Your Oculus VR Headset Now Listens When You Speak

It’s better than waving controllers

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook is rolling out an update that lets the Oculus Quest 2 listen for voice commands.
  • Bypassing the controllers makes navigating the world of VR much easier.
  • Privacy is one concern with the new listening feature.
Transparent person enjoying the experience of virtual reality in front of an ocean and valley
Yagi Studio / Getty Images

"Hey, Facebook," I said. "Open the browser."

And with that command, I began a revolutionary experience with my Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset. Oculus is rolling out an update that lets the headset listen for voice commands, and I found bypassing the controllers to be a liberating experience that makes navigating the VR world much easier.

Voice control isn’t entirely new for the Oculus, of course. The company previously updated its software to let users control the device through voice commands. Still, until now, you needed to select Voice Commands from the home menu or double-press the Oculus controller button before giving an order.

"Using the voice commands made for a much more natural experience than I had expected."

Always Listening

The new update adds the "Hey Facebook" wake words to Quest 2, and Facebook says it plans to release the new feature to all Quest devices in the future. The wake word can be unlocked in the Experimental Features settings, then you can say things like "Hey Facebook, take a screenshot," "Hey Facebook, show me who’s online," "Hey Facebook, open Supernatural," or any other voice commands.

Using the voice commands made for a much more natural experience than I expected. The headset never had a problem understanding what I was trying to say, although, admittedly, the number of options is still somewhat limited with what you can do with the feature.

woman using her Oculus Quest 2 headset in front of a grey wall

With a simple "Hey Facebook," I was able to quickly launch apps and switch between browsing the web and starting a workout app. This feature saved quite a bit more time than it might seem because I’m usually fumbling around for the controllers. When I find the controllers, I have to make sure they’re pointed at precisely the right spot on the screens. Call me clumsy, but finding the right place to click usually takes me a few tries.

The experience made me realize that as good as the controllers on the Oculus Quest 2 are, they aren’t good enough. When I first started using the controllers, I found navigating through giant beams of light a lot of fun. It’s still an exciting experience, but trying to use controllers to switch between apps and type letters is still slow and clunky, even with practice.

"Until now, you needed to select Voice Commands from the home menu."

The fact is VR users need more and better ways to control their devices. Facebook has said it will be rolling out keyboard support, and the ability to type and use voice commands would be an awesome thing to behold. The Oculus productivity app Immersed currently has keyboard support, and I’m excited to give it a try.

Here’s a voice control trick I’ve discovered, too. If you open Google Docs in the Oculus browser, you can dictate into the document when you click the microphone icon on the keyboard. It works amazingly well, although editing documents is still about as awkward as you would expect.

Who Needs Privacy?

Privacy is one concern with the new listening feature. Facebook says the Quest doesn’t listen for the "Hey Facebook" wake word when the microphone is turned off or when the headset is asleep or powered down.

You have to opt in to use the "Hey Facebook" feature, but if you don’t want Facebook listening in, you still can use Voice Commands without the wake word via the existing button in the Home menu or double-pressing the Oculus controller button. And if you change your mind, you can turn off "Hey Facebook" in the Experimental Features panel.

Isometric rear view of the Oculus Quest 2

There’s also the ability to control whether your voice commands are stored and used for research, Facebook says. You can view, hear, and delete your voice commands activity, or turn off voice storage in your Settings.

I already assume that every aspect of my life is being monitored and stored for use. But I’m ready to give up any last semblance of privacy to have a virtual reality headset that responds to my every whim at the sound of my voice.

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