How New VR Tech Made Me a True Believer

It’s not just for games anymore

Key Takeaways

  • I never thought I would understand the allure of virtual reality after being burned by my Oculus Go purchase. 
  • The release of the Oculus Quest 2 changed everything for me as I could use the headset without getting motion sickness. 
  • I realized that watching movies and working in virtual reality is better than on a regular screen.
Someone using a boxing virtual simulator in the form of a VR headset and controllers.
Mordolff / Getty Images

I used to sneer at virtual reality (VR). At best, it seemed like a waste of time. At worst, a distraction from living life to the fullest in the real world. 

Not anymore. A combination of reasonably priced high-quality VR headsets, great apps, and pandemic lockdowns have made me a convert. Virtual reality has undergone a quiet revolution in the p ast year that has made doing everything from gaming to work a real possibility.

I toyed with past VR headsets, but they always left me wanting. Blocky graphics marred earlier generations of headsets. I also hated the idea of being tethered to a desktop the way some VR gear demanded. 

"Using productivity apps on the Oculus was a revelation. I suddenly understood why people have been babbling about the potential for VR for decades."

Reality Crashes Down with the Oculus Go

The first VR headset to catch my imagination was the Oculus Go, which offered a reasonably polished design and a reasonable price. I loved the freedom of having a headset that you didn’t need to connect to a computer.

I tinkered with the Go for more than a year because it was a taste of the future. There was something thrilling about being able to escape from the world so totally. 

Some great games were released for the headset. I even found a reader app that allowed me to read books in virtual reality. For someone with poor eyesight like me, being able to read books on a gigantic screen suspended in front of my face without having to hold anything was incredible. 

But the Go had serious flaws. Like many people, I found that using the Go made me nauseous, which can quickly take away the joy from virtual reality. 

Nausea made me toss the Go into my junk pile of discarded technology. The headset was also bulky and uncomfortable, and the graphics were lacking. I thought my time with VR was over.

Oculus Quest 2 Brings Me Back

Then the pandemic hit, and Facebook released its Oculus Quest 2. The first Quest has dual OLED screens at 1600x1440 resolution with a 72Hz refresh rate. But the Quest 2 has a single LCD that switches between eyes at 1832X1920 pixels per eye. The headset was released with a 72Hz refresh rate, and with a software update, it now runs at 90Hz.

Someone using VR technology in 3D engineering.
da-kuk / Getty Images

Facebook is rumored to be bumping that to an even higher refresh rate. Experts say that the higher refresh rate could make the virtual experience more realistic and make things like motion sickness much less of a problem. 

I bought the Quest 2 on a whim, curious about all the buzz on the internet and the positive reviews. The timing of its arrival was perfect. The coronavirus pandemic was whipsawing through the country, and my area was under lockdown. Bored and frustrated with the inside of my house, I was ready for a change of scenery, even if it was virtual. 

On the outside, the Quest 2 didn’t seem very different from the Go. It’s got the same white body and dual controllers. I soon realized that appearances were deceiving. Once I strapped on the headset and powered up the device, I quickly was sucked into an entirely new experience.

The first thing I noticed was what I wasn’t experiencing. No motion sickness. Maybe it was a higher resolution or a higher refresh rate, but suddenly I could watch the screen all I wanted and never feel sick. 

Watching Movies on the Quest Is Incredible

At this point, though, I still considered the Quest a toy. I figured I would check out the latest games and watch some videos. And it turns out that watching videos on the Quest is an incredible experience. The screen quality doesn’t match my late-model iPad, but it’s more than acceptable. 

The Quest’s immersive experience is entirely unlike watching a movie on a regular TV or a tablet. With a good quality pair of headphones, it feels like you are transported to a movie theater. For the first time in months, while watching Netflix on the Quest, it felt like I had finally escaped the endless doomscrolling and horrible headlines. 

“The immersive experience of the Quest is entirely unlike watching a movie on a regular TV or a tablet.”

Then I discovered the array of fitness programs available on the Oculus store. I was skeptical at first, because I couldn't imagine exercising with a headset on. But my fitness level had plummeted while I was locked in my home, so I was ready to try anything. 

I took Holofit VR out for a spin and was instantly charmed by the ability to virtually ride through the streets of Paris while on my exercise bike.

Even better was Supernatural, an app that runs you through many different fitness regimes while transporting you to places like Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China. The headset got sweaty, but I had a lot more fun than I could have imagined with these fitness apps. 

If virtual reality could make fitness entertaining while stuck at home, maybe it could do the same to work? That’s the question I posed as I explored the limited world of productivity apps on the Oculus store.

It seemed unlikely, but I was ready to try anything after months of staring at only my MacBook screen and four walls. 

Working Better in VR

With low expectations, I downloaded Immersed, an app that lets you work while in different environments ranging from inside a cave to outer space. You easily can connect your PC to the headset and work on virtual monitors.

Someone sitting on the floor using VR technology in front of book shelves.
Xsandra / Getty Images

I immediately found Immersed to be a great way to focus. Instantly, all the distractions of my home were cut off. No more ringing phones or dishwashers that needed loading. After a couple of hours in Immersed, I was more productive than I’d been for weeks. 

Using productivity apps on the Oculus was a revelation. I suddenly understood why people have been babbling about the potential for VR for decades.

I had gotten things done while in virtual reality, and it worked better than it would have in real life. This was the Holy Grail of technology. I couldn’t shut up about it to my friends and family. 

During my months on the Oculus Quest, my enthusiasm for VR has only been slightly dimmed by bloodshot eyes and a semi-permanent mark on my forehead where the headset rests. The hardware has a ways to go, and the software will only get better. I’m in for the long haul.

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