games that can be run on a Snapdragon 835 as opposed to titles that require something more muscular. Beat Saber? Absolutely no problem. No Man’s Sky? Not happening as a native title. Ultimately, Oculus launched the Rift S as a mild update to the original Oculus Rift, with improved resolution and no inter pupillary distance (IPD) slider.
It looks as though Oculus Quest buyers are getting a major free update. In November, Facebook intends to launch a new feature, Oculus Link, that will allow any Oculus Quest to be attached to a PC using a USB-C cable. “Your Quest is basically a Rift now, too,” Zuckerberg told the crowd during the conference’s keynote address.
As software features go, this one is dynamite. Turning the Quest into a Rift means adding an entire suite of playable experiences and capabilities that the Quest itself can’t run natively, assuming, of course, that all of this is as turnkey as smooth as it’s supposed to be. Supposedly, most USB-C cables should work, but we don’t know yet if that’s actually the case (USB-C cable compatibility has been a notorious problem across all manner of peripherals and devices, so this issue isn’t unique or specific to Oculus). Oculus will be selling their own USB-C cable to work with the feature.
According to comments on Reddit, this mode will not require the use of a GPU with a USB-C port and can even be hooked to USB 3.0 ports on your PC. Oculus employee HiFiPotato writes on Reddit that “Most USB 3 ports should work” and that both A-to-C and C-to-C cables should work for this process. According to him, “You can use most usb 3 ports. You don’t need one directly on your GPU.” He confirms, however, that native rendering for games will be handled entirely by the dGPU, not by the Snapdragon 835. If enough power is available, the headset will charge and play simultaneously. It is not clear if the lower refresh rate on Quest (72Hz compared to 90Hz for the original Rift and 80Hz for the Rift S) will be a significant issue.
The Quest will also be adding hand tracking support in early 2020, according to Zuckerberg. The displayed demo showed hand- and finger-tracking being done by the Quest’s cameras. There’s no word on whether the Rift S will support this feature.
After Kinect, it’s not clear how useful the ability to track a user’s hands will practically be, but it could theoretically allow for controller-less gameplay in boxing sims or other applications where the goal is to highlight what the user can do with their own hands rather than requiring controller inputs.
The Quest upgrade is a pretty major feature, in my opinion. Obviously, we want to see how PC titles actually look on it, and whether Oculus’ USB 3 pass-through results in a satisfactory gaming experience, but the ability to use the Quest on a PC in addition to using it as a standalone is transformative. This is a capability that no other Rift headset has, and it could help make VR accessible to a wider gaming audience while avoiding the problem of fragmenting the player base across different VR solutions.