When I started this blog in July of 2017, I had never intended to become a Second Life blogger. There were hundreds of other bloggers out there who were doing a far better job than I could of covering Second Life, and they still are! Throw in the Facebook groups, Discord servers, and YouTube channels, and you have a thriving commentary community on the vibrant ecosystem that is Second Life.
The original purpose of my blog was to write about Linden Lab’s foray into social VR, Sansar. I had been fortunate enough to get into the closed beta test of Sansar in January of 2017, an event which prompted the purchase of my first virtual reality headset, and I timed the launch of what was then called The Sansar Newsblog to coincide with the official opening of Sansar to the general public, on July 31st, 2017.
But my abiding passion for all things metaverse was born on March 20th, 2007, when I set up my first Second Life avatar, Heath Homewood. I often joke that I got my Ph.D. In the Metaverse from nearly 16 years of study at the University of Second Life! And I still believe that SL is the perfect, fully mature model of a metaverse, which newer social VR companies would be wise to study, learn from, and emulate.
I started writing about Second Life because I wanted to share my bounty of tips and tricks on how to pull together a good-looking avatar, without spending a fortune in Linden dollars! I still get an immense sense of satisfaction from creating a polished, head-to-toe avatar look as inexpensively as possible, and sharing with you exactly how I did it, so you could do it, too! I wanted to share my passion with you all.
Second Life was my first love, my introduction to the concept of the metaverse, and a love I still have, and probably always will have. But I have also been doing a lot of thinking these past few months about this blog, and the direction in which I want to take it.
Therefore, I have decided to cut back substantially on my Second Life coverage, and refocus on the reason I started this blog in the first place: virtual reality in general, and social VR in particular.
This doesn’t mean that I will never write about SL again. For example, Second Life will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, and I have every intention of reporting on that milestone!
I turn 59 in a few days, and it’s time for me to re-find the joy and wonder I once had when I first slipped on my trusty Oculus Rift VR headset five years ago, and went exploring, to see what I could discover. There’s a lot going on in the VR/AR/MR/XR space, and I want to refocus my attention on that.
I know that many of you who followed my Second Life coverage will be disappointed, but I hooe that you will understand and respect my decision. And I also hope that you will continue to join me on this journey!
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).
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.