There’s lots of excitement about the future of the virtual reality (VR) market right now. The Quest 2 headset (formerly Oculus, but now rehomed under the Meta brand) is going from strength to strength, and a new, more powerful headset from the company is expected later this year. At the same time, a revitalized Pico (now owned by ByteDance) is entering the consumer market in more countries as it seeks to expand its horizons. What’s more, a new PlayStation VR headset is expected from Sony at the end of the year to partner its PlayStation 5 console. And there’s plenty more happening besides.
But with an increase in market players and in the number of headsets on sale, questions will follow. One dilemma is the best way to sell VR headsets to the masses. At CCS Insight, our consumer research has consistently found that most people try VR headsets before getting their own, and that physical stores are a major place to experience the technology. However, many people who don’t own VR headsets tend to express concerns that they don’t know what the technology’s for.
That’s why I was excited to visit the Meta store that recently opened in Burlingame, on the outskirts of San Francisco. The company’s investing heavily in VR, but one conundrum it needs to crack is how to sell its devices and services to newcomers. Its first “high street” presence was a fascinating glimpse at how it’ll try to do this.
The Meta store itself is relatively compact, but manages to squeeze plenty into its footprint. On entry, visitors are welcomed with a wall of Ray-Ban Stories, the smart glasses the company developed in conjunction with Italian fashion giant Luxottica. The assistants on hand here were keen to demonstrate the technology, showing the ease with which people can take pictures and record video through its eyewear. Meta’s Portal speakers were also present as the company tried to show off all its hardware.
As far as I’m concerned, though, the real star attraction is the Quest 2 demonstration area, where Meta seeks to show off its VR headset to those who may not have seen one before. Visitors can book a slot to try the Quest 2, with a range of content ready for them to dive into — including some well-known experiences and games. But what’s really cool is the way that the store also visualizes the VR experience for other people, meaning that even those who don’t try the headset themselves get a taste of what’s going on inside it.
How does it do this? A huge, curved screen covers a wall of the store and displays content that’s streamed from the Quest 2 headset on display. The Quest 2 wearer stands between the screen and a Microsoft Azure Kinect DK camera; this tracks and projects a user’s body onto the massive display. This then creates the impression of a viewer of being able to see inside the virtual world being experienced by the headset wearer.
My colleague Ben captured some great video of me playing Beat Saber, so you can see it in action:
I think this is a very innovative approach from Meta. Getting the Quest 2 headset onto new people is great, but the addition of a screen to project the virtual world for everyone else manages to bring them into the experience — or as I’m sure Meta would say, into the metaverse. In my view, it’s a powerful way to articulate VR to the less tech-confident, and I look forward to seeing it used elsewhere. It wouldn’t surprise me if Meta partnered with flagship retail stores in selected major cities to deploy this technology as it ramps up marketing efforts for its headsets.
Arguably, we can see this as an early attempt from Meta to try and break into the sort of premium, in-store tech experience that many people associate with Apple — a company with which it has some very well-documented tensions and ultimately sees as a major rival. As Meta tries to raise awareness of the metaverse and of VR, especially among a new audience who may be far less tech savvy than those who already have a headset, the in-store experience could be a magic touch.
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