Let me tell you what it’s like to purchase, own, and use a high-end VR headset like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
Stage One can only be described as transportive euphoria–that feeling that you are experiencing a fantastic new technological medium that can take you anywhere, tell you any story, make you feel and suffer and laugh in bold new ways. Star Trek fans are likely to use the word “holodeck” unironically.
And so you give your VR rig a primo spot in your living room or den or home office. And with it comes all the necessary accoutrements: To make this thing work properly you’ll need a high-end desktop PC (and I do mean “desktop PC”–laptop and Mac users need not apply, with few exceptions), plus a whole lot of thick cords that give the headset a signal and power.
Oh, and lets not forget the sensors you’ll need to place in different corners of the room so the system can track your movements as you meander through virtual space. That’s more gear and more cords and even less fung shui.
Speaking of which: You’ll probably need to move some furniture around too. After all, nothing takes you out of the virtual world quite like bumping shin-first into a coffee table.
And so you live with this setup for a period, eager to show off the wonders of VR to anybody who comes through your doors. You become an ambassador for the medium. A guru willing to give others a glimpse of the future via Tilt Brush or Thumper.
But then something happens. You (or God forbid, your roommate or romantic partner) begin to miss having a normal living room, as opposed to one given over to The Matrix. You slowly move all this gear into a corner, and your coffee table reclaims its rightful place.
And with all the gear stashed in a corner, you find yourself using it a whole lot less. After all: Setting up a such a complex rig for a quick trip to the virtual world just doesn’t seem worth it when you can plop down on your sofa and watch Netflix without any effort.
And so, locked out of the daily (or even weekly) rotation of your life, it’s only a matter of time before the whole rig makes its way into the closet. And once it’s in there, it may never come back out again.
Call it the Rock Band Effect: This is what inevitably happens to non-essential room-hogging gadgetry. After all, how many plastic drum kits and guitars from the once-hot music game now sit in closets, unused and unloved?
Which is all a long way of saying: The Oculus Go is a game-changing device, and probably the best pure gadget of 2018.
The Oculus Go is, of course, the company’s new mass-market VR device. A $199 headset that works without the need of a separate PC (or all those pesky wires), yet delivers an experience that far surpasses what can be produced with a phone-based VR experience.
To be clear, shrinking everything down to single wireless headset involves some sacrifices. You won’t get roomscale (that is, the ability to walk through a physical space and have it track to the virtual space) or the zillion-axis remote tracking found on a top-end headset. Still I found that, for most casual users, the upsides of a portable and convenient product more than make up for this. And boy is that price right.
The Go barely takes up more room than a set of ski goggles. It can fit in a drawer, rather than requiring a closet. It takes seconds to put on and get started. It’s easy. It’s rewarding. It charges via a standard phone charger. And, quite simply, it works works. And freed from the tyranny of tangled cords, I find myself using this thing far more than I expected.
(Oh, and as a bonus, a huge number of paid VR apps are available for free in the Oculus store as of press time. It feels like Oculus really wants new users to explore all the device can do, and is giving away some really great games and experiences to get folks started.)
Of course, this product ain’t perfect. Like any VR headset, wearing it for too long presents comfort (and face sweat!) issues, and while the multi-hour battery life is impressive, it goes fast–and you better remember to plug it back in or you’ll be waiting awhile.
Its casual ease also brings to the forefront some of the challenges that face VR in general, as the format fights to join the ranks of mass-market media. In particular: Just how isolating and alienating it can be. If you think it’s rude for somebody to put in headphones while you’re in the room with them, putting on a VR headset is basically this times 100. If I’m at home with a friend, we can watch a movie or play a game together on a TV. But with VR, things are typically a solo act–and without a tethered computer and monitor to share what you’re seeing, it’s even more isolating than an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
Still, I’m a fan. Even if the Go is an isolating product, it’s also a very small one that doesn’t dominate my living room or my life. If VR is going to succeed, this may be what it looks like: Portable, practical, and easily grabbable. And for this, the Go rocks: A remarkable piece of technology that I highly reccomend for anybody even mildly curious about VR.