Meta Quest (2): Air Link and Virtual Desktop PC VR Streaming Guide
May 26, 2022:
Complete revision of the article:
- The guide has been decluttered, updated, and expanded to include a wealth of new information, links, and sections.
With Air Link and Virtual Desktop, you can stream PC VR games wirelessly to your Meta Quest 2. I explain how to do that in the following guide.
With the launch of the Meta Quest in May 2019, a long-held wish of VR fans comes true: For the first time, you could experience a full-fledged virtual reality without a PC, cables and external sensors.
However, the decoupling from the PC also has disadvantages. Since the Meta Quest and its successor run on a mobile chip, the VR headsets have tight performance limits. As a result, VR games usually do not look as good as on the PC.
PC VR streaming remedies this by combining the best of both worlds: the graphical power of the PC with the wireless freedom of Meta Quest.
What solutions are available?
The paid VR app Virtual Desktop offers high-quality PC VR streaming since 2019. Wireless data transfer to VR headsets existed before with other apps, but developer Guy Godin has optimized PC VR streaming and made it more accessible, allowing his solution to reach new user bases. Today, Virtual Desktop is one of the most popular VR apps on the Quest platform.
Due to the huge success of Virtual Desktop, Meta released its own free solution called Air Link in April 2021. Air Link is an evolution of the 2019 Oculus Link wired PC VR streaming solution.
What's the difference between Air Link and Virtual Desktop?
Air Link and Virtual Desktop work on the same principle. Similarities, differences, advantages and disadvantages are listed below:
- Air Link is free, while Virtual Desktop costs about $20.
- Virtual Desktop offers significantly more settings, so you have more control over PC VR streaming.
- Air Link is compatible with all PC VR apps, which is not the case with Virtual Desktop (see compatibility list).
- In terms of streaming features, ease of use, and latency, Air Link and Virtual Desktop are about on par when it comes to PC VR streaming. Virtual Desktop offers Synchronous Spacewarp (SSW) technology for smoother streaming, while Air Link uses AFI (still in beta) and both offer an optional sharpening filter.
- Air Link currently has issues on Windows 11 that Virtual Desktop does not.
- Virtual Desktop offers features besides PC VR streaming. The VR app brings your PC desktop into virtual reality and lets you work, watch (3D) movies, and play 2D games in great-looking virtual environments like a home theater or gaming room (see VR home theater guide).
- Virtual Desktop also lets you stream immersive video in all imaginable formats from your PC to your VR headsets.
If you are trying PC VR streaming for the first time and are only looking for wireless streaming, you should try Air Link first. If you run into problems, you can always consider buying Virtual Desktop. If neither of these works, you can use Oculus Link to establish a USB cable connection to the PC.
What do I need for PC VR streaming?
For the most latency-free PC VR streaming, you need the following:
- a Meta Quest or Meta Quest 2 (review)
- a Windows 10 PC that meets the minimum requirements for Oculus Link. There are still problems on Windows 11 (as of May 2022), but Meta is working on a solution.
- An AC or AX router with Gigabit Ethernet and 5-Ghz band.
For best results, the router must be connected to the PC via an Ethernet cable, within sight of the VR headset, and at least one meter above the ground.
If the router is located in another room, it is possible to use a dedicated router for PC VR streaming only. In this case, the dedicated router has to be configured as an access point. The following, comparatively inexpensive AC router like the TP-Link Archer C6 should be completely sufficient for these purposes.
AX routers like the ASUS RT-AX55 are newer and support Wi-Fi 6, but cost more and are not necessarily better than the older AC routers when it comes to PC VR streaming.
It is worth buying an AX router if many users in a household access the same network at the same time, since Wi-Fi 6 regulates the data transfer better. If you want a setup with a dedicated router only for PC VR streaming and want to save money, you can safely use an AC router.
How to set up Air Link for PC VR streaming
- Download and install the Oculus PC app if you haven't already.
- Make sure your router is on the 5Ghz band, connected to your PC via Ethernet cable, and within sight of your VR headsets and at least three feet off the ground. If you use a dedicated router, it must be set up as an access point beforehand.
- Make sure that your PC and the Meta Quest use the same Wi-Fi. If you use a dedicated router, the Quest must be connected to its WLAN.
- In your Meta Quest, go to Settings > Experimental and enable Air Link. Then click on "Next".
- In the Quick Settings, select the Oculus Air Link menu item. Now your computer should be displayed.
- Select it and click "Pair" to pair it once with your Meta Quest. You may need to confirm a code in the Oculus PC app and your Meta Quest. Thereafter, select "Launch." You should now see the Oculus PC app user interface in front of you.
To exit Air Link, you need to select the leftmost menu field in the same user interface. Here you can make further settings for Air Link or quit Air Link.
If you prefer to use Oculus Link instead of Air Link, deactivate the option under Settings > Experimental.
How to set up Virtual Desktop for PC VR streaming
- Download and install the Oculus PC app if you haven't already.
- Download the Virtual Desktop streamer app from the official website and install it on your PC.
- Purchase Virtual Desktop from the Oculus Store and install the VR app.
- Make sure your router is on the 5GHz band, connected to your PC with an Ethernet cable, within sight of your VR headsets, and at least three feet off the ground. If you use a dedicated router, it must be set up as an access point beforehand.
- Make sure that your PC and the Meta Quest use the same Wi-Fi. If you use a dedicated router, the Quest must be connected to its Wi-Fi.
- Launch the Streamer app on your PC and Virtual Desktop on your Meta Quest.
- In Virtual Desktop, go to "Computers" and note the Oculus username displayed there. Then enter it in the Streamer app under "Accounts".
- When you restart Virtual Desktop, you should see your PC under "Computers". Select it to establish a connection. You should now see your PC desktop in the VR headset.
- Press the system button on the left touch controller to open the Virtual Desktop menu. If you select the "Games" menu field, you should see all compatible PC VR games. Click on the title you want to play.
- To exit a game, press the system button on the left touch controller for one to two seconds. Then the Virtual Desktop menu should appear in front of you, allowing you to exit a game or switch to another title.
- To stop PC VR streaming, open the Virtual Desktop menu and select "Quit" or simply exit the VR app.
Tips & tricks for optimal PC VR streaming
Besides image quality, latency is crucial for good PC VR streaming: If it is too high, there are noticeable delays in virtual reality between an action (head rotation, room movement, button press) and its representation in VR, which can dampen the gaming experience and cause nausea.
The expected latency for wireless streaming is between 25 and 50 milliseconds and depends on factors like network setup, graphics card and software settings.
- If the router is located in another room, transmits in the 2.4 GHz range or does not support Gigabit Ethernet, higher latency times can occur.
- A 20 or 30 series RTX graphics card may have lower latency because these graphics cards have a faster encoder than older cards or AMD graphics cards.
- In general, the better a PC VR game looks, the more likely it is that latency will increase or that micro-stutters will occur. This is because the graphics card has to compress the image and audio signal, which requires processing power. If it is scarce, PC VR streaming may suffer.
- In this case, try reducing the graphical details in the game or Meta Quest's render resolution and frame rate. You can do the latter in the Oculus PC app by selecting your Quest under "Devices" and scrolling down to the corresponding settings in the right bar.
- Further settings are available in the Oculus Debug Tool. You can find the program in the following directory: Program Files > Oculus > Support > oculus-diagnostics. You can find out what the settings do in detail on Reddit. The final result also depends on the performance of your PC.
You can adjust settings on Air Link by pressing the Oculus button and selecting the menu field on the far left in the user interface that appears.
Here you can choose between a dynamic and fixed Air Link bitrate. For starters, it is better to choose the dynamic bitrate.
The bitrate determines the image quality. If you choose the dynamic bitrate, the latency is prioritized instead of the image quality and the bitrate is automatically adjusted depending on how good your network connection is. If your connection is poor, this setting could negatively affect the image quality to ensure good latency.
If you choose the fixed bitrate, the image quality will be prioritized instead of the latency. If your connection is poor, this setting could negatively affect latency to ensure good image quality. In principle, latency is more important than image quality for a good VR experience. Of course, both are important.
Virtual Desktop lets you view your latency in real time. To do so, open the Virtual Desktop menu by pressing the system button on the left touch controller and select Streaming > Advanced Options. Here you should be able to enable the Performance Overlay, which shows all the essential values in VR apps.
Also experiment with the settings in the Streamer app as well as in the Virtual Desktop under "Settings" and "Streaming" to achieve optimal PC VR streaming. The final result also depends on the performance of your PC.
The setup is too complicated for me. Are there any alternatives?
If it has to be wireless, then there are currently no alternatives. But there is hope: According to rumors, Meta is working on a USB dongle for Air Link, which could make the router superfluous and thus simplify the setup significantly. For those who can live with a cable, the simple Oculus Link is an option.
I have Windows 11 and my Air Link is juddering. What's the problem?
The Oculus PC app does not yet support Windows 11 (as of May 2022) and an issue with the operating system is causing judder with Oculus Link and Air Link.