Well, in the middle of a relatively routine day in the life of an academic librarian, a couple of cardboard boxes arrived at my office door. Carefully cutting them open with my trusty Swiss army knife, I was face-to-face with two shrink-wrapped boxes from Meta: my new Meta Quest 2 wireless VR headset, plus an Elite Strap with Battery add-on:
As I wrote earlier this month, because of some unusual circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, I still had some unused professional travel and expense funds which I had to spend—or lose—by the end of this June, so I decided to spend some of them on a test unit for the virtual reality lab project I am currently working on.
And—as it just so happens—today was also the day that I picked up my brand new work cellphone, an iPhone SE running iOS 16. (The university where I work is slowly replacing its voice-over-IP office telephones with cellphones, because it’s actually cheaper to do that now!) So, not only do I have a shiny new Meta Quest 2, I also have a shiny new cellphone to use to set it up!
Which means, of course, that I am not tainting my personal cellphone by installing the Oculus/Meta/whatever-the-hell-they-are-calling-it-this-year app on it! In my personal life, I am still enacting a personal boycott of Meta hardware and software but, as I said in an earlier blogpost, I am willing to give the company’s hardware a shake, to see how well it would fit into an educational environment, i.e. a virtual reality lab for faculty, staff, and student use in teaching, learning, and research. (Also, the Meta Quest 2 represents a sizeable chunk of the current virtual reality market, and there are many apps which are exclusive to the device, and not available on Steam.)
Because I plan to load many different apps, I opted for the model with 256 gigabytes of memory, as well as the more comfortable elite strap with a battery pack, located on the back of the head to redistribute the unit’s weight a little better (I hope!). With these two upgrades to the base model, I guess you could call this the “deluxe” Quest 2.
So, I am writing up something I had never thought I would: a hands-on review of the Meta Quest 2 wireless virtual reality headset! (While I am, to put it mildly, absolutely not a fan of Meta’s surveillance capitalism business model, I do think that the company’s VR hardware is good. I have previously been an owner of an Oculus Rift, now quietly gathering dust in its box in a corner of my Red-Cross-disaster-area apartment, plus an original-version Oculus Quest 1, since donated to my brother’s family in Alberta where, as far I am aware, they are not using it, either.)
First, I tackled the box with the Meta Quest 2 headset package, which includes the hand controllers:
The headset comes with a standard foam faceplate, as well as a silicone cover for the foam faceplate, which makes it easier to sanitize between users (you can request a free, completely-silicone faceplate here). There’s also a glasses spacer to insert if, like me, you wear spectacles in order to see properly. The lenses themselves have three positions; you can move the lenses left or right to get the clearest view.
Just pull the tabs on the hand controllers, press down on the side button on the headset for 2-3 seconds, and adjust the straps to fit the headset over your head. (My glasses, which fit into both my Valve Index headset at home and my HTC Vive Pro 2 headset at work, just barely fit into the Meta Quest 2—if my glasses were any wider, I would have had to get new glasses!). You are directed to plug in the headset to charge it using the included cable, and you are given a code which you can use to pair the device to your Meta Quest app on your cellphone.
On first try, the Meta Quest 2 with the basic headstrap feels very front-heavy (I will be unpacking the elite head strap with the battery pack later). The charging cable is waaay too short for my liking, but that’s a minor quibble. You are, of course, supposed to avoid getting direct sunlight on the lenses of the Meta Quest 2, and clean them carefully with a microfibre cloth (not included, unlike other headsets I have purchased in the past). No matter, I have quite a few already! The hand controllers already come with starter batteries (AA alkaline disposable batteries; unfortunately, there’s no charging cable, charging dock, or rechargeable battery system for the controllers included in the box).
Like most VR devices you buy nowadays, the paper documentation is sparse (essentially a reference guide leaflet and a safety and warranty guide), but you are referred to a website to help you get your Quest 2 set up. You will require an iPhone (Apple iOS 12.4 or higher) or an Android phone (Android 5.0 or higher) to set up the Meta Quest 2, using apps which are available from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, respectively. Your phone must be connected to WiFi and have Bluetooth turned on, in order to use the Meta Quest mobile app to set up your Quest 2 headset. Because the Meta Quest app was the first-ever purchase on my new work iPhone, I had to first accept the Apple Store terms and conditions, and add a payment method (in this case, my work travel Visa card), even though the Meta Quest app itself is free.
The Meta Quest app now gives you three options to set up an account: through Facebook (oh, HELL no!), Instagram (also, HELL no!), or with an email address (all the better to spam you with promo offers, my dear!). The login screen on the Meta Quest app also mentions the former Oculus accounts, if you happen to have one of those from a previous VR device (I had deleted mine when I enacted my personal boycott of all things Meta). So many options make things a little complicated, so there’s more info on the Meta website here and here. I opted to set up a new Meta account using an email address I had not used before. Please note that according to the terms of service, you must be at least 13 years of age to set up a Meta account (14 if you live in South Korea or Spain).
Once you jump through all the rigmarole with setting up a Meta account itself, you are asked to go through more steps to set up a unique username, a display name, and my profile picture (I skipped the last one for now). You are also asked to create a Meta Quest PIN, used to authorize purchases in the Meta Quest Store. Then you are prompted to enter a credit card or PayPal information, which I also skipped for now.
Finally, you are asked to select your device from a menu in the Meta Quest app on your cellphone (Quest Pro, Quest 2, Quest 1, Rift/Rift S, or Go), and then you put on your headset and go through the rest of the set-up process, such as connecting to your local WiFi. You will likely have to let the device automatically download and install several updates, so be sure to plug it in so it is fully charged! The headset will make a sound when its software has been completely updated, and it is ready for you to put back on, and complete the setup process (setting floor depth and play boundaries, practice recentering your view using the Meta button on your controllers, etc.).
All in all, the entire setup process took me about an hour. Then, I spent about fifteen minutes perusing the wide variety of avatar customization options, putting together my first avatar look, when I then saved. After that, I browsed the Meta Quest store.
The first app I downloaded was the free Felix & Paul Studios app, which includes a number of immersive experiences that I have, in the past, found very useful as an introduction to virtual reality for newbies. I suspect that I will probably be using the Meta Quest 2 more often for this sort of VR orientation, as opposed to my tethered HTC Vive Pro 2 setup, since there are no cables for the user to get entangled with! Sometimes simplest is best.
I found the display to be clean, crisp, and clear, a marked improvement over the original Oculus/Meta Quest (version 1). Instead of a dial, the Meta Quest 2 features three presets for IPD adjustment: preset 1 is 58mm, preset 2 is 63mm, and preset 3 is 68mm. While I would have preferred a dial, preset 2 seems to work well for me.
Another app I was very curious to try out was Meta Horizon Worlds (or just Horizon Worlds), about which I have heard much from other people, but have not actually experienced it for myself! I will write up my impressions on Horizon Worlds in a separate, later review. I will also write up a separate review of the elite headstrap with battery, after I have played around with the base unit for a while, and can compare the two. Stay tuned for more!
UPDATE 2:28 p.m.: Well, I unpacked the elite headstrap with battery pack and replaced the basic head strap with it. The elite headstrap plugs into the power socket of the Meta Quest 2 headset itself, and then you connect the entire apparatus to a power outlet to charge it. I was also expecting it to be a major hassle to replace the head strap, and it turned out to be an extremely simple process!
I’m letting it charge now, and then I will test it out later today or perhaps tomorrow, once it’s fully charged (it takes between 3 and 4 hours, according to my internet research). Just by hefting the unit in my hand, I can already tell that it has a much more even weight distribution now!
Why they didn’t just include this in the basic model is beyond me. I guess Meta really wanted to cut wherever they could to have a base unit at as low a price as possible to entice consumers (which would also explain why the charging cable is so short!).
UPDATE 4:27 p.m.: The device still isn’t fully charged, but I did try it on for size, and it takes a bit of adjusting and fidgeting (especially with my glasses!), but one I hit that sweet spot, it’s great! Think is a very nice piece of hardware. I also spent a bit of time visiting Horizon Worlds, but for some annoying reason, I cannot seem to transfer the camera pictures I took there to my cellphone (and I am NOT setting up accounts on Facebook or Instagram again, just to transfer in-world photos out!). Once I figure out that particular problem, and perhaps spend a little more time in Horizon Worlds over the next week or so, I will write up a review of that.
So, in summary: the Meta Quest 2 is a very nice piece of VR hardware, but definitely buy the elite head strap with the battery, it does make a big difference in overall comfort and wearability!