It’s always worth rooting around down the side of the bed, or in the drawers, when you stay in a hotel room. Who knows what exciting items may have been forgotten by the previous guest? Like, for instance, a top-secret Oculus VR headset. That’s what happened to hotel worker Ramiro Cardenas, who claims to have discovered and revealed to the world that Project Cambria is most likely due to be called the Meta Quest Pro. Then he made an unboxing video.
While this is certainly embarrassing for Meta (somebody may even lose his job over this gaffe!), it does give us a sneak peek at the soon-to-be-launched Meta Quest Pro VR headset! Here’s the unboxing video mentioned in the Kotaku article:
It would appear from the article that this is an engineering sample, not intended for sale to the consumer, but I would suspect it’s pretty much identical to what you will be able to buy later this year. Personally, I wish Meta would just focus on building great hardware, instead of throwing money and resources into metaverse platforms such as Horizon Worlds, where it’s clear they don’t really “get” what makes social VR special—community.
Anyway, catch the video while it’s still up! It only about 7,000 views, and you never know when the legal team at Meta will have it taken down (in fact, the hotel employee who posted this might lose his job, as well!).
Plug-and-play is a term often used to refer to something you can simply install by plugging it into one of the ports on your personal computer (usually USB), where it automatically sets itself up and it just works, right out of the box, without any fuss or futzing about. (I am old enough to remember the pre-USB days. Hell, I still remember in my high school days having to stick stacks of 80-character punchcards into card readers to submit programs! Yes, Auntie Ryan is as old as dirt, sweetheart!)
Over two days this week, I set up two new pieces of hardware in my office at the University of Manitoba Libraries: a brand new desktop personal computer with a high-end graphics card, and a new virtual reality headset tethered to it.*
Yes, I finally cut my very last tie to Facebook/Meta, gleefully packing up my old Oculus Rift headset, and uninstalling all traces of the Oculus software from my former PC before it goes on to its next owner! I doubt anyone will want the now-antiquated Rift, but at least my old PC should gladden the heart of whoever receives it!
And it struck me (as I was relaxing on the sofa today after a busy, sweaty, sweary Thursday and Friday) that over the past six years, I have set up no less than four different models of virtual reality headset:
An original Oculus Rift, bought in January 2017 (followed by a second Rift for my work computer later that same year);
An HTC Vive Pro 2 headset, bought last month to replace my work Oculus Rift.
Of these, only the Quest was a wireless VR headset; the Oculus Rift, Valve Index, and HTC Vive Pro 2 are all what are collectively termed PCVR, that is, virtual reality headsets that require a cable to a high-end gaming computer in order to work. Of course, even the Quest could be turned into a PCVR headset with the addition of a cable and some extra software, something I eagerly tested out myself as soon as I could! However, the primary purpose of the Oculus Quest, both version 1 and version 2, was as a standalone device to be sold at a cheaper price, to entice more of the general public to dip their toe into VR waters, and get them hooked! (I have been reliably informed that Meta sells the Quest itself at a loss, in order to recoup that loss and earn the real profits through the sale of games and apps via the Oculus Store.)
However, PCVR is—still, six years after the first consumer models arrived on the marketplace—an absolute pain in the ass to get set up! Allow me to recount my experience of installing, configuring, and troubleshooting my PCVR setup this week.
In the box which contained my HTC Vive Pro 2 office kit, was a large paper document listing the dozens of cables and other parts, with a website address from which I could download a setup program, which was supposed to install all the software I needed, and walk me step-by-step through the setup of my VR headset and controllers. Despite install attempt after attempt, the setup program kept hanging at the 5/6th point, leaving me to attempt to piece everything together on my own.
I landed up spending over an hour in text chat with a support person on the Vive customer support portal, who talked me through a complete reinstall of all the software components (I never did get the step-by-step walk-through of device setup that I was expecting, which was disappointing).
I was supremely grateful for the friendly, reassuring and professional tech support person I was chatting with, however, and I commend Vive for making it quite easy to reach out for immediate help when I got stuck (quite unlike my previous horror-show of tech support when my Valve Index headset at home broke earlier this year). Don’t get me wrong; I still love my Valve Index, but my customer support experience in March 2022 was so horrible that I would hesitate to purchase another VR headset from Valve in future. Valve could learn a lot from Vive!
Finally, I left work on Thursday evening with a fully working system after a full day of frustration, fussing and futzing! On Friday I returned to face a brand new set of challenges: installing various social VR platforms, and getting them to work properly with my new Vive Pro 2 setup. By the end of Friday, I finally had set up working access to VRChat, Neos, and Sansar, and in each I had my fair share of bugs and problems (partly because I was so unused to the Vive wand hand controllers, which take some getting used to). It was frustrating and exhausting.
Which brings me the point of this editorial rant: why, six years into the age of consumer virtual reality, is it still such a daunting task to set up a tethered virtual reality headset? How is it that you basically need the knowledge and expertise akin to someone at NASA Mission Control in to put a PCVR system together and get it working right the first time? It’s akin to asking people who want to drive to buy the car frame from one manufacturer, the interior seats and steering wheel from a second company, and the engine and transmission from yet another firm, and then giving them a set of IKEA instructions and a hex wrench and telling them, good luck, buddy!
I mean, if even I, with all my previous virtual reality and computer assembly experiences over the decades (and an undergraduate degree in computer science, to boot!) had trouble pulling everything together, what does that say about the average, non-technical consumer that just wants everything to work? Virtual reality in general, and PCVR is particular, is still way too far away from plug-and-play consumer friendliness, and the VR industry needs to address that hurdle before it can see more widespread adoption. If you want to throw money at a problem, throw some at this!!!
The one thing that the Quest still has going for it, despite its association with Meta’s sketchy embrace of surveillance capitalism, is this: out of all the VR setup experiences I have had to date, it was easily the closest to plug-and-play! (All I needed was a cellphone.)
Don’t get me wrong; I know that Steam, Vive, and Valve also collect customer data. It’s just a question of how much data, and how much you trust the companies collecting it. That why I have zero trust in Meta, and it’s also why so many people are watching carefully to see how and when Apple enters the VR/AR marketplace. (Apple is not perfect, but at least I trust them with my privacy. They also have a reputation for creating beautifully-designed, plug-and-play, consumer-friendly devices!)
Things are, as always, going to be interesting to watch over the next couple of years!
*For those of you who are interested in the specifications of my new work setup, here they are: a Dell Optiplex 7000, running Windows 10, with an Intel Core i7-12700 CPU with 32GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, and an HTC Vive Pro 2 office kit (VR headset, 2 base stations, and Vive wand hand controllers).
As somebody who writes about social VR and flatscreen virtual worlds on this blog, with a popular Discord server packed with metaverse fanatics and a front-row seat on pretty much everything that has been happening in this space, let me tell you, the past twelve months have been a wild ride. You can even see it in my blog statistics of the number of visitors and views the RyanSchultz.com blog has attracted over the past year:
Together, these events sparked a greater awareness among the general public of the metaverse (as indicated by a corresponding increase in traffic to my blog). However, it would appear that the ongoing crypto crash, combined with Meta’s recent woes and missteps, are causing people to sour on the concept. (And by “people”, I mean the general public, not the metaverse fanatics, content creators and world builders whom I tend to hang out with!)
As an illustration of this, I would like to focus on a recent announcement made by Mark Zuckerberg, about the expansion of their flagship consumer social VR platform, Horizon Worlds, from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. into two new countries, France and Spain:
The first thing I think of when I look at this picture is: hoo boy, somebody working in Meta’s PR department is gonna get fired! You’re trying to sell people on Horizon Worlds with this unappealing, uninspiring, and frankly ugly image on Twitter?
The response to this on two different subreddit communities on Reddit, r/technology and r/Buttcoin, proves to be quite illuminating. (By the way, r/Buttcoin is the blockchain, crypto, and NFTs snark community, where we cryptoskeptics and critics love to discuss and dissect the latest shenanigans, antics, and scams in that world!)
It looks like Mark Zuckerberg watched Ready Player One and thought he would be able to recreate that universe with MS Paint.
“Looking forward to seeing people explore and build immersive worlds!” :: “Work in my content mill, peasants.”
The more money they dump into this dumpster fire, the better chance Facebook finally collapses into the abyss. So keep doing it Zuck.
One much-upvoted comment reads as follows:
No one is building a $1500-2500 PC with [a] dedicated GPU to add a Facebook $600 VR headset to attend work meetings in a virtual space that looks like a kids CGI series from 2004 at a mass adoption level, where the majority of the public would use it daily for 8 hours at work then again for another 4-6 hours “for fun” at home, as the Meta dystopian dream suggests.
Meta has already been subsidizing the costs of their currently meh headset, which they just increased the prices of, as they were losing too much money.
For this to work, the hardware has to be good enough for grandma to be able to buy it on a pension, put it on out of the box and it just works, and it does not make her sick to her stomach in 5-20 minutes due to the low frame rates and quality.
That’s the barrier of entry to the space you need to be able to target… if that old guy at your office struggles with getting their mic to work on MS Teams for a video call every day, as the manager he is not going to order $100,000 worth of gear for your department that is hard to setup and use to meet in the metaverse.
This thing is dead on arrival, but Facebook is also dying/dead in it’s current form, so this Hail Mary [pass] is all they have.
The thing is, this happens all the time with Zuckerberg and his metaverse because Horizon Worlds has looked terrible since its inception and has barely gotten any better over the years, where its avatars still look like Miis from 2012 and they still don’t have legs.
Granted, I understand that showing 2D screenshots of VR is difficult, and that VR generally lags behind traditional console and PC gaming in terms of graphics. And yet that doesn’t change the fact that even within VR, Horizon Worlds is one of the worst-looking offerings I have seen, and that Meta has spent something like $10 billion chasing its Horizon, VR-centric version of the metaverse, even embarrassingly changing their company name to reflect that. And…this is the result.
If I was a Meta stockholder I would be selling the minute I saw that screenshot.
He (and many others) are hoping that nobody remembers Second Life ever existed, let alone that it still does. It has a dedicated audience of somewhere between half to one million users and that’s kinda it. I suspect the future for “the metaverse” is similar.
One r/Buttcoin member posted the following detailed comment:
This is the part I don’t understand. Any “meta” style environment will be incredibly limited in terms of graphics and gameplay due to the need to have a high number of players at once. So who is the target audience?
• Someone looking to play a game is going to go with something like Grand Theft Auto V (and continue to move on to the next biggest thing when they come out). • The live concerts! aspect of the website seems equally absurd given the graphical limitations and that this would be less entertaining than watching a concert on TV. • Your casual Farmville-style person isn’t shelling out hundreds of dollars for a VR headset. • For their “practical” concepts like virtual stores, it seems to invalidate the concept of buying metaverse land as either the system will allow for fast travel style movement (making “premium” land a joke), or not allow for this travelling and completely turn off their customer base for this.
I just don’t see where the interest comes from.
And I chuckled at this wag’s opinion:
Second Life managed to survive because it fostered a community of weirdo people who fetishized the environment. I think the only person who fetishizes Facebook’s metaverse is Zuckerberg.
Absolutely SAVAGE! I live. Somebody else posted this gem to the r/Buttcoin subreddit:
So, what does all this mean? Well, it looks as though the concept of the metaverse, at least among the general public, is going to sustain some reputational damage, at least in the short term (12 to 24 months). Perhaps it was inevitable that there would be such a swing from irrational metaverse exuberance to equally irrational metaverse distaste, even disgust.
Also, this “trough of disillusionment” means that it’s going to be harder to sell consumers and businesses on the metaverse. This will apply both to behemoth corporations like Meta, Apple, and Alphabet (the parent company of Google), as well as to much smaller metaverse-building companies. As I have said before, not all platforms currently being worked on will survive this rough period.
Earlier this week, the alien-wearing-a-human-skin-suit known to us as Mark Zuckerberg posted a VR selfie from inside his company’s metaverse project, Horizon Worlds. The selfie showed off the Eiffel Tower and was meant to announce that his metaverse is expanding to more countries. Instead, however, people immediately began dunking on the terrible picture, the ugly avatar, and how it all looked like it fell out of a 2005 edutainment game…
And that brings us to 2022, where Zuckerberg’s avatar is a legless knock-off of a Nintendo Mii with some really weird buttons and the eyes of a corpse. And this isn’t just how Zuckerberg looks, this is the way all avatars appear in Horizon Worlds. I’ve played enough Horizon Worlds to tell you that the missing legs quickly cease to matter. But the lack of style and the cold, dead aesthetic never goes away.
Sure, part of the reason these avatars and worlds look simple and ugly compared to modern video games comes down to the limited VR hardware in Quest 2 and Facebook’s desire to make VR content that can run on as many devices as possible.
On the other hand, I can find Nintendo DS and Sony PS Vita games with better, nicer-looking art and models than what we’ve been shown so far in Facebook’s metaverse. I also don’t think you can blame the people making this stuff, as I assume they are more than capable of doing better and more vibrant things. But more and more, it seems that isn’t what Meta and Zucklehead want. Instead, they are focused on making a product that can be consumed by the masses and which lacks any defining characteristics in an attempt to get more people to dive in.
This is the exact opposite approach we see in more community-driven VR metaverses like VR Chat, which looks better and feels warmer and more inviting. In comparison, Horizon Worlds looks like an animated video I’d walk by in some fancy hospital while I look for the bathroom.
And if this bland and ugly metaverse is the future Mark Zuckerberg wants and is investing billions of dollars into, I’m worried that it could end up winning out over other, better alternatives simply because he has the money and resources to squash or buy up competitors. Well, if it does win out, at least I’ll be able to skip it and not buy a new VR headset.
Spending by major crypto firms, including the trading platforms Crypto.com, Coinbase Global Inc. and FTX, fell to $36,000 in July in the US, according to ISpot. That’s the lowest monthly total since January 2021 and is down from a high of $84.5 million in February, when the industry flooded the airwaves around the Super Bowl.
Again, Yeee-OUCH!!! And it looks like things are not going to get better anytime soon, as inflation roars and recession looms. People have more important things to worry about (like keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads) than buying virtual real estate on the blockchain!
Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of this cross-worlds discussion group, with 685 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and all the companies building it. You’re welcome to come join us! More details here.
My sole remaining connection to Meta (formerly known as Facebook) is the now-somewhat-antiquated Oculus Rift headset attached to my work computer at the University of Manitoba Libraries, where I work as a science librarian. I do plan to replace it with an HTC Vive Pro 2 kit sometime later this year, the same model I specified in my proposal for a virtual reality lab for the Libraries, a task which took up a significant chunk of my spring.
A bit of background: Librarians at the U of M are members of the faculty union, and have a right and an obligation to pursue research, and I purchased the Oculus Rift to work on a social VR project which I regretfully had to suspend, due to it being wildly overambitious (more details here). Then, the pandemic happened and a monkey wrench got thrown into everything, and I have yet to determine the future direction of my social VR research. (My work on this blog is considered part of my research! Among those tasks I have on my to-do list is the reorganization and updating of my ever-popular list of metaverse platforms, as well as my spreadsheet of social VR platforms.)
Anyway, I bought (or rather, the University bought for me) the Oculus Rift before Meta/Facebook changed the rules two years ago, and insisted that all Oculus/Meta VR hardware users had to set up accounts on the Facebook social network in order to use their devices. That move was unpopular, especially among the VR community, and many complained (including myself, vociferously, in several editorials such as this and this), but to no avail. This corporate decision was the last straw for me, and I publicly declared a personal boycott, from that point on, of Meta hardware and software. (Hence my plan to upgrade my work Rift with a Vive Pro 2.)
When I set up my Rift, all I needed to do is set up a (separate) Oculus account. While Facebook/Meta kept prompting me to link my (non-existent) Facebook account to my Oculus account, by that time I had already fully departed from the social media platform.
Recently, I received the following email from Meta, which I present in full:
•A Facebook account is no longer required to use Meta VR devices. Instead, you can update your Oculus account to a Meta account, which lets you log into your VR devices and view and manage your purchased apps in one place. You can set up a Meta account using your email address or Facebook account, and as part of the process we’ll migrate your existing VR information (including apps, achievements, and friends) to this account.
•If you don’t want to set up a Meta account right now, you can continue using your Oculus account until January 1, 2023. After this date a Meta account will be required to continue using your Meta VR devices.
•End date for Oculus account support: We also added a statement as a reminder that support for Oculus accounts will end on January 1, 2023 and you will need to set up a Meta account to continue using our VR devices thereafter.
We’ll notify you when the Meta account is available so you have more choices over how you express yourself in VR. To learn more about these updates please visit our blog post.
The Meta Team
“More choices over how you express yourself in VR” (insert vomit emoji)
Meta Quest’s Facebook account requirement to be replaced with Meta Account, which isn’t a social media account, but will also REQUIRE Meta Horizon profile (is a social media account) w a Follower model (can be set to private) & setting options of Public, Friends/Family, or “Solo”.
More information on this new Horizon World Profile can (oddly) be found on the Oculus blog, because the Oculus Profile Friends model will be deprecated & replaced by Horizon World Profile with Instagram Follow model, & will also be available on the web (?) https://www.oculus.com/blog/meta-accounts/
Meta making its first moves to manage identity in the metaverse: “Your Meta Horizon profile is your social profile in VR and other surfaces, like the web” includes unique profile username, displayed profile name, and “your profile photo, avatar, and more.”
Meta headsets will no longer require a Facebook account from next month.
In August Meta will “begin rolling out” Meta accounts, which can be used to set up Meta headsets. You’ll still be able to link your Facebook account to your Meta account to message and call Facebook friends from inside VR, but this is no longer required.
If your Facebook is currently linked to your Quest, you can choose to unlink it when you set up your Meta account.
Meta has different deadlines for when VR users will need to create a Meta account, and they depend on how people currently sign in to their VR devices. If you’re a new VR device user or previously merged your Oculus account with your Facebook account, you’ll be prompted in August to create a Meta account and Meta Horizon profile. People who previously merged their Oculus accounts with their Facebook accounts will be able to unlink them as well…
Meta will ask for your name, email address, phone number, payment information and date of birth for age verification when you create this new type of account. Meta says this information will be private and that users will be able to create multiple Meta accounts.
It’s hard to definitively answer this question. First, the new account system hasn’t gone live, so we can’t test one crucial aspect of the change. According to Meta, anyone who switched from an Oculus account to a Facebook-tied identity will be able to decouple all Facebook identity information while creating a new Meta Account starting in August.
We want to see what this update looks like: how software-purchase transfers will work, what notices may appear on affected Facebook accounts after the transfer, and how aggressive the company will be about asking Quest users if they’re really sure they want to sever Facebook from their headset experience. (Meta has already indicated that it will let users attach Facebook and Instagram credentials if they want.) Facebook representatives have not answered our questions about these concerns as of press time.
Well, I think this all comes down to one word: TRUST.
And frankly, Meta/Facebook has proven, time and time again, that they cannot be trusted. Past behaviour, unfortunately, is often an excellent predictor of future behaviour. This applies to corporations as well as people.
Their decision to force a Facebook linkage to their then-Oculus VR hardware was ill-advised and poorly-received. I chatted via the RyanSchultz.com Discord with my friend Theanine, who had first alerted me to this news. He said, “Yup, I don’t know anyone who thought the FB requirement was a good move. It’s like they never bothered to get user feedback first.”
Here’s another snippet of our conversation (shared with permission):
Ryan: One thing I will be asking is: well, just HOW different will a Meta account be from the Facebook requirement?
Theanine: That’s the question. There’s people criticizing the move, saying that it changes nothing, because the potential for datamining is still there.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that Meta is going to find any way they can to wring every penny from its users, collecting all the information that it can to sell to advertisers—whether or not you choose to link your accounts on the Facebook or Instagram social networks.
Backtracking on the Facebook requirement might look good, but the fact remains that Meta, still, has an anti-competitive stranglehold on the wireless VR headset market with its Meta Quest 2 product. (And it certainly doesn’t help that, at the moment, its nearest competitor, the Pico G2 4K, is owned by TikTok’s corporate parent, the Chinese company ByteDance. I’m still holding out hope for the LYNX project in France, which has had a successful Kickstarter campaign.)
Meta is going to use every tool and tactic at their disposal (including the billions of dollars of advertising revenue the company earns) in order to maintain that market dominance—and part of that dominance includes the strip-mining of your personal data, regardless of how you connect to their products and services.
So yes, I am wary of this move. While I applaud Meta’s removal of the Facebook requirement, like Kent Bye and Sam Machkovech, I want to see the details. At the moment, this is just spin by some handsomely-compensated public relations executives.
So my personal boycott of Meta hardware and software will continue, except for my work Rift, which I will be replacing this year. Once that is done, I will have burnt my last bridge with Meta, and believe me, it’s going to take more that slapping a fresh coat of paint on my soon-to-be-deleted Oculus account to win me back.
Thank you to Theanine for the heads up on this story, for giving me permission to quote him, and for providing many of the news media links I referred to in this blogpost!