All eyes were on Meta recently, as the metaverse company showed the world what’s it’s been working on for the last year.
In the 12 months since CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced to the world that Facebook would become Meta and that the company’s overall goals had switched to pioneering metaverse technology, there’s been plenty of hype around what’s in the pipeline.
With hours of footage available online, it’s possible to watch the event from the comfort of your own device. But what are the key takeaways?
Here’s a brief rundown of the news and insights from this year’s Meta Connect conference.
Despite spending nearly two decades leading the world in the social networking industry, this year’s event steered away from discussions around any changes to the company’s well-established platforms, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, instead focusing on VR endeavours.
But that’s not to say that the metaverse company has dropped “social”. Zuckerberg and CTO Andrew “Boz” Bosworth talked at length about how VR has shifted from being a solitary activity to a social one. This is evidenced by the popularity of titles like VR Chat and other VR social apps.
The focus of much of the keynote address was on how Zuckerberg’s Meta is building meaningful connections without the distraction of tech getting in the way through the use of VR.
The Meta Quest Pro
As expected, the biggest announcement at this year’s Meta Connect was about the launch of the Meta Quest Pro. Over the last couple of months, we’ve had some details about the new headset as well as a leaked prototype, but now Meta has finally filled in the blanks.
Previously dubbed “Project Cambia”, the new high-end headset will retail at $1,500 and is set to hit the shelves on 25th October. Aimed at developers, early adopters, businesses, and die-hard VR enthusiasts, this feature-laden VR device is worth writing home about.
The headset is the first to feature the new Snapdragon XR2+ Gen 1 chipset. Additionally, RAM is doubled from 6GB on the Quest 2 to 12GB on the Quest Pro.
Where the previous Quests had the RAM positioned above the processor, the Quest Pro’s RAM is housed to the sides. This improves thermal dissipation, which ultimately improves the performance of the headset.
Unlike previous Occulus and Meta products, the Quest Pro swaps fresnel lenses for pancake lenses, much like the Pico 4 uses. Pancake lenses provide a wider field of view and sharper image quality. Not only this, but the slimmed-down lenses reduce the headset’s overall weight.
Along with eye-tracking technology, the Quest Pro also uses foveated rendering to reduce render workload.
Adjusting the pupil distance is easier than ever on the Quest Pro. Unlike the previous Quest models, the Pro offers stepless adjustments across a wider range. Improvements to IPD adjustment mean images will appear sharper, and eye strain will be reduced.
Buddled with the Quest Pro are two self-tracking controllers that offer improvements in areas such as haptic feedback and index finger sensing. The Touch Pro controllers will later become available on their own, meaning Quest 2 users can buy them to use with their headsets.
Avatars in Horizon Worlds will undergo a makeover. Gradually, improvements will be made to add more detail and expression to the avatars. The announcement that was met with the most excitement around avatars was that they’d soon grow legs.
Until now, Horizon avatars have been floating heads, arms, and torsos. Finally, much to the amazement of many, the cartoon-like avatars will soon have legs and feet.
Once the change hits Horizon Worlds, the position of your legs will be estimated and only visible to other people you’re interacting with. The legs will appear in Horizon Worlds later this year, and they’ll be added to avatars in other apps from next year.
Later this year, Meta will launch an avatar store where users can buy clothing for their online personifications designed by famous fashion brands.
With eye tracking now available, the facial expressions of avatars can change in real-time, providing an enhanced social experience.
Soon, users will be able to generate avatars based on selfies. This will allow more life-like representations. This feature is similar to one offered on the now-discontinued Facebook Spaces app.
From next year, users will also be able to use their avatars in video calls across platforms such as Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. There are plans to make avatars available in Zoom calls from next year, as well as in other Android and iOS apps created using Unity and in games created using Unreal Engine.
Until now, Horizon Worlds has been a purely VR experience. But soon, users will be able to access the platform on a wider range of devices, including PCs and smartphones.
Currently, the visuals found in Worlds are quite cartoon-like and primitive. Changes in the creation tools will mean you can create richer environments using 3D models from tools such as Adobe Substance, Maya, Blender, and ZBrush.
Another change that will aid creators will be that soon you will be able to use TypeScript. This will increase interactivity and make new worlds more dynamic.
Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote included lots of detail about how VR will provide benefits within the workplace. He went on to outline a series of collaborations with the likes of Adobe, Autodesk, and Accenture, which brought metaverse access to their remote teams.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joined Zuckerberg to talk about how the two firms were linking up to enhance workplace VR together. Soon, you’ll be able to use your Meta Avatar in Teams.
Additionally, staple Microsoft applications such as Windows 365, Teams, Intune, and Azure Active Directory will be available for both Quest 2 and Pro.
Horizon Workrooms will get some new features, including adding sticky notes to existing virtual whiteboards, group breakout capabilities, and Zoom integration.
Added to your virtual workspace, you’ll soon be able to overlay three additional personal environments.
Navigating the metaverse is set to become much easier with neural interfaces. As previously posted, wristbands could provide the subtle method for interacting in VR worlds, removing the need for controllers and keyboards.
Electromyography (EMG) picks up on the slightest movements. With controls allocated to specific gestures, using the metaverse will become intuitive and simple. These may be used in conjunction with haptic gloves that will give a physical sense of virtual objects.
VR gaming is on the rise. Figures at this year’s Connect reveal that 55 games on Quest have exceeded sales of over $5 million, with 33 surpassing $10 million.
This year’s Meta Connect saw a series of announcements about new VR game releases, including Iron Man VR, Behemoth, Among Us VR, and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution.
There are updates to several existing titles too. Population: One will have a new sandbox mode added later this year, while the games I Expect You To Die and Demeo will gain added mixed reality elements.
Other announcements included the news that Xbox Cloud Gaming will soon come to Quest, allowing users to access a catalogue of 2D games within VR. The games can be played using a connected Xbox controller.
The event was also an opportunity to announce Meta’s acquisition of two new studios: Camouflaj and Armature.
Did Meta Connect Revive Metaverse Hype?
Although the idea of a metaverse has been around for much longer, it’s been a full year now since Meta brought the concept to the mainstream when they announced their new path to the world. Since then, has the interest been sustained?
The updates to both Horizon Worlds and Workspace make these platforms more attractive, and the Quest is certainly growing strength in terms of collaborative gaming,
But the Quest Pro is maybe more expensive than many may have expected, and there was no mention of the Quest 3. There’s little in the way of tech taimed at standard users. So, with new PSVR, Pico 4, and HTC headsets due for release soon, how will Meta fare?