Xbox Cloud Gaming has launched on the Meta Quest Store, meaning you can play Xbox Game Pass on your VR headset. No console required, just an internet connection, a Game Pass Ultimate subscription and a compatible controller.
This is the kind of feature that might make people buy a Meta Quest 3, or an earlier model, as the Quest 2 and Quest Pro are also supported. But how good is it?
I gave it a test run with a handful of games, using a Quest 3, to find out.
How to play Game Pass on a Meta Quest headset
Xbox Cloud Gaming is installed just like any other Quest app. You can find it in the Quest Store. You log in with your Microsoft credentials.
Once you boot up, you’ll see a giant virtual screen hanging in front of your face with the Game Pass dashboard displayed and a sort of Xbox themed arena in the background. There’s a lot of that signature Xbox green going on.
Alternatively, you can use the Meta’s hand-tracking pinch gestures to open a menu that switches to passthrough mode instead. In Quest 3 and Quest Pro, this means you see your actual surroundings as the game screen, relayed by the headset’s camera.
These hand gestures are some of the patchiest parts of the Meta Quest experience, as clever as the digital tracking is, but they’re pretty important. You use a Bluetooth controller to play Xbox Game Pass games, preferably an Xbox pad, not the Quest controllers. They don’t have enough buttons to replicate a gamepad’s inputs.
Below the screen is a set of buttons that allow you to choose the size of the display. Small, medium, large or extra large. The top two are naturally the most enticing.
Large is similar to what you might see when you sit fairly close to the screen on a good home projector with a 100 inch screen or so. “Extra large” will come close enough to archive your vision, like being in a good IMAX theater.
Here are some of the good and bad bits of the experience.
The next best thing to actual VR
In the two largest screen sizes of the Xbox Game Pass screen, this can feel like the next best thing to actual VR gaming. It is amazingly immersive in driving game and first person title, even without 3D image or any kind of VR control.
Forza Horizon 5 has a kind of intensity that’s hard to recreate with a regular TV, because the Quest 3’s screen can fill your vision so much more fully. Likewise, you are drawn directly to the Starfield.
This type of game feels great at the highest screen sizes, because there’s a kind of intuitive feeling that what’s in front of you in the center of the screen is often what you need to look at. In Psychonauts 2, a third-person platformer, it feels much more comfortable to cut down the screen a bit.
However, this is largely because at the top settings we’re talking about, the scale of the image is much larger than the standard of the Meta Quest YouTube or Prime Video apps.
Image quality is good, not perfect
I tested Xbox Game Pass on the Quest with a decent 225Mb home internet connection. That’s much better than the minimum recommended 20Mb but still a pretty common domestic speed by 2023 standards. The experience was smooth, with no signs of dropping to a lower quality, which often happens when there are connectivity issues.
The image quality is good enough to feel like you’re mostly doing these AAA console games justice. But there are still signs of data-saving video compression at work.
This shows up less in detail and more in textures, where the video feed introduces a sense of cloudiness of confusion that you wouldn’t see when playing natively through an Xbox Series X. Microsoft’s streaming is also limited to 1080p resolution, 60 frames per second, so there is of course a decline in all-round sharpness.
There is also a trade-off here. Making the screen bigger will help make the most of the resolution available to your headset. But it also highlights these streaming-related picture compromises.
Make the screen smaller and you render your Xbox games with fewer of the headset’s actual image pixels. That might be why the least obviously compromised game I tried was Halo 2, as part of the Master Chief Collection. Its simpler graphics hold up well after compression and resolution loss.
Waiting feels longer with a headset on
Wait times can be one of the biggest barriers to Xbox Game Pass enjoyment among Meta Quest users. I only had to wait a minute or less for each of my test streams to load, but when I streamed on console recently, those waits have been much longer.
Did I test at a time of low demand? Almost certainly. But I wouldn’t be too surprised if Quest headsets got some degree of streaming priority around this launch. Waiting for 10 minutes with a headset involved will feel a lot worse than doing it on an Xbox console – and that’s pretty bad in the first place.
Waiting for Starfield to cloud sync the data, which must have taken all of three minutes, felt interminable. Similarly, any frame rate or frame time issues stand out more than they would on an average TV. Streaming also makes the Quest fan start up pretty quickly, thanks to all the data coming into the headset.
Game Pass on a VR headset seems to attract immersion and impatience.
If you decide to jump into Xbox Game Pass on Meta Quest, it’s a good idea to expect the odd bug or two. It is a beta after all.
I had some significant trouble getting the app to recognize wireless controllers and had no joy getting a wired connection to work at all. If you’re having the same issue, try restarting your Meta Quest 3 headset, as it resolved issues with an Xbox Series gamepad.
There’s a lot more Microsoft could do with this Game Pass streaming app. It would be nice to get more virtual backgrounds, as the default is not exactly neutral. There are a few bugs to squash. And if there’s one platform that benefits from a boost to a higher bitrate stream in 4K (or above 1080p), it’s Meta Quest.
But even on day one, the Game Pass experience on Meta Quest is a breeze, as long as you don’t get too hung up on the technicalities. And even then, the technical base here is Microsoft’s Cloud Streaming, not what’s on Meta’s site.
Game fans who own a Meta Quest should definitely check this out, perhaps even more so for those who don’t own an Xbox (Game Pass comes with no minimum period after all). And with Meta arriving just a couple of weeks after Steam Link, to make streaming PC games even easier, Meta clearly wants to make a game for the more serious gamers out there.
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