Facebook Doubles Down on VR with Oculus Quest 2

on September 18, 2020

At its annual Virtual and Augmented Reality-focused event, now named Facebook Connect, Facebook announced that the Oculus Quest 2 would begin shipping in October with preorders open now. In addition to announcing the Quest 2 at the virtual event, the company also took the opportunity to talk about upcoming VR software (including an early-stage desktop experience), its research projects around AR, and its plans to ship a pair of smart glasses in partnership with Ray-Ban next year. Today I will focus on the Quest 2, its technical specs, its price, and its potential ramifications for the VR market.

Standalone VR
Today’s VR market offers three headset types: screenless viewers that use your smartphone screen (such as Samsung’s discontinued Gear VR); tethered headsets that connect to a PC to leverage its processing and graphics capabilities (such as the Rift S); and standalone products that are self-contained units. Since the launch of the original standalone Quest and competitive products from a growing list of other vendors, we’ve seen the standalone market explode in popularity with Facebook leading the charge and products a wide range of other vendors gaining momentum.

Standalone VR cannot push as many pixels as a tethered headset that can leverage a PC with a powerful CPU and GPU. But I find that standalone products help drive a more immersive experience because you are not dealing with the physical cable connection to the PC, which is constantly yanking you back out of the immersive experience. And last year, Facebook launched a beta version of Oculus Link that lets you use a USB cable to connect the -first generation Quest to a PC to achieve tethered-like performance for apps that only run on the PC.

Throughout the pandemic, as my family and I have sheltered and worked from home, my kids and I have been using the original Quest to play a growing list of games. I have also been enjoying the fitness app Supernatural. What I have not really done is use it for anything related to work. The fact is, if VR as a technology and a platform had been further along at the start of 2020 (and headsets had been more widely available), the pandemic could have been the catalyst for a significant shift to VR for virtual meetings, training, collaboration, events, and more. To be sure, all these things are happening, but not at scale. However, the shifts set in motion by COVID-19 will be a major catalyst for both consumer and commercial adoption; it will just take some time. The Quest 2 positions Facebook to drive much of that next wave of adoption.

Evolutionary Updates
As noted, I have used the original Quest extensively, and it is a very good product that Facebook has made better with regular updates. With Quest 2, Facebook clearly focused on iterative improvements rather than a radical rethink. Perhaps the most notable specification changes are the processor and the screen. Quest 2 features Qualcomm’s new XR2 processor supported by 6GB of RAM and a single, fast-switching LCD rated at 1832 x 1920 per eye, versus the Quest’s dual OLED panels. Facebook says the display can support a 90Hz refresh rate (but it won’t at launch). Facebook also tweaked the Touch controllers and says the new ones will be more ergonomic than the current ones.

These evolutionary changes should drive a better experience when it comes to both consumer uses cases such as gaming, as well as commercial use cases such as training and collaboration. Facebook clearly believes the Quest 2 has enough horsepower to be its primary VR product, as it announced that it would discontinue its tethered Rift S hardware in 2021.

Perhaps the most important news around the Quest, though, is its price. Facebook chopped $100 off the price of the new headset versus the original Quest, which means the entry-level version with 64GB of storage starts at $299 versus $399. A version with 256GB of storage sells for $399. The company is taking orders now, and the product will ship in late October.

I have yet to test the new Quest 2, but initial tech press reviews are mostly positive. However, not everyone is enamored with some of the changes Facebook has made to the physical design of the headset or the new touch controllers. Some complain that to hit the new price point Facebook had to cut too many corners in the design.

Too Much Social?
Facebook has worked hard since the launch of Quest to drive VR adoption and has stood up its Oculus for Business group to focus on commercial use cases. However, in the end, it is still Facebook, and at its core, it is a social networking company. As such, it has recently decided that in October, all new Oculus headsets must log in using a Facebook account, versus using a new or existing separate Oculus account. This will allow Facebook to serve up personalized content and ads inside the Oculus experience.

As you might imagine, many Oculus users are not happy about this move. It is not clear if this will impact Oculus for Business users, but I know from talking to many organizations looking at VR for commercial use cases that they find any ties to social problematic at best. I also have mixed feelings about the Facebook account requirement but will reserve judgment until I see the implementation.

Based on the information we are seeing from our supply-side analysts, Facebook expects to ship a huge number of the Quest 2s in the second half of this year. I expect that to be a mix of consumer and commercial shipments, as the company leans into its Oculus for Business offering. I’ll be watching closely to see how the market reacts to this new offering, and how Facebook’s competitors respond as we close out 2020 and head into a new year.