Longtime readers of this blog will know that I have, over the years, developed a well-founded aversion to Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook), its business practices based on surveillance capitalism, and its products and services.
For me, the final straw was when then-Facebook-now-Meta did an about-face, and insisted that users of its then-Oculus-now-Meta virtual reality hardware had to set up accounts on the Facebook social network in order to use the devices (more on that in a moment). I angrily responded by giving away my Oculus Quest 1 to my brother’s family, and upgrading my trusty Oculus Rift to a Valve Index headset using SteamVR. I was DONE with Meta, and I was willing to vote with my feet (and my wallet).
So, it might come as a surprise to some people, to learn that I have decided to purchase a shiny new Meta Quest 2 wireless virtual reality headset. Why did I do this? Several points, which I will take one at a time.
Well, first and foremost, Meta blinked and backtracked after much criticism; you no longer need to set up a Facebook account to use the Meta Quest 2 (although you still have the option to link your Facebook or Instagram account to your Meta account, if you so wish). Instead, you set up a new Meta account for your device, as explained in the following YouTube video from six months ago:
It is now possible to have up to four Meta accounts per device, with one as an admin account, and you will be able to share some (not all, some) apps between Meta accounts using a new app-sharing feature. Note that Meta is still dragging its feet in setting up systems for use in business and academic circles; its “Meta Quest for Business” program is still in beta test with a (U.S. only) waiting list, a rather mystifying decision given the push Meta is already trying to make with Horizon Workrooms for corporate users. Then again, Meta seems to be just generally flailing (and failing) with its still-recent pivot to the metaverse, so who knows?
Second, as you may remember, I am still working on a project to set up a virtual reality lab within the University of Manitoba Libraries. While my original proposal was to purchase and install four high-end PCVR workstations using HTC Vive Pro 2 tethered headsets, we are now looking at offering faculty, staff, and students a wider variety of headsets for use in their teaching, learning, and research activities.
It’s probably not wise to purchase only one kind of VR hardware, which leaves you vulnerable if a company decides to shut down (although this is highly unlikely in the case of both HTC and Meta!). Best not to put all our eggs into one basket; life tends to throw all kinds of unexpected curveballs at you!
One unintended consequence of the coronavirus pandemic is that I had several successive years’ worth of travel and expense funds carried over and built up, some of which had to be spent by a certain deadline, or I would lose the money. So part of that funding went towards a brand-new work PC with a good graphics card, and an HTC Vive Pro 2 Office Kit, which of course is one of the models we are looking at purchasing for the virtual reality lab. However, I still had some money left over that I had to spend soon, and I decided to also buy a Meta Quest 2 as another testing unit, since we are considering also using that device in the virtual reality lab.
Third: while hunting around for easy-to-use, introductory demonstrations of virtual reality for those coworkers who have never experienced VR before, like Felix & Paul Studio’s excellent Introduction to Virtual Reality, I discovered to my great dismay that many apps were only available for Meta devices, and not available on SteamVR at all!
In other words, some of the programs which students might want to use force us to purchase headsets on which they can run. This “walled garden” approach is antithetical to setting up an academic VR lab, where ideally we should be able to run any app on any headset. However, we have little choice, given the way the marketplace is currently structured (and especially given Meta’s outsized influence, with a little under 20 million Quests of various kinds sold, which makes it by far the most popular VR headset).
The University of Manitoba’s School of Nursing recently opened the first virtual reality lab on campus, and they are only using Meta Quest 2 headsets. This lab is currently training nursing students using UbiSim software, with plans to expand its offerings over time (more info here on Mastodon). And the U of M’s Computer Science department is also planning to use Meta Quest 2s in its planned VR lab.
In other words, you can choose not to dance with the 900-pound gorilla in the room (i.e., Meta), but it will severely limit your choice of dance partners! And that is why, despite my lingering antipathy towards Mark Zuckerberg and his company’s business practices, we will likely be buying a number of Meta Quest 2 headsets to add to our planned virtual reality laboratory at the University of Manitoba Libraries, starting with a single test unit purchased on my travel and expense funds for work.
Wish me luck; I am off on yet another adventure!