by Sean Hollister via CNET

Ask any expert: You’ve gotta try virtual reality before you can understand its true potential. So it wouldn’t be a particularly good sign if, say, Facebook was having a hard time getting people to try in-store demos of its Oculus Rift VR headset.

Business Insider reported Wednesday that Facebook is closing 200 of its 500 pop-up Oculus Rift demo locations across the United States, due to “seasonal changes.”

“We’re making some seasonal changes and prioritizing demos at hundreds of Best Buy locations in larger markets,” an Oculus spokeswoman confirmed to CNET.

According to Business Insider’s sources, though, “seasonal changes” may be a euphemism. According to multiple unnamed Best Buy workers who reportedly spoke to the publication, it was common for the Oculus Rift pop-up stations to go days without giving a single demo.

It’s not clear why, though: One source suggested it was a lack of interest from the public, another software bugs, and a third that Best Buy wasn’t pushing people hard enough to try the headset.

(I can personally attest that whenever I walk into my local Best Buy store, the dummy headsets are left unmanned and it’s not clear how to actually try one on. But I understand many people start by signing up at this website before they walk into the store.)

It’s also not yet clear whether other stores beyond Best Buy, and other manufacturers, are experiencing a lack of interest in the headsets. (Microsoft Stores, for instance, also often do demos of the Oculus Rift.) Sony, HTC and Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Google declined to comment.

Also worth noting: In Best Buy’s third-quarter earnings statement in November, based on data ahead of the busy holiday season, CEO Hubert Joly said Best Buy had already given 300,000 VR demos — though that could include other headsets demoed at Best Buy, like Samsung’s prominently placed Gear VR. Samsung declined to comment.

“We still believe the best way to learn about VR is through a live demo,” said Oculus in an emailed statement, pointing out that hundreds of Best Buy stores in the US and Canada will still offer demos, as will Microsoft Stores and other partners in Canada, the UK, France and Germany. “We’re going to find opportunities to do regular events and pop-ups in retail locations and local communities throughout the year.”

“Making seasonal changes to where we demo Rift at Best Buy is not an indication of the health of Oculus or VR as an industry,” an Oculus spokeswoman added.

Best Buy also points out that even at stores that are no longer offering Oculus Rift demos, the Oculus Rift headset and Oculus Touch controllers will still be on display and for sale.

“We’re always testing, trying and changing things in our stores to give our customers the best opportunity to experience and shop for technology,” writes the retailer, in an emailed statement.

While excitement was high early on, virtual reality has had a pretty slow start, and publicly, momentum seems to have slowed.

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