I moved my workspace to VR, here's what I learnt, part 2
I spent two months working exclusively in virtual reality again. Is it better now? Can we embrace cyberpunk and ditch bulky and expensive display setups? Hold your horses! Here's what's what.
Hello, internet! I promised I'd come back in the previous article. Back in 2020, I was testing out Oculus Quest (yes, the first generation). A lot of things have changed since then. Facebook became Meta, and Oculus Quest became Meta Quest. Quest 2 came out, and then Quest Pro. And even though I tried repeating the 2020 experiment with Quest 2, it was too painful to continue working in VR. Everything changed with Quest Pro. Let me explain why.
Quest 2 didn't work out for me because we moved, and my "corner office" facing the white walls was gone. Instead, I got a whole room to myself where my setup was facing a nice view from the window. I didn't feel like I needed a VR workspace between the view and the couch where I spent concentrated hours with a single display, tinkering with various technical problems (I'm a developer by trade).
Then, luckily for this article (and for me in general), I became a father and lost the room to the little one. We moved my office to the den that I was laughing at when we first got the apartment. What a waste of space, right? Basically a smaller version of a walk-in closet! Back then, I quickly bought some sturdy plastic shelves from Home Depot on sale (like $15 each, can't argue with this bargain) and turned the den into a black hole of storage space. Little did I know I'd be spending a lot of time here after being evicted from the usual office location.
My "view" now consists of a MacBook display, a small shelf for the keyboard and trackpad neighboured by beans, nuts, yeast, hardware tools, air filters, toilet paper, dried mushrooms, salsa, more beans, a sizeable transparent bag of containers for recycling (I make a pilgrimage to the closest recycling station once every two months, hey, $20 is $20), vacuum cleaner, airsoft equipment, more beans, sewing machine, mustard, vinegar, more beans, you get the idea. Suddenly, I was in desperate need of making my workspace chicer, and I needed it soon.
On October 25, 2022, Quest Pro was unveiled. Honestly, I didn't care about the price — it was this or buying expensive displays or even moving. The rent in Vancouver has risen by at least 2-2.5 times since we moved in, so our current price is a steal. Having a 30-day return window sealed the deal for me, and I decided to purchase the item.
Weird quirk: make sure to get to the checkout after you enter the shipping address but before you pay on the Quest Pro store page. Otherwise, the delivery date would be way off. It showed me like the end of November when I tried to buy Quest Pro on the reveal date, but when I entered my mailing address, it updated to late October.
But first, how's gaming?
Gaming on Quest Pro is absolutely fantastic! Initially, I thought that not covering the bottom part of the headset would hurt immersiveness, but that turned out not to be the case. Since I got a nicely specced PC, I no longer play quest-only games — and instead use Virtual Desktop (buy it on Quest Store, not on Steam if you want to do the same) to stream the games over the air right to Quest Pro!
I use a gigabit router (TP-Link AX1500), and the PC is wired into it. My router and PC are constantly powered on somewhere deep in a closet. My PC doesn't even have a display attached. The Virtual Desktop daemon gets started on the Windows lock screen — so I don't need to rush into the closed every time I reboot the machine. However, I had to buy a dummy plug for one of the HDMI ports to trick the PC into thinking there was at least one display connected. Without it, for some reason, Virtual Desktop wasn't showing a display, only a black screen.
I game on Quest Pro without a charging cable connected, even though I have a good enough USB-C charging cable nearby that I used with Quest 2. It usually lasts around 2 hours in gaming mode, but it doesn't seem like I ever want to game any longer without breaks. After all, do you see any chairs in my setup? That's because I don't own a chair — and I always work and game in the standing position. I've been doing it since I did the setup from the previous article when I was too lazy to convert it to the seating position.
Some hardcore games require tinkering to get them right. This includes turning off non-1x resolution in Virtual Desktop and game settings, increasing the bitrate, and a few other peculiar settings. The Virtual Display's dev overlay is clutch at figuring out what's wrong — network, compression or the game itself. On the other hand, Half-Life 2 VR and Half-Life Alyx played well out of the box without any tinkering. So far, I've played:
- Skyrim VR (even with mods feels dated)
- Firewatch (don't know what was the hype about it)
- Half-Life 2 VR (this was amazing, maybe because it was my first time playing Half-Life)
- Half-Life Alyx (this was OK, I felt like the shootouts were worse than in Half-Life 2, and I hated the energic orbs throwing)
I played all these games for the first time (yes, I've never played Skyrim before), and all of it was cool. I rarely get stutters (maybe once per hour), but the image is primarily crisp. The screendoor effect in this gen of VR is virtually nonexistent. I wanted to play Fallout 4 in VR too, but I'm afraid that's not going to be fun (I explored the hell out of it in the non-VR version on PS4).
Overall, if you want to get your hands on gaming in VR, have an extra $1500 lying around and don't mind 1080p as opposed to 4k (like me), then Quest Pro for gaming is top-notch! I mention 1080p because this is how it feels at the moment playing VR titles, even though the resolution is already 4k-ish. Initially, I thought that the "felt" jump in resolution compared to Quest 2 was 10%-ish, but now I think my estimate is closer to 30%. I couldn't truly game on Quest 2 because I hated the resolution. This time though — I don't mind it for some reason.
Now, what about working?
Working with Quest Pro is a blast! To give you some context: I primarily develop software, and I don't mind colours being a bit off from time to time (e.g. I have f.lux on max warmness setting after the sunset). I wouldn't recommend Quest Pro to designers, though. Pick up that $1600 display from Apple. You'd be better off.
Recently I tried running a pirate radio station on Telegram (I have experience as a radio host and wanted to recreate that warmness of morning radio online) — and having extra 2-4 screens was a lifesaver! Having stream controls on one display, Telegram on the second, a soundboard on the third and audio software on another was genuinely fascinating. And all of it runs with the Immersed app connected to the MacBook!
Now, the passthrough. It is not perfect, but it is a considerable jump from Quest 2. The Immersed app also works great with it. And now you connect Apple Magic Keyboard to the headset and see it at all times! Also, when you type, you see your fingers on the keyboard! This is a proper step forward for the technology.
As for the coding, I can do it on any potato, as is evident from one of my articles. I'm not spoiled with fancy 4k displays (only having up to Apple's Retina), and I don't notice the difference with 1080p displays. And all of it with 20/20 vision (yes, I'm still 20/20, 3 years after I got into working in VR). However, even though I couldn't code long with Quest 2 — with Quest Pro, the picture is so crisp I'm sometimes afraid of cutting myself on the text edges. So if you're worried about the resolution and text readability, don't be. The quality of the text is similar to 1080p, if not better. The first thing I noticed when I launched Virtual Desktop was how sharp the desktop and text were.
Now, how about the movies? I wasn't impressed when I watched the newest installment of Matrix in Quest 2. It just felt awkward having that giant headset in front of my face. With Quest Pro and its ergonomic battery on the back, I love every episode of After Life I watch in VR. It is a fascinating experience watching something in your own large cinema while standing in a den without windows. Also, maybe, a bit sad — but I don't feel so!
As with my previous article, I took notes using Quest Pro as the working machine. Here are some tidbits of the wisdom I gained:
- The resolution is way crispier than with Quest 2
- Looking at pure white, you can still experience the screendoor effect, but nowhere else, as I'm concerned (unless you really focus on the pixels)
- You don't notice the headset when wearing it anymore (ergonomically, it's a win)
- But if you adjust the headset too tight, you won't notice it until it's too late
- Meta Workrooms are trash when used as a personal workspace (use Immersed or Virtual Desktop instead)
- Eating and drinking in Quest Pro are fantastic; there is nothing in the way anymore
- Meta Workrooms don't work well when you're standing
- Meta Workrooms' facial expressions look more like seizures which is hilarious but sad if the meeting is serious
- When I somewhy leave my office space and use walkthrough (to pick up more tea, for instance), there is always that annoying popup about redefining the play area that I'm too lazy to dismiss; it covers a bunch of screenspace, and I feel like this can be an issue (not seeing your surroundings is bad)
- Returning to the play area is seamless, though; as soon as I come back to the predefined area, everything is back to the working state
- Didn't have the headset's battery die on me once — it's always on the charging station when I don't use it, and I don't use it for more than 2 hours at a time anyway
- It is way easier to wipe lenses during use because there is nothing below them, simply swipe in the microfiber cloth in and wipe them if you need; it's such a cool unintended feature
- When I used Quest 2 in the same spot with the same router and the same PC, I had a constant 1gb/s connection to the PC; however, with Quest Pro, I'm getting 500mb/s-700mb/s which is enough for gaming, but I have no idea why it's so low
- The headset no longer feels warm or hot inside even if it becomes hot under the load; first of all, this is due to the open-face ventilation; secondly, it's probably due to the active fan cooling inside
- Also, I didn't notice the fans until I tried Quest Pro with over-the-ear headphones that touched the rims of the headset; the vibration from the fans became slightly audible then
- Also, I ditched the over-the-ear headphones when using them with Quest Pro, now I just use the built-in speakers, and they are somewhat amazing and make you feel completely immersed
So, should you buy Quest Pro? Yes and no. If you're in a similar position to mine, you need to work in a dull or depressing spot, like VR gaming and have some extra cash to treat yourself, then buy it for sure. If you think the $1500 price tag is too much, you'd better wait for the next generation of VR headsets.
Also, if you are (like me) a software developer choosing between Quest Pro and 3 external displays for $1600 each, try Quest Pro first. Worst case scenario — you'll simply return the headset. Best case — you'll get a sturdy, compact workspace that would serve your workstyle and a VR gamer buried deep inside.
Can you game in Quest Pro? For sure. Can you work in Quest Pro? Definitely. Now, do you need Quest Pro? Only you can answer this question.