A Forgetful Hotel Guest Leads to a Sneak Peek at the New Meta Quest Pro Virtual Reality Headset

Kotaku reported yesterday, in an article titled Meta’s Hyped VR Headset May Have Been Leaked By Guy In A Hotel:

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!).

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).

HOUSEKEEPING NOTICE: Be Careful What You Wish For…Because You Just Might Get it!

Be careful what you wish for
‘Cause you just might get it
You just might get it
You just might get it

—When I Grow Up, by The Pussycat Dolls

Last week, I met with the head of my university library system, and I was asked to draw up a proposal for a virtual reality lab, which will be set up in one of the libraries on our university campus. Within the next month, I have to spec out hardware and software, plus any other supporting equipment, as well as work out staffing and training implications, etc. I’ve also been tasked with building a initial collection of platforms, programs, and apps for use by faculty, staff, and students using those VR headsets for teaching, learning, and research purposes.

*Ryan does the happy librarian dance*

I am reminded of the familiar saying: Be careful what you wish for, you may just get it. I am simultaneously flabbergasted, elated, and panic-stricken (the latter is due to the rather tight deadline to submit a proposal with a budget to my boss!).

What this means is that the RyanSchultz.com blog and the Metaverse Newscast show are going to have to be put on hold, at least temporarily, while I beaver away at my brand new project! I hope to be back within the next month, folks, but right now, I have to put my head down and WORK.

Wish me luck! I am about to get a crash course in dealing with the corporate sales departments of virtual reality hardware and software vendors, as an educational institution! This is going to be a very interesting, and certainly very different, perspective on the business of virtual reality.

Hanai World: A Brief Introduction

A little over a year ago, on March 2nd, 2021, Microsoft held its annual Ignite event on the social VR platform of AltspaceVR (which, of course, is owned by Microsoft).

I wrote at the time:

The Ignite event finale was a showstopper, promoting a still-in-development joint venture with Canada’s Cirque du Soleil called Hanai World, which featured not one, but FOUR people captured in volumetric video gathered around a magical campfire, 360-degree video of dancers and jugglers and other Cirque du Soleil performers, and AltspaceVR spectators (like me!) who were able to wander around and experience the space in 3D:

Well, a year later, and I have some more news to share about Hanai World! They now have a website set up and. much like this video, it is a rather trippy experience, talking about various kinds of eggs:

My heart sank when I scrolled down to page to realize that these eggs are apparently NFTs for sale:

The Genesis NFT of Hanai World provides native and ongoing utility and will grant the NFT holders unique accesses:

1. Be one of the first Hanai World nomads
2. Participate in future phytigal events and creations
3. Participate in NFT educaiton, and AR/VR and phygital experiences
4. Access to unique privileges and experiences

First, whoever coined the term phytigal needs to have some sense slapped into them (this “word” ranks right up there with abominations like metafluencers and metawave). It’s unnecessary, it’s ridiculous, and it’s irritating. STOP IT.

There’s not a whole hell of a lot on the website yet, and the NFTs (whatever they are supposed to be) are not yet for sale. Guy Laliberté, the founder of acclaimed Quebec entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, is prominently quoted as saying:

When I founded Cirque du Soleil, I was creating theatrical experiences based on a traditional stage – the circus. In creating Hanai World, we are offering theatrical experiences based on a contemporary platform – the metaverse. Both these chapters of my life find common roots through my commitment to the values of love, trust and respect. These essential life principles characterize my desire to be a good ancestor as well as my purpose with Hanai World, a phygital adventure, to empower the young creative minds of this world and help them lead the journey of art with heart.

So it would appear to be that Hanai World is going to be some sort of virtual/physical hybrid theatrical venue with some sort of NFT component? Honestly, I cannot make heads nor tails out of the word salad here. How eggs and being a good ancestor come into it, I really have no idea.

And there is that goddamned word phytigal again….kill it with fire! 🔥

This press release from the time of the Microsoft Ignite event last year describes Hanai World as “a new social mixed reality platform built on Microsoft Mesh that aims to connect physical and digital worlds”. The release goes on to say:

Leveraging the power of human connections, Hanai World—the platform which will make the most of Microsoft’s powerful new mixed reality collaboration platform Microsoft Mesh—will create and host a wide range of physical and digital experiences in real venues, in the flesh, and virtually, through mixed reality headsets, thus allowing people from all over the world to participate simultaneously in a collective experience, wherever they are. The first events previews should be available end of 2021.

Well, so much for that deadline… 😉

Oh, and apparently, they’re hiring:

We the curious dreamers, passionate seekers, and outsiders are imagining Hanai World as a poetic metaverse where the playground has yet to be defined.

👥 Want to be part of this journey with us? View our job offers in bio.

🤝 Collaboration opportunities:
– Treasure Hunter/researcher
– Senior art director
– Illustrator/storyboard artist
– Concept artist
– 3D environment artist
– Copywriter/Translator
– Video Game Creative Director

I assume they’ll tell you more about this project if you apply for a job there? The lack of any sort of concrete information about this project is kind of bewildering to me. The fact that they are hiring a whole bunch of people signals to me that they haven’t yet worked out a lot of the details of this whatever-it-is yet, either. And either they already have assembled a team of computer programmers to build Hanai World, or they are nowhere near ready to hire programmers (hence the focus on artists, researchers, copywriters, and other creative/design types in this hiring ad).

Another point: it’s clear that at least some portion of the massive profits from the Cirque de Soleil franchise are going into this little venture! Hanai World appears to be a Canadian-based. bilingual (English/French) company, based on the ad. So if you’re interested, consider applying for a job! The worst that could happen is that they say no.

To learn more about Hanai World, you can visit their website, join their Discord sever, or follow them on social media: Facebook and Instagram (there’s also a Twitter account you can follow, which for some reason they left off their website).