A surprise release, Horizon Workrooms promises meetings, productivity and collaboration in VR like you’ve never experienced, but you need a Facebook account
➨ The open beta for Horizon Workrooms launched yesterday and is available for free on Oculus Quest 2 in all markets where the headset is sold
➨ Features such as mixed reality desk and keyboard tracking have led to the creation of ‘a different kind of productivity experience’, according to Facebook
➨ Workrooms will require a Facebook account if accessing the app via Oculus Quest 2
Facebook has launched its own virtual reality meeting, productivity and collaboration app as Oculus’s owner looks to disrupt an already competitive field and position Quest 2 as the all-in-one headset of choice for business.
The open beta for Horizon Workrooms launched yesterday and is available for free on Oculus Quest 2 in all markets where the headset is sold.
Watch an intro video for Workrooms below.
The new app is the first public look at Facebook Horizon, which feels like it has been in invite-only beta mode forever, and it is a telling choice for how the company is approaching social virtual reality for consumers.
Choosing definitive, almost-proven use cases in meetings, productivity and collaboration with a business and professional audience in mind indicates that Facebook sees this as a solid launch platform for the Horizon brand.
Facebook can see that these use cases are proving highly popular and the field competitive, with Arthur and MeetinVR among the strong options available on Oculus Quest 2, and Vive Sync launching earlier this year as the flagship app for HTC Vive’s all-in-one headset, Focus 3.
The company is also using Workrooms internally, so it can see a market emerging for a meeting, productivity and collaboration app, at least while social virtual reality remains an unknown as Facebook continues to develop the wider Horizon platform.
Advances in technology offered by Quest 2 also present an opportunity for Facebook to differentiate Workrooms from its competitors.
In a blog post announcing the launch of Workrooms, Oculus says features such as mixed reality desk and keyboard tracking, made possible by Quest 2’s advancing passthrough capabilities, as well as hand tracking, remote desktop streaming, video conferencing integration, spatial audio, and the new Oculus Avatars, have led to the creation of “a different kind of productivity experience”.
Front and centre for Workrooms is the ability to ‘bring’ your desk, computer and keyboard into virtual reality with you.
Aided by Oculus Quest 2’s passthrough capabilities, users can track a compatible keyboard and their desk in virtual reality, meaning they can be used in a virtual meeting room within Workrooms.
Facebook is marketing this experience as ‘mixed reality’, but the definition of that term is flexible, so to clarify: expect virtual windows appearing in video supplied by Quest 2’s onboard cameras for virtual-to-real, and overlays of a physical keyboard and desk for real-to-virtual.
According to Oculus, when used in combination with the new Oculus Remote Desktop companion app for Mac and Windows, users will be able to take notes during meetings, bring files into virtual reality, and share screens with colleagues.
The other major advance is Oculus Avatars, launched earlier this year, along with spatial audio. Together, these offer virtual appearance customisation, the ability to better express yourself in a virtual environment (a common complaint about these sorts of experiences) and more lifelike conversations (another bone of contention in this space).
There are also other promising features, including support for up to 16 people in virtual reality and up to 50 in total via video conferencing, and hands as the primary method of input. Oculus Touch controllers, while popular, are consistently cited as a barrier to adoption for virtual reality.
A Facebook account required for Workrooms in VR
As ever with Facebook, there are privacy and data concerns, which the company attempted to meet head-on in the blog post from Oculus.
In the blog post, Oculus says: “Workrooms will not use your work conversations and materials to inform ads on Facebook. The audio contents of your meeting are processed on Facebook servers but not stored, unless someone records and sends us a clip as part of a report. In this case, we’ll use the information to take appropriate action and then delete the recordings.”
“Finally, Passthrough processes images and videos of your physical environment from the device sensors locally. Facebook and third-party apps do not access, view, or use these images or videos to target ads.”
“Other people are not able to see your computer screen in Workrooms unless you choose to share it, and the permissions you grant for the Oculus Remote Desktop app are only used for the purposes of allowing streaming from your computer to your headset.”
Crucially, however, Workrooms will require a Facebook account if accessing the app via Oculus Quest 2.
This could be an issue for Facebook, with business users expressing concerns about data protection implications earlier this year. Of course, Oculus for Business does not require a Facebook account. Workrooms will also not make any updates to Facebook profiles or timelines without permission.
Oculus goes on to explain that the app requires a Workroom account that is separate from Oculus or Facebook accounts. It warns that Oculus usernames may be visible to other users in some cases.