Meta Stresses the Need to Build Shared Platform for Metaverse, to Enable Digital Ownership

Meta (formerly Facebook) is putting a lot of importance on the “metaverse” — think of it like the Internet, but with presence or immersion, where you can work, play, and socialise — and Vishal Shah, Vice President, Metaverse at Meta spoke to Gadgets 360 at a press conference to explain what the company is planning, and how it sees the metaverse expanding in India. Although Shah stressed the importance of India for the metaverse and Meta, if you’re hoping that this means that the Oculus Quest line finally comes to India, then you’ll have to wait a little longer. “We’re just getting started but you could absolutely expect as we launch new things and make them available especially as they cut across devices and helping people access them from more than just a VR headset,” Shah said.

Shah, former head of product at Instagram, added that while Meta’s goal is to bring the hardware are far, he couldn’t give a date for it, although Oculus Quest 2 was launched in October 2020, over a year ago. But Shah also described Meta’s focus on the metaverse as a 15-year long journey, highlighting how the company, which was synonymous with Facebook, sees itself changing today.

“We genuinely believe that this is the successor to the mobile Internet, not a new Internet, not a new set of protocols, not an entirely new foundation, but a new way to experience the Internet,” Shah said. Back when it was still known as Facebook, the company had drawn a lot of criticism for attempts to redefine the Internet — its Free Basics free Internet access programme for example, was criticised for violating net neutrality, and in some parts of the world, the distinction between Facebook and the Internet was completely elided, sometimes to dangerous results.

All of that is far and away from where Shah says the metaverse is today. With VR being limited to just a few people with headsets, and augmented reality remaining highly niche in its application, standards are still being designed.

When Meta talks about the metaverse, it’s not talking about just a silo of Facebook powered applications, but a broader Internet that others can connect to. “This idea of co-presence stitches through a lot of what we’re trying to do,” Shah said. “But also, this idea of continuity — the idea that, just like in the physical world if I was to go and buy a piece of clothing, and own that piece of clothing, I could wear it anywhere I wanted to. I could move from place to place, and I could wear that same thing but that’s not how digital environments work today. If you buy a digital good, that tends to be mostly restricted to the place in which you bought them.”

“The idea of continuity, of being able to move from space to space, and being able to take things with you is a pretty powerful construct, which will require a set of interoperable standards that we will build because at the end of the day, while we’re investing deeply in the space, we believe strongly that the metaverse will not be built by any one company,” he added.

This could come in many ways, including through the use of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, he suggested, adding, “We are making explicit investments to embrace that ecosystem and to give people more control over objects, over rules, and we’ll kind of see how those things continue to evolve.”

There’s no such thing as a JPEG for 3D

A number of companies are now building experiences for the metaverse, though depending on what stage of funding they’re in right now, they might be called virtual reality experiences instead. Mozilla was an early leader in the open standard of WebVR (now WebXR, or Mixed Reality), and anyone with a browser can go to Mozilla Hubs to see what this can be like.

Largely though, most companies are working in their own sandboxes, and their tools can’t talk to each other.

“I think some of the work that we’re going to do is going to be open standards, that many companies will adopt, that they’ll just become industry standard,” Shah said. “A couple of examples of that might be the work that we’re doing with GLTF and some of the 3D object standards, you know, there is no such thing today yet as like a JPEG for 3D. What is the equivalent of that? So, working towards that just from a purely object perspective.”

But the need for standards, he added, goes beyond the technology, and to how we interact with it. For example, Pinch-to-Zoom seems very intuitive and obvious today, but at the time it was first introduced it was a powerful new idea and had a profound impact on how we use our phones.

Similarly, some very basic questions in virtual reality still need to be answered. “Some things might be more like, travel standard. Travel in the sense that how do you move and navigate from place to place just like a URL,” Shah said. “It’s pretty understood how you can navigate from one web page to the other. [But] how do you navigate from one space to the other? Even if it’s a completely different, 3D engine that you’re actually in. But a layer above that might be more kind of interoperable standards around. How those objects show up the environment that you’re in, the avatars that you have to kind of show up in your identity and how you move from space to space.”

“And actually, I would hope that most of that actually can be applied beyond just the platforms that Meta builds because I think that’s the best thing for both consumers and for creators to ensure that their work can be used as broadly as possible today,” Shah added.

To that end, Meta has also started promoting UGC-led experiences called Horizon Worlds in the US and Canada, and he also promised that over the next year or two, “Meta will continue to build VR centric experiences, but also bring them more broadly across different devices.”


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Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 First Impressions: Is This Still the Best Virtual Reality Headset Around?

What’s the best VR headset you can buy in 2021? Thanks to Covid, this is a question that many people have been asking, and as it turns out, your options are pretty limited. That led to my trying out the Oculus Quest 2, to see if I could figure out if this standalone VR headset from Facebook can provide enough of an escape in a world that’s still far from normal.

Strap on a headset, controllers clutched in your palms, and you are transported to a whole new virtual world, where a play area is defined and games are at your fingertips, or in this case, controller-tips. That’s the promised magic of a virtual reality headset. A lot has been said about the potential of VR and how it still has a long way to go, and Facebook-owned Oculus seems to be leading the brigade when it comes to VR gaming.

The Oculus Quest 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor in terms of design. The headset has a pure white body with a black foam face mask, which now has a silicon attachment. As for specifications and power, Oculus has turned everything up a notch for this headset. The screen is much better, the ecosystem is more robust, and the headset itself is lighter and more comfortable than before. I have been using the Quest 2 for the past few weeks, and I often had it strapped on for more than an hour at a stretch – it was comfortable overall and did not give me a headache.

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The Oculus Quest 2 controllers provide haptic feedback and are powered by AA batteries

 

There is a simple head strap that can be adjusted. Oculus offers three manual lens spacing settings for even more clear vision, which feels less restrictive. The Quest 2 isn’t cluttered with too many buttons which maintains its simple look. There’s a power button on the right side, a volume rocker on the underside towards the right, and a USB Type-C port and an audio port on the left.

Launched in 2020, the Oculus Quest 2 is not officially available in India. It can be found popping up on some e-commerce sites at very high prices, but these are units sold unofficially by third-party vendors. In the US, it offers bang for your buck at $299 (approximately Rs. 22,200) — which is around $100 (approximately Rs. 7,400) less expensive than its predecessor was. There’s also a silicon cover that can be bought additionally for $39 (almost Rs. 3,000).

Setting up the Oculus Quest 2 is not as complicated as you might think it would be. There are no external wires, cameras or sensors that need to be placed around your room. After taking the headset out of its box, it just took me a few minutes to get it up and running. You need the Oculus mobile app on your phone to connect to the headset, and you’ll have to sign in with a Facebook account (this is needed to use the Quest 2). Then, just put on the headset. Once you take hold of the controllers, you will see them virtually through the headset. The Quest 2 will then prompt you to create a play space. Download a game and you’re good to get gaming. Whether you tilt your head up, down or sideways, you see a clear image around you. There are many games and videos that you can watch here. Experiences include viewing the New York City skyline, or riding roller coasters

The Quest 2 uses Oculus’ Guardian system to create a safe play area. This lets you use the controllers to sketch a virtual boundary around your furniture and space, which will prevent you from bumping into things. This is possible because of the headset’s Passthrough+ mode which uses cameras located on the outside to show you your surroundings. It’s pretty clear, albeit in black and white. If you leave your Guardian boundary while using the headset, it will switch to this mode so you can see your surroundings instantly, and avoid collisions. I found this very useful in super-immersive games,and it did prevent me from bumping into my TV several times.

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The power button is on the right, and a USB Type-C port and audio socket are on the left 

 

Oculus recommends a 6.5′ x 6.5′ (approximately 2m x 2m) space for room-scale VR activities. If you have limited space, you can stand or sit and create a stationary boundary as well.

The controllers have an orbital shape, and sit snug in the hands. There are straps that I did have to wrap around my wrists to prevent my controllers from falling. There are a bunch of buttons including a trigger-like button for picking things up, shooting, or selecting something in the virtual world. Navigating the VR UI does take some getting used to, but overall, the controllers perform really well and are snappy. Motion sensing is super accurate.

The Oculus Quest 2 has been given a serious uplift in performance compared to the previous Quest, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 SoC and 6GB of RAM. This processor makes playing games on the Quest almost a PC-level experience. Even the main interface of the headset is very smooth. There is also a lot more storage, which is useful considering that apps have started taking more space than before. The base variant now has 128GB, which I found to be enough, but serious gamers might appreciate the 256GB variant.

There is a new 1832×1920 pixel-per-eye resolution which is absolutely stunning. There is absolutely no pixelation even at the edges of the display. The Quest 2 goes runs at a refresh rate of up to 120 Hz in some games and apps.

I played the battle-royale-style Population: One, Beat Saber, and Eleven Table Tennis. The graphical detail in these heavy-duty games was impressive. I was immersed in the action and almost felt like I was in a sci-fi movie sometimes. In the Epic Roller Coasters app, I felt butterflies in my stomach as I went down steep slopes while sitting at my desk. Beat Saber had me hitting cubes that came at me to the beat of music while my controllers were cool virtual lightsabres. There are many multiplayer games too, like Population: One. I even watched Surviving 9/11, a VR documentary about the deadly attack in New York in 2001 on the Quest 2, and was transported to the New York skyline, floating above the city.

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You can choose from a library of VR games, videos, and apps

 

I could shoot easily in Population: One, and slash away colour blocks in Beat Saber. Haptic feedback from the controllers is impressive. They let me feel pulses with a slight vibration, and this definitely added to the thrill of a rollercoaster going down a steep rail! There are different haptic cues in various apps, sometimes even just gentle vibration that goes with the in-game music. 

The Oculus VR Store has quite a few apps and games. Most of the highly rated ones are not free though, and you will have to shell out anywhere from $5 (approximately Rs. 374) to $30 (approximately Rs. 2,246) for each. There are limited free apps and can get a bit repetitive with their content. Videos have a low repeat value beyond the initial novelty of VR, but that’s not the case for most games.

If you’d like others to see what you’re doing in VR, casting is possible too! You can cast to the Oculus app on your phone or to your TV using Chromecast. This way, you can show other people the VR experience you’re immersed in as well.

You can pair an external Bluetooth keyboard to use the Oculus Web browser or Facebook Messenger. The experience is not ideal, since you have to be seated, and looking around for keys is a bit tedious, especially if you need to type long URLs. Oculus has recently started supporting some keyboards such as the Logitech K830, so navigating its physical surface in virtual space is much easier. The real benefit of using a Bluetooth keyboard is limited right now on the Quest 2. You can also get phone notifications on the virtual screen, which is probably more useful. 

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The controllers are comfortable and easy to get used to

 

Using the Oculus Quest 2 for more than an hour at a stretch, I did start finding it slightly uncomfortable towards the end. The straps were tight around my head and I started feeling the weight of the device on my nose, so there was some slight physical discomfort. However, since the virtual screen is so clear, I did not feel disoriented even after gaming for an hour. Of course, one might experience some eye fatigue using a VR headset for longer than 45 minutes at a stretch.

There are speakers on the sides of the headset. Audio is crisp, although a bit thin. The only issue I had with it is that everyone else in the room can hear the sound too. Unfortunately, you can’t pair wireless earphones with the headset to use instead. The headphone jack allows you to connect headphones, but a wire hanging around in action-heavy games is not a good idea. Audio is a big part of the experience, and the Quest 2 delivers on that front, especially the sound directionality that the speakers allow for. The built-in mic is also decent and does its job.

Battery life is not the Quest 2’s strongest suit. It lasts around three hours with heavy use, but will need to be charged after that. I found that to be enough for my needs, as gaming for more than an hour at a stretch gets a little tiring. One drawback is that the controllers can’t be recharged via USB. Each controller takes one AA battery, and they ran for several weeks without running out of charge in my experience, so hopefully that isn’t a major limitation. You can of course get rechargeable AA batteries.

Oculus has beefed up its game with the Quest 2. Virtual Reality with this headset does not seem like it is in an iteration phase, but more as though it has finally taken shape. The Quest 2 has a complete ecosystem with some really cool games in the Oculus Quest Store. It works untethered, and the visual fidelity, audio, and content all make for a great overall experience. Oculus defines a lower age limit for users as 13+, and since something like this will have a lot of takers in their teens, the device could also have benefited from having parental controls. I also wish it had wireless earphones connectivity to make this the ultimate VR experience. 

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