Editorial: Why PCVR Is Still Too Far Away from Plug-and-Play for Broader Adoption by the General Public

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:

My brand new Vive Pro 2: PCVR setup is still a pain in the ass

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!

Valve Index: a wonderful product, but customer support needs improvement

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.)

Unfortunately, the closest possible competition to the Meta Quest in the wireless headset marketplace is being put out by Pico, which was recently bought out by TikTok’s owner ByteDance, which has similar, if not worse, consumer privacy issues. (I’m personally holding out for the innovative open-source LYNX VR/AR wireless headset project out of France. I just hope they don’t get crushed by the bigger players!)

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!

Wireless VR headsets are still the closest to the Holy Grail of plug-and-play
(Image by dlohner from Pixabay)

*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).

UPDATED! A Valve Index Update: My Steam Support Experience Has Been an Absolute Horror Show (But at Last I am Getting a Replacement Headset!)

I am beyond frustrated. I am very angry,

Almost a month ago, I reported that my Valve Index broke. Since then, I have had a first-hand experience with the horror show that is Steam Support. I had previously read numerous complaints online about how bad it is, but it’s only when you encounter it yourself that you realize that Steam Support for the Valve Index ranks among the worst customer support experiences out there.

First, my Valve Index broke two months after the one-year warranty had expired. I opened a support ticket with Steam Support, and after trying various things to see if I could troubleshoot the problem myself at home (all of which failed), I received the following message:

On further investigation it appears as though your purchase is no longer covered by the Valve Hardware Warranty. That said, we’ll be happy to provide a refurbished replacement as a one time customer service gesture. Refurbished units are provided as-is and without additional warranty coverage. You can let us know if you have any problems, but we may decline to provide additional replacements based on availability and other factors.

Steam will email you a shipping document which includes one pre-paid shipping label, three commercial invoices, two air waybill copies, and one set of FedEx return instructions. You can also access them from the Help Site. It is important that you include all provided shipping documents and RMA instructions with your return in order to receive a replacement. Please review the Index Return Packaging Instructions to ensure no damage occurs while your package is in transit.

Please use the list below to prepare your shipping box:

1. Print the shipping label and place on the exterior of the box.

2. Include the following items inside the box:
• RMA instruction sheet, bar code up.
• Valve Index HMD.
• HMD cable.
• HMD three=way connector (USB/DP/Power) with power adapter.

In general, it takes a few days to evaluate and process the return shipment, but failure to follow these instructions can cause severe processing delays and you may be required to pay additional shipping costs to send any missing items.

Let us know if you don’t see the shipment notification email after waiting a few business days from the time your return package is delivered. We’ll be happy to investigate the shipment status for you then.

(By the way, the link to the “Help Site” in this message wasn’t a link. I have no idea what this “Help Site” was supposed to be, and no way to find it on the Steam website.)

This was a week before I returned to my office, so I waited a week before printing off the pre-paid shipping label, three commercial invoices, two air waybill copies, and one set of FedEx return instructions. This is when my nightmare really started.

I could not locate what was referred to as the “RMA instruction sheet”, with the barcode, and when I went back to my original support ticket, I found that Steam has unilaterally closed it, without any option for me to reopen it.

So I opened a second support ticket with Steam Support, which thus far has been ignored, despite my persistent attempts to get an answer to the question: where is this RMA instruction sheet that I need to enclose in the package I ship back to Steam via FedEx? After four days with no response, I finally begged for help on the r/ValveIndex subReddit community on Reddit, where another user shared with me the following:

It should be included in the same mail as shipping label. It looks like this .I blurred out rma#, barcode and serial#.

Edit:
The mail looked like this. If instruction sheet isn’t included in the mail as an attachement, you should be able to download it via link in the red box.

So, after ZERO response from Steam Support, I can now confirm that I did **NOT RECEIVE*** the RMA instruction sheet with the bar code, which I am supposed to include in the package that I ship back to Steam, It wasn’t part of the email I received with he pre-paid shipping label, the three commercial invoices, the two air waybill copies, and one set of FedEx return instructions. I didn’t receive it as a separate email. And I most certainly did NOT get a “Hello” message from Steam Support, with a link to download the RMA instructions!

I am ready to tear my hair out at the utter lack of customer support from Steam Support. But wait; it gets even worse.

After several days with zero response from Steam Support to my second support ticket (which referred to my first support ticket), today I tried opening a third support ticket, citing the serial number on my Valve Index headset. When I tried to send it, I got the following error message back:

Finally, in desperation, I searched Google for a Steam customer support telephone number, called it, and followed the menu prompts—to get a recorded message informing me that they do not accept phone calls about problems with Valve products, at which point I was disconnected.

So I am told to “contact Steam Support” and Steam won’t let me reopen the original support ticket that THEY UNILATERALLY CLOSED ON ME, they won’t respond to my second support ticket, they won’t let me create a new support ticket for my problem, and furthermore, they don’t give me the option to speak to an actual human being to report my problem and get a response. How the FUCK am I supposed to contact Steam Support if you cut off any possible way for me to contact them?

I immediately called back and selected the operator option, where I was finally able to leave a voicemail complaint expressing my dissatisfaction, along with my original Steam Support ticket number and my telephone number. I have no idea if I will get any response. THIS IS NO WAY TO RUN A COMPANY TO WHICH I PAID OVER A THOUSAND DOLLARS TO FOR A HIGH-END VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSET.

I’m now at the point where, despite how happy I had been with my Valve Index VR headset in the short time I used it, I honestly can no longer recommend the product, due to its abysmal levels of customer support, in case something goes wrong. I shouldn’t have to resort to begging for answers from the r/ValveIndex subReddit community that I should be able to get from the company. I shouldn’t have my support ticket closed on me without warning or recourse to reopen it. I should be able to talk on the telephone with a real live human being instead of dealing with the absolute shitshow of online Steam Support.

My options at this point are:

1. Wait and see if I get a response to my second support ticket (which refers to my first support ticket which Steam closed on me);

2. Buy a second Valve Index for parts (some people have reported doing this out of desperation, but given this experience, I don’t feel like I should spend any more money on Valve hardware);

3. Give up, and go shopping for a new PCVR headset like an HTC Vive Pro or a Vive Pro Eye. (There is absolutely no way in hell I am going back to The Meta line of products. That is a hill I am willing to die on.)

Ironically, I still have a working an Oculus Rift headset on my computer at work at the university, so I am not completely cut off from being able to access VR experiences. I can come in during the evenings and on weekends, close my office door, and continue with events and projects on various social VR platforms, such as filming episodes for Season 2 of the Metaverse Newscast with my co-producer, Carlos Austin. I am grateful that I still have that as an option. (This Rift was set up with an Oculus account well before Meta changed the rules so that you had to set up a Facebook account, and I intend to keep it that way. I am DONE with Facebook’s toxic social network!)

I still have to upgrade my desktop PC, which is getting a little long in the tooth, so I might shop around for my next headset, pick one a like, then shop for a new PC using the recommended specs for the potential new headset as a baseline while shopping for the computer. My next headset will not be a Valve Index.

In the meantime, I have my packed-up Valve Index headset and cables sitting in its box in the middle of my living room floor, with all the shipping labels, waybills, FedEx instructions, and a printed-out copy of all the back-and-forth with my Steam Support ticket sitting in a neat pile on top. I can’t ship it back because I don’t have the RMA instruction sheet to include with it, and I cannot get a response from Steam as to access it, so the box sits there. Every time I see it in the middle of my living room carpet, I feel a surge of anger.

Here is my final response to the second Steam Support ticket:

As a virtual reality infliencer who writes a popular blog about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse, who has been unable to receive any acceptable level of customer support for my problem, I have written the following blogpost:

Valve Index Update: Steam Support Is an Absolute Horror Show (DO NOT BUY A VALVE INDEX VR HEADSET!)
https://ryanschultz.com/2022/03/12/valve-index-update-steam-support-is-an-absolute-horror-show-do-not-buy-a-valve-index-vr-headset/

I am EXTREMELY angry.

Given the complete and utter lack of any customer support (including the automatic blocking of me being able to submit another support ticket to get a response, plus ZERO telephone support for Valve hardware), I will no longer recommend the Valve Index to my readers, and I will never purchase another Valve hardware product from Steam ever again.

At this point, I am enraged at this shitshow with Valve and Steam Support. They have lost a formerly loyal customer forever. If you are shopping for a new PCVR headset, and are thinking about the Valve Index, heed my warning: DON’T. If something should happen to it, their customer support is horrible, and you need to factor that into your final purchase decision.

UPDATE March 13th, 2022: I have had a number of people on the various Discord servers I belong to agree with my assessment of Steam Support, and others who have reported good customer service experiences in dealing with RMAs and Steam Support. While I am happy to hear that some people have had no problems in dealing with Steam Support in getting replacements for Valve Index hardware, I am still very angry at the poor support I have received to date, notably the inability to get answers to my questions, since Steam Support has severely restricted the means of communication between customer and the support team, as I have outlined at length in my blogpost above. I should be able to get a simple answer to my simple question, and the fact that Steam Support is structured in such a way as to actively hinder that communication is unacceptable.

It has now been fours days since I posted my request for an answer to my question, and I have received no repsonse.

Steam Support had unilaterally closed my original support ticket and I cannot reopen it.

This second support ticket, has remained unanswered. I finally begged for help on the r/ValveIndex subReddit community on Reddit, where someone finally helped me confirm that I DID NOT RECEIVE AN RMA INSTRUCTION SHEET WITH A BARCODE, which I understand I have to include in the box ehn I ship back my broken Vale Index headset and cables via FedEx.

After several days with zero response from Steam Support to my second support ticket (which referred to my first support ticket), today I tried opening a third support ticket, citing the serial number on my Valve Index headset. When I tried to send it, I got the following error message back (please see attached).

Finally, in desperation, I searched Google for a Steam customer support telephone number, called it, and followed the menu prompts—to get a recorded message informing me that they do not accept phone calls about problems with Valve products, at which point I was disconnected.

So I am told to “contact Steam Support” and Steam won’t let me reopen the original support ticket that THEY UNILATERALLY CLOSED ON ME, they won’t respond to my second support ticket, they won’t let me create a new support ticket for my problem, and furthermore, they don’t give me the option to speak to an actual human being to report my problem and get a response. How the hell am I supposed to contact Steam Support if you cut off any possible way for me to contact you?

I am still very angry at the poor support I have received to date, notably the inability to get answers to my questions, since Steam Support has severely restricted the means of communication between customer and the support team, as I have outlined at length in my blogpost above. I should be able to get a simple answer to my simple question, and the fact that Steam Support is structured in such a way as to actively hinder that communication is unacceptable.

I look forward to your reply.

This is not over. I will post updates as they happen.

UPDATE 11:30 p.m. March 13th, 2022: Eight minutes after my last post, I received the following reply from Steam Support:

Hello,

I apologize for the delay. I’m sorry to hear about the bad experience you’ve had so far. We’re currently experiencing higher volume of tickets than usual.

Looks like it was a humane [sic] mistake from our side. We’re following a different process in this case, since we made a customer service gesture for your expired device. You only need to print the label and send your device to our warehouse.

We apologize for the mistake. 

Once your return is received and processed at our warehouse, which may take a few business days after it arrives, we will ship a replacement and email you the tracking information.

Steam Support
[name withheld]

So today I will be heading down to my local FedEx to send back my Valve Index and cables. Wish me luck!

UPDATE 12:29 p.m. March 13th, 2022: Box sent! Now I wait.

UPDATE March 15th, 2022: I have been informed that support requests close automatically after 14 days of inactivity. So it would appear that that is what happened to my first support ticket, since I had to wait a little over a week to print off the mailing labels, etc., to discover that the RMA instructions were not among the printout. In other words, nobody closed my support ticket; it just “died”.

I really wish that this sort of information was placed somewhere on the Steam Support website. (If it was there, I certainly couldn’t find it.)

UPDATE March 27th, 2022: I have received an email from Steam, and my replacement Valve Index headset and cables should be delivered via FedEx tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

ARGH! My Valve Index Has Died

My adventures in virtual reality have come to a screeching halt.

My Valve Index headset suddenly stopped working (black screen). It might have happened earlier, but I only noticed it today, when making preparations to join up with some other people in VR.

All the other components (base stations, etc.) seem to be fine. I now get a Headset Display Disconnected error when I start up SteamVR, and if I select Reset Headset all the icons show up as per normal. If I select Display VR View I can see SteamVR Home on my flatscreen display, but not in my headset.

I have worked through the online troubleshooting section and nothing fixes it. I get two steady red LED lights on the front on the headset. If I unplug and replug the breakaway cable, sometimes I get the blue LED display back, but when I restart SteamVR it goes back to steady red LEDs. I’ve unplugged and replugged all the cables and nothing fixes it.

Even more irritating is that I have tried and tried to create a system report and attach it to this problem report, but I cannot find the text file it generates in my folders after I save it! I have tried saving the system report to multiple folder locations but when I search for it, it’s gone. Is there some trick to finding this text file on your system?

So I have TWO problems. I am ready to tear my hair out tonight. I’ve been so happy with my Valve Index so far, since I installed it early last year it’s been working flawlessly. Answers to help me fix either problem would be appreciated, thank you! I’ve already submitted a problem report to Steam, but (of course) I can’t attach any system reports! I feel like such a doofus for not even being able to figure that out!

Rig specs attached if that helps. Thanks in advance!

UPDATE Feb. 19th, 10:05 a.m.: Currently digging through the wiki on the Valve Index subreddit on Reddit; I had originally posted my problem there too, but I was informed I should have contacted Steam Support first (which I did), then searched the subreddit for any repeat questions (which I did), search their wiki, and then and only then post. So I deleted my post on Reddit.

I am not getting off to a great start here, folks. I am trying to be zen about this, but you all know how un-zen I can be about things. Some people are unflappable; I am, unfortunately, flappable! 😜 *sigh* Please bear with me while I try to figure out what’s wrong.

There are going to be a few impacts until I can get my Valve Index fixed. The already-long-delayed Season 2 of the Metaverse Newscast project I am working on with my co-producer Carlos Austin will, once again, be delayed, since we record in VR. Sorry!

And, obviously, I won’t be making any in-world visits to any social VR platforms in the near future. However, I will still be writing about them on my blog. And there is certainly no shortage of stories happening out there for me to write about!

Oh, and I finally figured out why I couldn’t find any of the SteamVR System Reports I created; I forgot to double-check in my Windows folder display settings that it was set to “All Files” (I had it set to Image Files only; see image below). D’oh! I’ve already received a response from Steam, and I have in turn responded, attaching the SteamVR System Report they asked for. Fingers crossed!

Is PCVR Dead?

Have you joined the RyanSchultz.com Discord yet? You’re invited to be a part of the first ever cross-worlds discussion group, with over 500 people participating from every social VR platform and virtual world! We discuss, debate and argue about the ever-evolving metaverse and the companies building it. Come join us! More details here.


Does the sales success of the Oculus Quest 2 spell doom for tethered VR hardware and software? (Photo by Remy Gieling on Unsplash)

Cix Liv, a VR developer who has a bit of a reputation as a gadfly in the virtual reality industry, made the following bold claim on Twitter yesterday:

Sorry to my VR friends.

I declare PCVR dead.

Prove me wrong.

PCVR is the umbrella term used to refer to tethered VR headsets, which require a high-end desktop computer with a powerful graphics card to run. Examples of PCVR headsets are the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and my beloved Valve Index. Right now, the standalone Oculus Quest 2 is selling like hotcakes, and Facebook has in fact stopped selling the Oculus Rift headset:

It was only a matter of time, really. Facebook announced in April of this year that it would not be sending more Rift S units to retailers—once they sold out, that was it for the Rift S.

“Rift S is still available for sale currently in some channels around the world, but as we announced last year, we plan to stop selling Rift S in 2021,” Facebook told UploadVR at the time. “Generally speaking, as channels sell out of stock, they won’t be replenished.”

So, while you can probably still get your hands on an Rift via resellers (you can still find units on Amazon, for example), its days are clearly numbered.

Is PCVR indeed dead, as Cix asserts? His tweet raised a lot of comments, among them Kent Bye, a thoughtful VR commentator and podcaster of the Voices of VR podcast:

Kent Bye: There’s still lots of things at the frontiers of digital culture still in PCVR< like film festivals (Sundance, Tribeca, Venice and SXSW) happening in the Museum of Other Realities, full-body tracking, LBE [location-based events], live theater in VRChat and NeosVR. It’s an open platform that’ll never really die.

Cix Liv: “Die” is an extreme claim that is lacking nuance. The more expanded nuance would address the specific use cases where it will never die: mocap [motion capture], LBE, emboded docial [platforms] like VRChat. For broad consumer uses, it’s dead [in my opinion).

Kent Bye: I disagree. New communications mediums never fully replace previous mediums. We still have radio, TV, PCs, phones. PCs are ‘open platforms”. Mobile has thermal/power tradeoffs and people will ALWAYS want premium experiences like Half-Life: Alyx, Also, Steam Deck is an open PC.

Thrillseeker actually dropped a 15-minute YouTube video on this very topic today:

The video is engaging and raises lots of good points, but Thrillseeker eventually declares himself for the PCVR-is-not-dead camp, noting that the Oculus Quest 2 can also be used as a PCVR headset. He predicts that PCVR will never die, as Kent did.

Cix Liv eventually got so much blowback that he tweeted:

Please god tell everyone else that in the thread who is lighting me up for saying this.

I am not hating on PC VR because it’s trendy, the numbers so low Devs can’t even make a living now.

The reasons can be debated, but it’s the reality.

Cix argues that the numbers of sales of PCVR hardware and software are now so much lower than standalone VR, that it’s not worth the risk to develop for PCVR. For example, Oculus just announced that Lone Echo 2 would be the last PCVR exclusive that they would be shipping. Steam statistics show that PCVR usage is down. There’s haven’t been any really big PCVR releases in a while, with really nothing to match the hype of Half-Life: Alyx. And PCVR-only social VR platforms have struggled lately, either pivoting to new markets (e.g. Sansar, to live events) or shutting down completely (e.g. the old High Fidelity platform).

So, what do you think? Is PCVR doomed, or it just having a pause? Are standalone VR headsets going to kill tethered VR headsets? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join in the never-ending, freewheeling discussions and debates taking place among the 500+ users on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server. Thanks!