Virtual reality isn't limited to gaming.
Ever since the Oculus Rift VR headset debuted a few years ago, most of the talk surrounding the latest VR craze has centered around gaming. Most of the demos we've seen for the Rift, for instance, are some type of game. Although we know VR can extend into other applications, including to travel across the world from the comfort of your home, one area that hasn't been discussed a lot is social.
Well, Facebook-owned Oculus VR has a social strategy and recently demoed it while at the Oculus Connect 3 conference in early October. Here's everything you need to know about being social in VR, including the Oculus platform's new social features and coming support for live streaming.
How does Facebook see us being social in VR?
Think about it: imagine being able to step into a VR world and communicate with your best friend who lives in some far-away country. The two of you can chat with each other, play cards together, watch movies, and do whatever you want - including take selfies using virtual selfie sticks.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently demoed this exact type of functionality for the Oculus platform. He showed developers what a "live VR chat" experience looks like, and then Oculus VR introduced two new social features - called Rooms and Parties - for Rift and Gear VR owners. Oculus VR also announced that it would soon support the ability to livestream straight from the Rift headset.
What is 'live VR chat' for Oculus?
It's an in-development project that Facebook is working on so that you can use VR to be social. These were the key concepts demoed:
While on stage at Connect 3, Zuckerberg put on a Rift headset and jumped into a VR social experience he called "live VR chat". We saw cartoon avatars appear of Zuckerberg and two Oculus engineers. Their avatars displayed emotions and facial expressions in real time. The Rift's Touch controllers come with new emotion options, which allowed Zuckerberg and the others to show their expressions such as smiling, etc.
Zuckerberg also showed how the Rift's live VR chat experience not only gives your own avatar but also allows you and your friends to travel to anywhere in the world - and beyond. He instantly went from Oculus Connect 3 to Mars, and then he went to Facebook's offices. After that, he went home to check his dog, Beast, and make a video call with his wife, Pricilla. The three of them even took a selfie with a virtual selfie stick.
Oculus VR doesn't just want you to have avatars and be able to transport anywhere; it wants you to be able to interact and engage with friends. During the live VR chat demo, Zuckerberg played cards with two Oculus engineers and fenced with them. He also watched a video of a falcon, and the video was able to expand into a cinema-size screen so that the three of them could watch it together as if it were a movie.
Then, when Zuckerberg went home during the demo, he showed developers that he could open up a video call through Facebook Messenger, then he chatted with Priscilla in real-time, and took a photo with her. He even posted that photo to Facebook. Again, while all this was happening, he stood on stage at Connect 3, and his avatar did all the traveling, chatting, and social interacting. He just live-streamed the whole thing.
What are the new Oculus social features?
To make live VR chat possible for Oculus users today, Oculus introduced two new social features, called Rooms and Parties, and announced that support for live streaming from VR headsets is coming to the platform.
Rooms and Parties
Lauren Vegter, Oculus platform product manager, took the stage to demo Parties, which allows you to chat with friends on your friend’s list, and Rooms, which is a a social VR hangout for up to eight people. While Parties lets you message and connect up to eight people for a voice chat, Rooms lets those friends meet up in a lounge and watch videos together (provided by Facebook), listen to music, and play games.
You can even gather around an app launcher in Rooms, which allows everyone to jump into the same game or experience at the same time. Oculus is offering developers the coordinated app launch API so they can integrate it into their multiplayer games and experiences. Both Rooms and Parties will be coming to Gear VR and Oculus Rift.
In order to show developers in the audience at Connect 3 how live VR chat works, Zuckerberg put on the Rift and live-streamed his view straight from the headset. Oculus said support for live streaming is coming soon to the Oculus platform, so that you can show your friends your view too.
When will these features be available?
Facebook launched Oculus Rooms and Parties on 16 December 2016 for the Gear VR headset and the Oculus platform, thought the feature set won't be available for the Oculus Rift headset until early 2017.
Want to know more?
Check out Pocket-lint's Oculus Connect 3 round-up to see what else Oculus has envisioned for the future of VR.