VR, PCs, Link Cables – Oh My!
VR Headsets have been around a long time, much longer than a lot of people think they have, but one of the things that really sets apart the Oculus Quest headset series, is the fact that it is a “stand alone” VR Headset. This means it can be used without needed a companion device, such as a PC or other console gaming system. Combined with the fact that the Oculus Quest 2 has the lowest price of any entry point VR Headset on the market, this put home VR within reach of many families who simply couldn’t afford it previously.
But then, if being a “stand alone” headset is one of the biggest selling points, WHY does Oculus also push this thing called the Oculus Link Cable? What is that about and why would you care? Let’s find out.
The first, most basic reason to connect your headset to a PC or Mac, is to use “SideQuest”.
SideQuest is a standalone application which allows you to “sideload” content to your Oculus Quest headset. Yes, it is completely legal. No, it will not “break” your headset. In addition to accessing a huge library of free and low-cost applications for your headset, SideQuest will allow you to access a lot of advanced settings for your headset. SideQuest is compatible with nearly any PC or Mac, it doesn’t require any special hardware, just a USB port, your headset and a compatible cable. Once it’s set up, you can even connect your headset to the SideQuest app wirelessly! (note: I’ve found this to be a little unpredictable – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t).
Supposedly, SideQuest will even be offered directly through your headset soon, if not already, which means you won’t even need access to a third-party device to use the application. If you want to learn more about SideQuest, here’s a great article from UploadVR. In addition to that, there are ways to connect your headset to SideQuest with an Android phone. The process of doing it is a little more complicated though, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who isn’t comfortable with doing a little more advanced work with file structures. If you don’t know what that means, it probably isn’t for you, but here’s a video tutorial on the process if you want to check it out by The Mysticle.
There’s another way to use a PC (Mac support is coming soon) with your Oculus headset: Virtual Desktop!
Virtual Desktop is an application that you purchase through the Oculus App store. It normally costs around $20, but I’ve seen it on sale for as little as $10 and it’s very much worth the price. Why? It allows you to connect your Oculus headset to your computer… wirelessly! This is one of the handiest applications in my opinion, because it allows you to do so many things! Much like SideQuest, (depending on what you plan to do with Virtual Desktop), you do not need any special hardware to use it. You DO, however, need at least a 5Ghz WiFi access point. Also, this application will work best on a computer that is “hard wired” to your internet modem/router. In other words, it should be plugged in with an ethernet cord. That being said, I have a “decent” internet plan (up to 50GBps), a 5Ghz router and I run VD on a computer that is not “hard wired” and it usually does fine.
Once you purchase Virtual Desktop in the Oculus App, you need to install the Virtual Desktop VR Patch to your headset. You get this through SideQuest (mentioned above).
Finally, you need to install the Virtual Desktop “Streamer” application to the computer, or computers, that you wish to connect with wirelessly. That’s it!
If you need a more detail explanation of the process, here’s a video from Virtual Reality Oasis with a walk-through.
Now, even without getting into the benefits of PCVR, I feel that Virtual Desktop, just on its own, is an undervalued application. For one thing, you don’t have to be on the same network as the computer you want to access. As long as the Streamer app is running, you can be anywhere else and connect remotely to the computer, which shows up as a… well… Virtual Desktop in your headset. There are quite a few “environments” to choose from ranging from a huge screen floating before your eyes (as if you were in a movie theater), to different styles of “room” with a virtual computer desk and screen. Not only can can you access everything on your computer, but I’ve found it’s quite fun to play “flat” games in Virtual Desktop. Just run a game on your computer and play it in the headset. It was a whole different world to play Zuma on a giant screen!
Next we’ll talk about the really BIG upgrade: PCVR!
PCVR (not to be confused with PSVR) means using a VR Ready PC (this doesn’t work with a Mac, sorry Apple lovers! – Note: the HTC Vive Headset IS compatible with Mac, but not the Oculus series) to play bigger, better, even more immersive games on your Oculus headset. This opens up a whole new world of gaming. Not only will you be able to play the Oculus apps and games through your PC (if you choose to do so), but Steam VR games. You can fly all over the world and visit remote places with Google Earth VR. You can play the huge RPGs like Skyrim VR and Fallout 4 VR. You can join massive multi-player battlefields like Population ONE, Echo Arena and others to slaughter, or be slaughtered. You can customize your virtual “home”, walk around in it, invite your “friends” to visit… There are probably tons of incredible VR experiences I can’t think of, or simply don’t know about yet, that you can ONLY do with a VR Ready PC.
The cool thing is, because we’re talking about the Oculus Quest, you have the option of doing all of this either using a USB cable (Oculus Link or Anker recommended), OR you can do it wirelessly through Virtual Desktop, as mentioned above! This is one of the biggest differences between the Oculus Quest and the rest of the Oculus line, as well as most other VR Headsets you can buy. Pretty much everything else requires that you be “tethered” to your gaming computer.
In addition to all of that, you can take advantage of services like VivePort Infinity – which is like a “game pass” for VR. You pay one low monthly fee and get access to hundreds or even thousands of applications… all included in the price.
Now the downside: You actually need a VR Ready PC to do all of this, and it ain’t cheap. If you’re really careful, you can build your own VR Ready PC for maybe $600, if the wind is blowing just right and you know what you’re doing. To buy something “off the shelf”, you’re looking at an investment of AT LEAST $1k to have something worth owning. We build custom gaming computers at our parent company – Computer Chick (but we don’t ship them).
If you already have a gaming computer and you want to see if it’s “up to snuff”, you can check the compatibility a few different ways. You can check the compatibility chart on the official Oculus Support Page, Game-Debate has a really handy compatibility chart (yes, Oculus Rift specs are what you need) and/or you can download the Steam VR Test application (through Steam), run it and see what it says. Please note that if you’re testing on a gaming Laptop, make sure it’s plugged into power or it won’t pass.
Ok, so you’ve made it this far and you’ve decided you NEED a VR Ready PC, but… there’s no way it’s in the budget for you.
Hope is not lost!
There IS another option.
Shadow PC is a VIRTUAL gaming computer. Now, this might be a little complicated, but I’ll do the best I can. Basically, Shadow Tech is a company that “rents” space on high end gaming systems, which you connect to online.
You install your games to the remote computer, which uses its processing power to run the applications and streams the content to your device(s), eliminating the need to actually buy a fancy computer. Now, obviously you’re going to need a decent WiFi connection to make this work with any device, much less your Oculus headset, but many people have reported success with it. Other than needing a good internet connection, the biggest drawback of Shadow PC is that in many areas, there is a wait list of at least a few months. You have to sign up for the service, pay for the first month (usually around $12), then *wait* while they work to get your gaming computer ready. If you do sign up for Shadow PC, we’ll both get a little discount if you use my referral code: SEBCC9S5
One last thing: I did say that I would talk about the Oculus Link cable.
As far as I’ve been able to determine, the ONLY reason for the high price of that 16′ cable, is that they use fiber optic technology for the cable. While that’s pretty amazing, users claim no noticeable difference in performance between the official Oculus Link cable and any other high quality USB cable. Be aware that, in order to take advantage of PCVR with a USB cable, you MUST use a 3.0 USB port or higher to connect the computer to your headset. If your computer doesn’t have at least a USB 3.0 port, even a high speed adapter will not work. You also need to make sure that you’re actually buying a good quality high speed USB cable, if you’re not purchasing the Oculus Link cable (it should mention that in the description of the cable you are considering for purchase). We have a couple of appropriate cables listed in our article on Oculus Quest Accessories.
That should cover it. You now know everything you need to know about how the Oculus Quest headset relates to gaming PCs, what the Link Cable is for and much more. If I’ve forgotten anything, be sure to let us know and tell us what you think of this article, whether or not you found it helpful. And remember Always Wear Your Grip Straps!