Facebook’s new Oculus Go increases access to high-quality VR

Imagine finding yourself at the top of a thrilling roller coaster, traveling through a vein in the human body, or being transported to the bustle of a faraway city — all without leaving your room. With Facebook’s new Oculus Go, I was able to treat my mother to a gondola ride through Venice on Mother’s Day!

Having had a side passion for VR for a while, I’ve created a couple of small React VR apps and given talks on VR and its implications for science, medicine, education, and journalism. I’ve also owned a few Google Cardboard headsets, which were terrific for their price, but I always wanted something more.

I was reluctant to buy the Oculus Rift because of its cost and additional hardware requirements (including a PC with Oculus’ recommended specs). I’d kept holding out for something high-quality but affordable that would fit my needs. Then — fully standalone, starting at under $200, with access to hundreds of high-quality virtual reality apps — the Oculus Go came along.

Two versions of the Oculus Go are available: the 32GB ($199) and the 64GB versions ($249). I purchased the 64GB device because, while I currently don’t feel the need to download a ton of 360 degree videos, I want room to grow my VR experiences and interests.

Once my package arrived, I eagerly tore it open and began setting it up. The directions first required me to download the Oculus app on my phone. The app took me through a series of set-up instructions, including adding a lanyard and battery (included) to my controller, to be used as a pointer and remote in my VR world. I put on the headset and an introductory program walked me through the menu display and available apps, allowed me to customize my home environment — I selected beautiful Horseshoe Bend, Arizona — and showed me how to use my controller.

After playing around with my headset for most of the weekend, I find the Oculus Go has exceeded my expectations. I’m delighted with my purchase. That said, it’s not perfect.

Cons:

  • Oculus is owned by Facebook. (shudder). As a result, when you enter an app, you will be asked if you want the headset to have access to various things — photos, the microphone, etc. — on your phone. You can always press “Deny,” but sometimes a small, fine-print message will pop up that says that, during the duration of your usage of the app, Oculus may collect information on you and how you interact with the application.
  • The Oculus Go is limited to three ranges of movement — up, down, and around. Taking steps forward and backward, bending down, etc., will not be reflected in the world of the headset.
  • The latency — the time it takes for the visual to match up with your head motions — isn’t 100% consistent quality and can sometimes cause queasiness.

Pros:

  • I find the image quality incredibly crisp.
  • The Oculus Go offers access to hundreds of applications, ranging from educational experiences to immersive journalism to action-packed games.
  • Sound comes through the headset straps, leading to a fully immersive audio experience.
  • The included controller gives you great access and control.
  • The device comes with an eyeglasses spacer, making it comfortable for users wearing glasses.

Some of my favorite (free!) Oculus Go apps so far:

  • NYT VR – NYT VR has tons of free, short, documentary-style experiences. I found myself among the protesters at March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and climbed to the top of the World Trade Center in NYC.
  • Smithsonian Journeys: VR – With a professor of Italian history as my personal guide, I went on a gondola tour through Venice and saw Marco Polo’s house!
  • The Body VR – I dove inside the human body and hurtled through the bloodstream, learning — thanks to a voiceover guide — about white blood cells, red blood cells, and more. Along the way, I watched a tear in a human vein repair itself.
  • Guided Meditation VR – With this app, you can customize your meditation environment — from under the shimmering Northern Lights to in front of a Japanese temple under falling cherry blossoms — select your music, and choose whether or not you want a guided meditation experience.
  • Epic Roller Coasters – A classic VR experience. Warning: Not for the faint of heart.

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