Oculus Quest 2’s new Air Link mode was enabled recently but the question remains… is it any good?
The answer, as it turns out, is “mostly”. While the Oculus Quest 2 is a great little headset, it’s not as powerful as a PC so there are always going to be titles that are PC only. Half Life: Alyx for example, is a great game but stripping it down so it can run on a Quest 2 would be a mammoth task and would likely rob it of some of its appeal.
The solution, up until Air Link debuted, was to get a USB C cable and plug the headset into your PC. Sure, you’d be tethered to your PC, so you’d feel the cable catching you every now and then, but you’d be able to play any VR game that supported Oculus Rift (Oculus’ wired headset) or Steam VR.
Air Link acts in mostly the same way except it connects via WiFi, meaning there’s no cable to whack against your ankles. Setting it up is a piece of virtual cake: go to the Oculus software on your PC, and enable Air LInk in the settings. Then, when you want to connect, go to the settings section of your actual Quest 2 headset and enable it there. Acknowledge the dialogue box and you’re ready to go. It really is a simple as that. You’ll end up using either your Quest controllers or a standard controller, but that varies on a game-by-game basis.
Technically, Air Link is still in Beta, so you might encounter some small hiccups. And you might have to lift your headset to reach for your PC’s mouse, at least the first time you try running an app, but that’s also the case with a cable. Previously, you could buy Virtual Desktop and use that to have the same effect, but I found that Air Link was much simpler to both set up and start up.
So what’s the catch? What are the issues that led to that “mostly”? The first is that, since it’s connecting via WiFi, AirLink will sap your battery more quickly than if you use the Quest 2 in standalone mode. The Quest 2 should have a battery life of between two and three hours but it was all of forty-five minutes before I got a warning that the Quest 2 was at 40% charge. If you have your Quest 2 plugged in via cable it will still eventually run out of charge but, because it’s receiving some charge via the PC, it’ll be longer before you need to set your headset down.
The second issue is that the quality depends on the speed of your WiFi connection. The way Air Link works is that it streams the output of your PC to your headset, not unlike Google Stadia. I was getting a connection speed of 100MBPS between my PC and Quest which, while not the maximum 200MBPS, gave me excellent picture quality. That doesn’t mean you need an 100MBPS internet connection, but if your router isn’t capable of transmitting 100MBPS, you’ll notice a drop in quality.
Thirdly, not every single game works flawlessly. I tried fourteen VR titles and all but one worked fine. However, the one that didn’t work properly was Skyrim VR, which I’d been dying to play. I kept getting ghosting issues, which strangely didn’t affect Fallout 4 VR despite using virtually same the engine.
The issues went away when I plugged a cable into my headset, but nothing else that I tried, tweaking settings and so forth, made the ghosting go away. The only solution was, simply, to play Skyrim VR with a cable running between my headset and my PC. It was still an improvement on playing it on PSVR, which tends to lose tracking when you turn around.
So, Air Link mostly works well. Should you buy an Oculus Quest 2 just thinking you’re going to run every single PC game wirelessly? No, because for now, at least, you’ll stumble on the odd title that doesn’t perform as expected. But, since it doesn’t cost you an extra penny to use Air Link, it’s a welcome bonus. I’ll definitely be making use of it. It makes the Oculus Quest 2, a device we already said was “without a shadow of a doubt the best VR headset money can buy”, just that little bit more versatile.