By Shaan Khan
Mark Zuckerberg’s pipe dream, known as META, has been making the rounds in the media these past few months. While the term ‘META’ is the rebranding of Facebook’s parent company, it’s also the readjustment of the company’s goals, where Virtual Reality now takes centre stage for all the companies, brands, products, and services under the umbrella of META.
In theory, META hopes to be a new age Internet of Things (IoT) built from the ground up in a 3D meta-space accessed by virtual reality headsets.
The end goal is to change the way we interact with computers & smart devices, which traditionally is achieved throughs screens that act as windows we peep into. Instead, META is creating a perceivably real-world space that is, in fact, generated by your computers & smart devices—literally walking into websites as if they were shops.
What makes any of this sound practical?
- Sustainability & Cost-Effective – Less need for travel & physical resources if places of interest can be constructed & accessed digitally from the comforts of our homes
- Unlocked Life Enhancements – As we know, computers & smart devices are creative technology able to mould around our lives and enhance them. Applying this to a virtual space will be a new honey pot of creativity that supersede what can be done in the real world since the virtual world doesn’t share the same physical restraints—you could fly, breathe flames or interact with sci-fi tech! Also beneficial for productivity & convenience, of course…
- A New Means of Building your Capital – Virtual Reality will change the way we work, play games or share our talents; becoming proficient in the tech will develop you with newfound skills, making yourself an asset in the space that can net an income for you in return. For example, you could be a creator of Virtual Reality spaces, entertainer or teacher. Also, an active economy within sections of Virtual Reality could allow for some items, lands, products and services within the set space to be valued and sold at VR marketplaces.
What are Virtual Reality headsets?
From the dawn of computers, Virtual Reality has been a concept that has followed its mainstream counterpart from the shadows. Many have perceived traditional computers as a stepping stone towards Virtual Reality.
The 60s to 70s:
Attempts have been made but fell short. In the 60s, the first Virtual Reality device was created; a contraption of a headset that housed eye lenses and a digital display packed tightly together and powered by a computer. The optical ingenuity was to build a perceptive experience akin to the hypothetical of having computer screens built into glasses lenses—making your eyes view nothing more than a Virtual Reality as a standard pair of glasses would allow you to look at nothing more than a Physical Reality.
This basis of a Virtual Reality headset has existed even up to this day, but the technology that went into the headsets back then were limiting. For instance, there was no way to move around with the Virtual Reality headset for their sheer size, and 3D graphics weren’t around to replicate reality, so the device was only used to view static multimedia that can’t be interacted with like real-world spaces.
The 80s to 90s:
Over time, especially in the 80s & 90s, 3D graphics came onto the scene. Virtual Reality headsets were also considerably smaller and lighter, mainly because they didn’t have to be conjoined directly to the beefy computers and consoles from those days. Instead, they connected with them via thin & lengthy cables.
The added manoeuvrability gave the Virtual Reality headsets the functionality of motion tracking. All in all, once wearing the VR headset, you become an avatar with a first-person view of a constructed virtual world made with 3D graphics, and you could move your head around to see the space in 360 degrees.
Virtual Reality went from a device for multimedia to video games and simulations. Sadly, despite the generational improvements, 3D graphics were not realistic. Computers weren’t powerful enough to make tracking the 360-degree virtual spaces smooth due to low frames per second (FPS) of graphically generated worlds. Making matters worse, the low refresh rate of screens (Hz) didn’t allow you to track particle motion realistically.
The Dark Ages of VR:
The new millennium was a breakthrough in innovation for technologies such as the rise of the internet, online gaming, web 3.0, e-commerce and smart devices. These were all the tools needed to build out the Virtual Reality of peoples dreams decades ago. However, VR sat on the side-lines of technology with no innovation in the field, making this the dark age of the industry, until forward to 2014—A campaign on the public funding website ‘Kickstarter’ had appeared.
A New Hope – Oculus Rift:
Company Oculus VR had given life back to Virtual Reality by creating the crowdfunded Virtual Reality headset, Oculus Rift. The device used high resolution & high refresh rate displays within the headset. They also packed in three-axis gyros, accelerometers and magnetometers to accommodate the head tracking within the virtual space. Two wand-style controllers for each hand were included that tracked hand movement—allowing you to use your hands within the virtual space as you would the physical world.
You could also use the controller’s joystick to move around in Virtual Reality. There were third-party controllers and accessories that could be used to track body movement as well.
People’s initial reaction to trying the Oculus Rift was one of awe. The immersion level had never been felt like this before with any Virtual Reality device. To top it all off, Oculus VR created a hub, so whenever you put on the headset, you were instantly ported into a virtual 3D space. From there, you could access other virtual spaces such as video games and multimedia apps—never taking you out of the immersive experience.
Computers & consoles were more powerful to avoid low frame rates and allow for more intensive graphics to depict your wildest imaginations.
This was the first true innovation in decades, and not long after, other companies such as HTC & Valve would create their Virtual Reality headsets. Even Oculus would develop a line-up of Virtual Reality devices—every one of these companies would try improving on the tech and include an innovation.
Facebook saw Oculus as the future, seeing that, through the power of the internet and Virtual Reality, you create the perfect conditions for a social space that’s the evolution of social media—with Facebook being at the top of the monopoly of social media.
The Latest Innovation in Virtual Reality & The Birth of META – Oculus Quest
Screenshot Courtesy of Oculus on Instagram
High-powered computers to run the most graphically intensive virtual worlds are expensive and hardly accessible for a mainstream audience, making it counter-intuitive for META ever to reach its goal of mass adoption of Virtual Reality to advance society.
Cables and secondary equipment such as camera tracking arrays added annoyance that took the fun away from Virtual Reality. You always had to fiddle with them to allow yourself to move around and be tracked in the process.
After Oculus VR’s acquisition by Facebook in 2019, the team released a new headset known as ‘The Oculus Quest’, which included a small, lightweight computer system into the headset, including tracking technology. Hence, all you needed was the headset and a pair of controllers to move around and no annoying cables holding you down.
The technology was much cheaper, and although not as powerful as being hooked up to most desktop computers, compact machines are rapidly becoming more efficient and competing with the tower beasts. A perfect example is the new 2021 MacBook Pros with the M1 pro & M1 max chips that professionals in high-intensive computing are adopting as their device of choice for productivity over their beefy Intel-powered desktops.
The Oculus Quest 2 received a game-changing improvement over its predecessor since it can be hooked up to a computer with a thin cable if you decide to run a more graphically intensive world.
The near future is promising for cableless Virtual Reality headsets. Facebook seems to think so as well, which is why they announced a new Virtual Reality headset they are working on titled ‘Project Cambria’. A cableless Virtual Reality headset announced alongside META—highlighting both products are the perfect match for one another in this new phase in Virtual Reality we are entering.
What is Virtual Reality Used For?
Screenshot Courtesy of Oculus on Instagram
Today, Virtual Reality is far from being a device just for gaming. The apps for virtual reality target the following areas:
In professional fields, Virtual Reality is deployed to train people by having them undergo simulations within VR for areas such as construction, surgery, transport operation and engineering.
For marketing & sales, having people view a product such as real estate in Virtual Reality might help a business and individual reduce the cost of showing the product or place in person due to costly travel restraints.
Virtual Reality is also a tool for many professionals to produce work. An artist or architect now has a 3D space for sketching and creating, working with scale akin to real life and not limited by paper sizes or physical materials.
Socialising with people worldwide is another selling point, where users could practise their skills in dating, presenting and entertaining thanks to online worlds where users get together. These benefits apply to concerts, where musicians can perform to an international audience without travelling to a central place on earth but keeping the experience of a real-world show.
From virtual museums to military simulations, Virtual Reality is used for almost every aspect of life. Time will tell to see if Virtual Reality has become the new norm for everyone. Where we work, study, play, socialise and create in the META world with every business and institution setting a foothold in the space.
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