Summer 2020 is likely to be a very strange summer for most of us. No gaming conventions, no meeting up with friends, no concerts or festivals, and definitely no group kissing sessions with all your immunocompromised friends from out of town. For many of us Summer 2020 will be all about finding novel ways to fill our social time that get us as close to enjoying the outdoors as possible while trapped at home, such as exploring virtual reality worlds.
Released last year, the Oculus Quest is a VR headset designed to be completely wireless. The headset doesn’t need a games console or computer to power it, all of its hardware is built into the unit, and cameras built into the front of the headset allow it to tell where your hands, controllers, and the boundaries of your room are without you needing to set up external cameras or base stations. I’ve owned an Oculus Quest for the better part of a year, and its easy setup and wireless form factor have made it my favourite place to experience games like Beat Saber or SuperHot VR, but until now I have exclusively used the headset indoors.
With the weather starting to heat up, I decided today would be a good time to try using my Oculus Quest outside in my garden for the first time, hoping to enjoy some warmth on my skin, a gentle breeze, and further convince my body I wasn’t still trapped inside my house. The results were more positive than I feared, but less positive than I had hoped.
In terms of looking around in VR, the Oculus Quest works perfectly well outside in direct sunlight. You can turn your head back and forth without the headset drifting from your default position, and it’s perfectly possible to stand outside watching a 360 degree VR video and get the full effect of the content. However, issues begin to arise when you try to use either your hands, or the provided motion controllers, to interact with motion controlled games. Put simply, if there is direct sunlight shining onto your hands, or the motion controllers, the Quest’s outward facing cameras start to have severe difficulty tracking their position in 3D space. Games such as Beat Saber are essentially unplayable if you stand outside, directly in the mid day sun.
That said, all hope is not lost, as some games do work in direct sunlight, and others can work outside under modified circumstances.
If you’re itching to play a motion controlled game outside, all you really need is some shade. If there’s a time of day where your house blocks sun from part of your garden, or you have a fabric gazebo or similar pop up shade providing setup in your garden, you can still play outside while in the shade. It doesn’t matter if the Quest’s cameras can see bright sunlight beyond your physical reach, the games should still be playable.
Additionally, Games that do not rely on motion controls, such as Tetris Effect, function perfectly well when played out in direct sunlight, you can sun yourself as much as you like while solving puzzles in time with catchy musical scores.
However, there is one very important other factor to keep in mind, if you take the risk to play your Quest outside. Namely, the lenses you look through to see the Quest’s screen are essentially magnifying glasses. As such, you need to be really, really careful not to expose those lenses to direct sunlight, or you risk damaging the fancy screen inside. The exterior cameras? They’re okay. The interior lenses? Be very careful not to leave those exposed to the sun.
In summary, if you’re hoping to play VR games in your garden this summer, any software that just requires you to look around will function fine outdoors, anything needing motion controlled arm gestures will need enough shade to cover your body and controllers, and any software playable without motion will work just fine no matter the sunlight level, just make sure you keep the interior lenses protected in shade. Enjoy the summer sun, and enjoy pretending you’re not still sat in the same building you’ve spent the past few months dreaming about adventuring away from.