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Oculus Go feels like great value for VR newbies

Hands-on with a self-contained VR unit

Oculus Go

Facebook can’t seem to do much right these days, but its new virtual reality device Oculus Go already looks like a winner.

I tried Oculus Go during a series of short demos at the Oculus booth at the Game Developers Conference this week, and came away persuaded that this is a product that will find favor among consumers.

At $199, it offers significant value. Oculus Go is also an easy-to-understand proposition that ought to provide useful fodder to gadget marketers when Christmas rolls around.

Oculus Go is a self-contained virtual reality unit that sits someplace between the high-end PC-tethered Oculus Rift and the mobile phone-attached Gear VR. Unlike those products, it requires no external device — the whole thing is in the headset. This significantly reduces the need for cables and clamps.

It sits on the face, very comfortably, with lightweight Velcro adjustment straps placed at the temples and at the crown of the head. A power switch sits above the eyes, along with a volume controller.

The device feels spongy and natural on the face, a testament to its use of comfortable fabrics. It offers a headphone jack, but I found the internal speakers to be sufficiently useful, even amid the din of a trade convention.

So far as aesthetics go, my only beef is that, at this stage, Oculus Go’s spartan design extends to a gray finish that looks like something out of a 1970s hospital. Doubtless, more colorful options will be introduced later.

Oculus Go with controller
Oculus Go with controller

The single controller is an elegant thumb touchpad. But this is where Oculus Go begins to show its limitations. The controller only offers three degrees of movement. I played a game of Catan VR and was able to manipulate dice and cards using a wand-like pointer, but could not reach into the world, as I’d be able to do with a Rift. When I moved forward, the table moved away from me. I sometimes found it fiddly to place my pieces on the board, and envied the freedom of my opponents, who were using Rifts.

For someone unused to six degrees of freedom, this basic offering might feel like a new world of VR wonder, but to me, it feels frustratingly retrograde. The tracking is all based on head movement and the controller, which I feel is like a half-assed version of VR. Even so, for the millions of people who are curious about VR, especially kids, this ought to be a good starting point.

I also played space shooter Anshar Online, in which I moved my head to dodge asteroids and hunt down enemies. It was fine, if a little simplistic. They Suspect Nothing, another simple game, is about directing a little robot to collect and deliver stuff, while avoiding evil robots. Visuals are impressively crisp — certainly cleaner than on the Gear VR — though we haven’t yet seen anything other than non-organics. Full technical specifications are yet to be released.

As it stands, Oculus Go looks like a solid low-end introduction to VR, at a highly attractive price. With developer kits out in the wild, I’m hoping to see more ambitious games that really attempt to immerse players in fully surrounding worlds, rather than fairly anemic takes on board game and video game standards.

Oculus has yet to announce a release date for Go, though a recent report in Variety suggests it could arrive in May. The company previously gave an “early 2018” launch window.

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