Facebook spaces: A new virtual reality platform

By Amruth Chinnappa

Facebook is the latest participant in the virtual reality sector with its new product, Facebook Spaces. The largest communication network on the planet has in its potential user base a very promising market. Back in 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus VR for the sum of 2 Billion dollars thus telling the world of their intention to step into that realm of science fiction depicted and popularized by cult classics like The Matrix. Launched on the 18th of April 2017, Facebook Spaces aims to create a place for users to hang out, promising to be ‘the most social platform ever‘ according to Mark Zuckerberg. The user is required to use a headset and wrist tracker to fulfil the spatial requirements of the system.

Another dimension

To begin with, the user is expected to design an avatar which would represent them in the virtual space. The avatar is either based off of the last set of photos uploaded by the user or is customized as needed. Surprisingly, it has a good response system with the movement of the lips and the speech almost in sync with one another.  Although the facial expressions on the avatar are no substitute for talking one on one through a video call, the inclusion of the wrist trackers enables it to depict the body language of the user and is an effective conversation tool.

Having created an avatar, the user is introduced to a virtual room and can invite up to three people for a conversation. A virtual marker is provided to write anywhere in the room. The marker—along with ample clip-art—can be moved around throughout the space. One of the most interesting aspects of the system is the use of 360-degree videos to visually transport the users into places like the middle of a crowded marketplace, the lush tropics, or the top of a pyramid, creating an immersive experience.

Apart from such features typically seen in a virtual reality system, Facebook Spaces has a host of other attributes. An extremely useful and handy feature is the integration of the messenger’s video-calling facility to open a window in the virtual space to have a conversation with a non-user. This could help in bringing home the experience to sceptics and might generate a lot of new users. A selfie stick is provided as well to record any memorable moments in the space. Facebook Spaces has promised safety and comfort in its use and offers the option of muting any user in the room. It also allows for the pause of the system as needed.

Taking the lead

Altspace—a similar developer of VR spaces—has been in this domain for a while and has undertaken massive efforts to find a way to seamlessly convert 2D images to 3D spaces. This can drastically cut down on the time needed to build these spaces from scratch. Although Facebook Spaces is still treading water, the mogul stands a very good chance of surpassing its predecessors in VR as is evidenced by its successes over other social networking sites like MySpace.

All this does come at quite a hefty price with the necessary headset from Oculus selling for $600. The system additionally requires a space of 1.18 GB and a RAM of 8GB for optimal performance. A graphics card like NVIDIA GTX 970 or its equivalent is also necessary for the functioning of Facebook Spaces. The extent to which this investment would pay off remains to be seen and relies solely on the up-gradation of the system and the features offered.

Living in the future

Apart from being an exciting, adventurous and safe space to hang out with friends, virtual Reality is set to replace many standard avenues in the fields of healthcare, fashion, media, engineering, and education. It has become more accessible every day with an increasing number of people shunning 2D images and videos for a more engrossing virtual experience; so much so that it might necessitate a Bruce Willis to save everyone from a Surrogate-like future where avatars act as substitutes for people in every walk of life. Unsurprisingly, the porn industry seems to have adapted to this with aplomb. Statistics in the UK show that there has been a 250% increase in the number of viewers who have opted for VR-Porn over the course of a year from 2016 to 2017. What a time to be alive!

Featured Image Source: Pexels