Quest Techie: A Night With Oculus Link

Quest Techie is a series of articles to cater to the Oculus Quest “power user” that wants to get more from their device and has a bit of technical savvy to do it.

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Trading tether for content … The Oculus Link

Since it was announced at OC6, the future Quest Link feature has easily been the most talked about and sought after functionality for the Oculus Quest. The community has been practically rabid for more information, cable specifications and of course, the inevitable release date.

On November 18th, 2019 — Oculus Link was released as a beta product to the Quest community.

What is The Oculus Link?

Before the Oculus Quest, mainstream virtual reality headsets (those not powered by a clip-in phone or device) required a powerful PC and a physical cable tether to that PC; making the VR headset more of a “remote TV for your head” than any sort of stand alone device. Along with that tethered headset, sensors could have been required (up to four) meaning that if you wanted a true, dedicated VR experience you pretty much needed a dedicated room with lots of cabling, cable management and more.

In May 2019, the Oculus Quest became the first dedicated virtual reality headset that required nothing external to play — no sensors, no cables … no nonsense.

Of course, the Oculus Quest is really built around mobile technology which means that instead of the PC carrying the load and the headset just being the “screen”, the Quest had to provide all the CPU/GPU and screen display in a single unit.

As you can imagine, that limits the “graphics and processing power” available for gaming. This required all software released for the unit to be heavily optimized and built for the limited resources.

Meanwhile, Rift/Vive/Index and other WMR headsets were getting essentially AAA games like Asgard’s Wrath and Stormland; playing favorites like Skyrim VR, Fallout and No Man’s Sky.

Those with excellent 5ghz networks and some blood, sweat and tears could actually play these PC VR games by streaming compressed video using tools like Virtual Desktop — but high delta games that needed precision input like Beat Saber simply didn’t fare well as a wifi streaming solution. Most users don’t have ideal infrastructure for high end game streaming at home (Google Stadia users are due for a rude awakening, in my humble opinion) so the community was really excited to hear about Oculus Link.

In Summary: Oculus Link turns your Oculus Quest into an Oculus Rift. A tethered solution (but no sensors or crazy cabling) that allows your VR-ready PC to play pretty much ALL PCVR games (SteamVR, Oculus Store) on your Quest.

The longer version of the tale may pan out in time as the wide-spread results of the beta testing by the community plays out.

My PC VR System and Cable

Over the last month, social media has been alive with people asking what sort of PC specs were required … what sort of cable should they buy … will Game X and Game Y work with Link?

Overall, the answer had to be: We don’t know.

Details about system specs, cable SKUs and more are going to explode in the days and weeks to come; but you’re here to read about my experiences so discussing my system setup is germane to this article.

I have a very modest PC. It meets the VR Ready standards according to NVIDIA’s Geforce Experience application — but frankly, just barely.

My specs are: Intel i5–4460 Processor (four cores running at 3.2Ghz), NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980, 16GB RAM — all standard generation SSD drives (no M2 or crazy fast technology like that). USB3.0 PCIe card (prior use was for the Oculus Rift sensors).

The real unknown (depending on who you ask) was “what cable will I need”?

Oculus said they were creating their own “highly optimized” cable to be released later and promised to share the specs of the cable “later” so that third parties could make the cables. Meanwhile, users were banking on comments made from the OC6 conference that “any quality USB 3.0 cable would do”.

Again, the answer really was: We don’t know, but THIS should work …

Oculus was good to their word. With the release of Link’s beta code today, they released the specs of the cable which can be found summed up and discussed here. Here is a handy table:

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Image courtesy of uploadvr.com

Originally we were told it would be 3 meters (or about 10 feet) which honestly wasn’t going to work out for me (and based on the chatter on Reddit, a lot of other folks either) — but new specs show 5 meters or 15 feet.

Still, I’m going for length — so I ordered the following.

CableCreation Active USB Extension Cable (Long 16.4 FT), USB 3.0 Extender Male to Female Cord with Signal Booster for $13 — this was the extension cable for the other one I purchased:

Anker Powerline USB-C to USB 3.0 Cable (10ft) with 56k Ohm Pull-up Resistor for $13.

So I’m in for $26 and have over 26 feet of cabling to work with. Probably a bit of overkill — but hey, with a simple cord solution there will be people looking to run cabling long distances to a PC in another room if their regular Quest play area is in a different location.

Setting Up The PC

Honestly, it couldn’t have really been more simple.

I plugged my extender cable into the PC, then my actual USB-C cable into the extender which then plugged into the Quest.

I ran the Oculus software on the PC (already there thanks to being a Rift owner) and this required an upgrade.

I plugged the Quest in via the cable and it was recognized pretty much right away — using my monster 26' extender+cable solution.

Note: When I was plugged into my PC’s onboard USB3.0 ports, I experienced near constant issues staying connected. Once I moved the cable to my USB 3.0 PCIe board, all was right in the world and did not have connection issues subsequently.

RIGHT … We’re ready to play. Good lord, where to start!?

Let’s Start With Oculus

I’ve made a ton of purchases for my Rift over the years. Asgard’s Wrath is a no brainer since I’ve played it on Rift, streamed to Quest via Virtual Desktop — so I have a means of comparison

Feel the Wrath

Along with Stormland, the biggest AAA VR title out right now is Asgard’s Wrath. Quest players are chomping at the bit to play this — so let’s take a peek.

Asgard’s Wrath is a heavy lifter on my humble desktop which means I pretty much have to start my PC from a clean boot, don’t run anything else other than Oculus — then launch the game. Same issue with Beat Saber for me (not sure why, but it is). Once I did so, the game performed as it did on my Rift; pretty good. I’m glad I was able to compare and contrast between the two headsets so I knew it was a machine limitation on my part — not a headset limitation.

Sometimes Dead Is Better

Next up is one of my FAVORITE VR experiences; the rogue-like ethereal bow and arrow game In Death. The game is a big favorite around the house for it’s easy-in-easy-out arcade style play and I’ve missed it since the Quest took over my VR life. I tried streaming it with every version of Virtual Desktop (v1.8 was pretty much playable, but not necessarily optimal). How did it fare?

In Death requires quick head swivels and motion to avoid being shot, stabbed or otherwise deprived of life. When playing this streamed with Virtual Desktop, there were frequent times when the “view” just couldn’t keep up and you would have trails of darkness where the screen should be. With Link, this was pretty much gone. I did see a couple of moments where I may have seen a few frames drop — but overall the experience was a dramatic improvement and those graphic issues could plague even the Rift.

Another game I’ve been missing is the original Dead & Buried. The sequel wasn’t the type of game I wanted — and now that the Link is here, I can play the original again without trudging out the Rift. This is an older game that ought to work well.

I hopped on and played a full round of Horde mode with three randos. Online chat worked great and the streaming was perfect. I didn’t see a single hiccup. A couple of times I felt maybe I wasn’t shooting — in the heat of the battle — and it seemed sometimes my hands appeared as controllers instead of the skeleton hands. Overall, the experience was very positive and fun as hell.

At some point, I’ll pick up Stormland. But for now, let’s head over to SteamVR and see how things work from there.

SteamVR Games

Steam offers a larger selection of VR experiences and often times the same experiences at lower prices than Oculus themselves — so it is kinda surprising that SteamVR games work without a bunch of nonsense to do so.

Thank goodness for that — since I have a plethora (of pinatas) of games to test on the Steam platform, some available on Oculus’ store as well.

There is no logical launcher for SteamVR games from the Oculus interface (unless you’ve already run the game prior, then it seems to come up as a previously run game). The newer Oculus interface provides a “virtual desktop” option to see your PC’s screen from which you can launch the SteamVR game.

The Batman Cometh

I’ve missed my time in Arkham since I put away the Rift. Let’s get back to the Bat.

One of my favorite VR centerpieces is Batman Arkham VR; a great under-an-hour experience with lots to do, great graphics and seems to be universally loved by everyone I show it to. While the graphics and streaming via Link went flawlessly, there are controller issues with this game (at least right out of the box). It constantly lost my controllers unless I actually held a button down the whole time. This seems to be something that is TOTALLY fixable — so while it wasn’t the great success I hoped for, I believe this will eventually be repaired.

Just Beat It

Yes, Beat Saber is available natively on Quest; and I own it. But with the mountains of mods and such available for the PC version? Sometimes I want to play the Big Boy Edition(tm) so I put it through its paces.

Beat Saber for some reason is always a struggle to run on my i5. My friend has an i7 and his runs great — so despite my GTX 980 GPU, the laser sword rhythm game appears to need a slightly beefier CPU. But, I knew this from my Rift days. I rebooted my PC and left NOTHING else running other than Oculus and Beat Saber (using the Steam version with the Oculus direct render flag to avoid using a SteamVR layer). Where Beat Saber was UNPLAYABLE using wireless streaming options like Virtual Desktop — thanks to the Link, I’m official back in the PC beating business.

Final Verdict

Obviously I have a ton more testing to do, but a lot of my readers are patiently waiting for my verdict.

Well heck … this is about as good as it gets, now isn’t it? We have the totally mobile Oculus Quest that is perfect for parties, travelling and day to day Beat Saber workouts — paired with a simple cable that uses your PC to transform your Quest into a Rift.

… and it works as advertised.

I suspect as word gets around, those Rifts on CraigsList and eBay are going to hit rock bottom in price and the Oculus Quest will be sold out everywhere … just in time for the holidays.

If you’ve been sitting on the fence, get up and go get a Quest while you still can!

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I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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