Next-generation VR goggles hit the spot

The new Oculus Go is what Facebook should have sold the first time around. It has no cable. It’s easy to use. It works for iPhone people and Android people, Mac people and PC people.

And it’s for more than just playing games. Call it Oculus and chill: The Go lets you curl up and watch TV virtually along with a faraway friend. Or on a long flight, you can use one as your private movie theater. Noise-canceling headphones, meet the annoying-seatmate-canceling headset.

What makes the Oculus Go a breakthrough is that it’s self-contained. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which debuted in 2016, are tethered to high-end PCs. Sony’s PlayStation VR plugs into its companion game system, for example. Think of the Oculus Go as oversize ski goggles, blacked out with paint. Inside, LCD screens shine images onto lenses designed for close-up viewing. (You can still wear glasses inside, or even order prescription lenses to screw into the headset.) Setup takes 5 minutes via a smartphone. After that, the Oculus Go gets everything it needs directly over Wi-Fi.

You operate the Oculus Go with a remote control that acts like a virtual laser pointer. If you have tried another VR headset, the Oculus Go offers some subtle design improvements. You can remove its top strap if it’s messing with your hair. It is lined with soft fabric in the places where it touches your face. The Oculus Go’s speakers are built into a part of the strap that hovers near your ears, but doesn’t cover them, creating a cool surround-sound effect.

What Oculus gave up to reach the Go’s low price and portability is the whiz-bang tech that can make VR feel much more immersive. That means you have to use the Go in a swivel chair or by standing in one place — you can’t walk around things to get a different view. It offers experiences very similar to the Samsung Gear VR, and many of the same apps run on both.

So there’s room for improvement. You are effectively blindfolded once you put it on, which can be disorienting. And using the Oculus Go would be a more social experience if the people around you could also experience some of what you are seeing (although the app Oculus Room lets you chat with friends who are watching the same thing as you).

The best part of the new Oculus Go is that the tech is finally starting to get out of the way of the experience.