Hi. This is Jill from the Northwoods. So, there I was, in the midst of a pandemic hoping that I would not resort to sitting on a couch for the next six months. I exercise but some days it can be like pulling teeth. It’s even worse in the winters where there are cold days that are short and you just can’t get out. Also, by being stuck in my home and not traveling, I missed seeing the world. So, I started looking at gaming consoles, but I didn’t want to encourage myself to sit more and become a giant pandemic potato. Then I saw that my local store had Oculus Quests in stock. Nothing was in stock! This is too good to be true!
About Oculus Quest
Oculus Quest was released in May of 2019. It is a VR headset. It is different from other VR devices is that it does not need a computer to work. It is a standalone device mostly. It can be used tethered to a computer, but it doesn’t need to. Some of the other brands are a bit more expensive, have better video standards, and can run more powerful games because they are connected to other devices like a computer or a PlayStation. Some competitors are HP Reverb, HTC Vive, and Valve Index. They vary in the applications and technical stats. Oculus Quest slides right into the great price, best games, and apps, and solid performance.
Oculus Quest Hardware
The price was $399 for the 64 GB version or $499 for the 128 GB version. In the world of gaming systems, that isn’t so bad. Best Buy seems to be the best place to order them. They get them in stock regularly and do not price gouge. Sites, like Amazon and Walmart, have third-party sellers who raise the prices by hundreds of dollars. The size is the available storage on the Oculus does not really need to be bigger unless you have a larger family of users. Apart from the storage, the two devices are the same.
The video resolution is 1440 x 1600 per eye and a refresh rate of 72 Hz. The distance it expects you to see with or without glasses is six feet. There is a physical slide to change the interpupillary distance. The sound is built-in, but you can buy headphones to improve the sound and keep it from bugging everyone else.
The system relies on four wide-angle cameras located on each corner of the headset to spatially track the headset. You can use the PassThrough system by double-tapping the side of the device to see the room around you. It is a very grey and pixelated view of your world. I can check the cats and get a drink and make sure I am not wandering.
The headphones plug in with a short table to each side of the device. The device comes with two controllers that have several buttons. When you are in the game you can see images of the controllers or a simulated view of them. For example, in a boxing game, the controllers look like your fist with a protective wrap on them. It is different based on what you are doing.
They recently released hand controls without the controller. It tracks your hand and where the fingers are. A few games adopted this system as well as the main menu system. I suspect more games need the controller to track when the hands are not visible. The device expects to be used in a lighted room and not outside. The sun can damage the lenses. Cleaning is always done with a lens cloth and no chemicals which can wreck the device.
My Experience with Oculus Quest
I bought the 64 GB version and then my adventure began! The device is like wearing goggles with an iPhone at the end and a giant head strap to keep it on. It weighs 20.7 ounces and doesn’t feel too heavy. The first step is to design the boundaries and floor height. You draw the boundaries as if you had a virtual can of spray paint. With the controller, you indicate how low is your floor. It warns you if it seems something you might trip on in your boundaries. There is also a stationary boundary for the times you are watching something that requires no movement or the fishing game I like to play. If you move out of the boundary with your body or your hands it warns you.
The Reality of Virtual Reality
The first thing I was interested in seeing was the world of VR. I had heard so much about it but never really knew what it could do. I started with the demos and the free apps and some of the low-priced apps and they were fun. Usually, the apps get good reviews but if people complain it is because the games are too small or too short.
I noticed there were some interesting things like travel and video. All them for free! I started with Oculus Videos and found places around the world where you can experience amazing things. I hiked up Mt Everest and when I got to the top I looked behind me and it was a sheer drop! I hung out with the Silverback Gorillas for a while. I went into space with an ISS astronaut and he showed me neat things about being in orbit without making me feel woozy.
Then I turned to the Oculus Venus which include sports and comedy shows like you are sitting in an audience. I watched SpaceX put up a rocket and our astronauts go to ISS. I visit the Monterey Aquarium and see different parts of it. I visited the filming location of Picard and was able to look around and see the cameras and the director and the actors. I could see on the big screen at the top what the show would look like on TV. Stunning!
I expected games and fun, but all this free content was unexpected. There is so much more with YouTube VR and PrimeVR and Bigscreen and Netflix. There are some travel apps which include National Geographic Explorer which shows you some of the most amazing things on Earth. There are space apps for exploring our solar system and another for exploring ISS.
I found an app called Wander that uses Google Earth to produce the planet! I went to my childhood home and wandered around there for a while and decided to see if I could still remember how to walk to school. You could wander anywhere! It has a random place in the world button. This is awesome too just to see what is out there.
Gaming with Oculus Quest
Then came some games. I was able to become a Jedi! I would play Beat Sabers with music and blocks to chop! I played racquetball in space and ping pong and baseball. I could bowl, golf and climb mountains. There were some fighting games. I built some Rube Goldberg devices and painted things.
I enjoy the fishing game. It is very relaxing and fun. In my virtual fishing lodge, I have the fish in my virtual tank that I caught.
I tried a game where you float in space and throw balls to teammates to score goals. I hadn’t been sick on this thing like I feared but that game nearly did me in. As soon as I started to float, the headset came off and I was spending a bit getting grounded again. It is really amazing. As soon as you get into the dock you start to float and that did not sit well with me.
A funny thing happened to me where I was pitching in baseball and I looked behind me to see if that hit was a home run. I turn around and the catcher already threw the ball back to me and it was nearly at my head. I dropped to the ground to avoid it! Sometimes you have to remind yourself this is not real.
There are a few multiplayer games and some challenges across all players in a gaming community. The games are fun, but I find reality so much more interesting!
Oculus Quest with a Windows PC
When people want to connect a computer to the Oculus Quest, it is only for loading applications and games from steam and other sites that are not I the Oculus store. Most of the people and most of the time you never do this. Unfortunately, if you do want to connect to a computer, it only works with Windows and not Mac.
There are a few ways to connect this to your computer through an app or through a cable. People use it to play computer games and there are helper applications to play Minecraft with it. There are more VR games on Steam which you can also play with it. I have not yet tinkered with this much.
You can also load apps outside of the App store through a tool called SideQuest. It has a lot of free apps and games you can also play. I had to use this to get my rowing app loaded. It’s a bit tricky but not too complicated to get apps from your PC to the Oculus Quest.
There are also ways with Chromecast and Firestick Chromecast Apps to watch what another person sees in the Oculus. You can also see it with the Oculus app connected over Wi-Fi. You can watch other players in your house play games. Seems fun if you have a Beat Saber competition going with local players.
But let’s get back to the goal of this device. It was not to be a giant lump but to get more exercise. Since the pandemic, my step count has been nearly 1/3 of what it used to be. I exercise with a trainer, but she wants to see me get 240 minutes of cardio a week.
I was plugging long on a rower and all the other things I bought with the hope of exercising regularly. Her rule of cardio, for someone of my age, was anything that gets my heart rate over 128 consistently. I got there ok on a stair climber. Rowing is hard because it is sitting.
But then came the Oculus to the rescue. The first thing I did was FitXR (formerly BoxVR) They went in on getting fit as their sole purpose in Oculus Quest. I had my doubts but many of the exercises get my heart rate up past 140 and past 150 and for averages for 130+.
I asked my trainer sheepishly if this is ok for cardio since I am not really pushing or pulling anything for resistance, and she said people do Zumba or dance or other things, what’s different with this?
What mattered most was happening! I had a fun way to get cardio in. I have been now averaging double the steps I was before the device and getting 45 minutes of cardio a day! Every morning before work I do the workout of the day and in the evening, I do a random workout. Fun! www.fitxr.com for more information. There is a cost of the app and there are some expansion packs for songs and workouts. Because they took the direction of fitness rather than gaming, I expect to see a lot more from them.
Then came another app that is in testing phase called Holodia. It can work on a rower with Bluetooth like my Concept 2 Rower with a PM5 computer attached. Before I was just using the Bluetooth for stats. Now I could put on my Oculus and row in some simulated places on earth like Oxford, Paris, San Francisco, or Antarctica. I won’t even talk about why there was a polar bear there. I think the developers were just joking.
It also has weird tropical locations and space locations. There are some races and cardio challenges or you can just row. You can row against other players or past versions of yourself. It will work for a bike or a regular elliptical. There is a fee, but this was worthwhile for me.
I was able to knock out 30 minutes on a rower without constantly thinking if it was time to do something else. It also encourages me to go faster and not just slog through it. You can find out more about it www.holodia.com.
VZFit Explorer and Play
The last thing I tried for fitness is call VZFit Explorer. This is a biking VR experience that you can use on an elliptical as well. You have essentially Google Earth to ride your bike. They have some set places you can go. In the Oculus you see wherever you are biking. I use this on a cheap spinning bike.
I have biked in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Ireland and my favorite places I used to go as a kid. I am now doing the Iceland Ring Road. You must buy their cadence sensor and remote gadget which is low cost. For free you can ride whatever their daily ride is.
For a 10 dollar per month fee, you can create your own rides or pick rides that other people create. I do find there are times where has some odd motions like pull-offs in national parks or weird steep hills that don’t match the biking.
Hiking trails with a lot of turns are a bit weird because of the steering. You can steer by leaning your body or your head or have the app do it for you. I found the leaning was annoying, so I let the computer do it.
With VZ Fit Play they have some games you can play to rope cattle or find aliens or race other people on your rides. Overall, it works great and makes another potentially boring workout fun. Check out www.virzoom.com.
Accessories and WidmoVR
I did buy a few accessories which included a case, so the cats didn’t eat the device and I could pack the device and take it with me on trips. I got a cloth covering to sweat with. I also got some padding because it was scrunching my brow. That made it much more comfortable.
The interesting thing I bought for it was prescription lenses. I have very poor far-sighted and near-sighted vision. I think I have only a single inch of clear vision. While Oculus allowed me to wear glasses with an adapter that sets the screen out a bit. It worked ok with my regular glasses and with my computer glasses (near range). I found that exercise made my glasses fog up and my vision inside wasn’t that clear.
A company in Poland makes prescription lenses for it! They are easy to put in and take out. I can see perfectly with the Oculus on! It made the VR experiences more vivid for me. It made exercise more fun. I keep forgetting that when I take it off I have to put my glasses back on! It takes a bit to get these lenses because Poland is far away, but the wait was worth it. There are a few brands out there but I got mine from www.widmovr.com and they are fantastic and the people were great.
I have to say that I am excited about all these different workout options. When my work travel picks up again, I can pack this in my carry on and work out! I no longer have to work out in the hot, tiny hotel gyms. I know this is just the beginning of VR and hats off to Palmer Luckey for creating this amazing device.
I do in the end wish it were not owned by Facebook but alas you can’t do much about that. I did use my Facebook login before they forced users to do it. It made connecting with friends and purchasing apps easier. So far I can’t see any place they have used this data, but I know data mining can be invisible to us. I can’t think of a thing I got these last few months that made lockdown so much fun and so healthy and let me see the world right from my house. I am so excited about the future of VR.