The Oculus Quest has suddenly become the Oculus product to buy, following two major announcements made earlier today at the company’s annual Oculus Connect showcase. To start things off, you may not need a pair of Oculus Touch controllers to go with the Quest for much longer, as Oculus has figured out how to enable full-on, finger-level hand tracking.
As can be seen in the short trailer below, the Quest can use its on-board cameras to track the position of your hands in three dimensions, with enough fidelity to allow for individual fingers to perform tasks in the simulated virtual space. This level of “inside out” positional tracking for hands is one of the holy grails of virtual reality, since it removes the necessity for expensive controllers that, even when extremely functional, still limit the level of immersion experienced by the user.
Oculus will make an SDK (read: software development kit) for hand tracking on the Quest available to developers sometime next year, at which point they’ll be free to implement the feature at their discretion. Games that already exist for the Oculus Quest will need to be updated to support hand tracking, but one would hope that future titles will support it out of the box, so to speak.
Elsewhere in the presentation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled another new feature coming to the Quest called Oculus Link. Available in November, Oculus Link will allow users to connect their Oculus Quest to a PC via USB-C for use as a standard Oculus Rift headset. Since the Quest is Oculus’ standalone unit that doesn’t require a PC, it has been sequestered to its own ecosystem separate from the main Oculus store on PC. But with Oculus Link, Quest owners with a sufficiently powerful computer (minimum specs forthcoming) will be able to play the full library of Oculus games on PC, in addition to normal games from the Quest’s shop.
The really, really big thing about this is that Oculus Link will also support “unknown sources,” according to an Oculus product manager answering questions on Reddit. (Warning: Source link contains mild ableism because, sigh, it’s a Reddit PC gaming community.) “Unknown source” is VR talk for “things that aren’t the Oculus store,” which means that Oculus Link will support games from Steam VR or other applications. This makes a Quest connected to a computer through Oculus Link just as capable as the Oculus Rift S, with the only real difference being that the Rift S has a slightly higher-fidelity display than the Quest.
In that same thread, the Oculus employee dropped a few more vital details about Oculus Link. Even though the Quest has its own on-board processing unit, your computer’s GPU will still handle all the heavy lifting when playing games through Oculus Link. The Oculus Link cable that will soon go on sale is USB-C to USB-C, but some third-party USB-C to USB-A cables will work as well — Oculus isn’t quite ready yet to lay out all the specifics for what will and won’t work. Either way, the port on your computer that connects to the Quest will need to be a USB 3.0 port.
An upcoming blog post from Oculus will soon flesh the system out in further detail, according to the employee. “We invented some compression techniques as well as added a bunch of tweaks and improvements into the rendering pipeline as well as transport to make this all work,” they said. “It’s not just a direct video feed. We have a blog post coming out that will explain under the hood.”