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My thoughts on Facebook Connect and Oculus Quest 2

In today's episode, I want to deep dive and ramble on all things Facebook Connect. We’re going to talk about the new hardware that's been announced, including the Oculus Quest 2 and the potential upcoming AR glasses in partnership with Ray Ban. We're going to talk about the R&D that's coming down the pipeline with Facebook Reality Labs, which is the new subsection, or the rebrand part of the Facebook company that focuses on all of this immersive technology. We're going to talk about what it means for the future of the industry, things to be looking out for, my opinions and thoughts in general on everything that was announced. And so we're going to be diving into all that today.

Read on for the full transcription or listen to the podcast episode here

So firstly, I want to say thank you so much to everyone who messaged me this week wishing me luck for the production that I was directing earlier in the week, it went really well. Loads of stuff to talk about. I've had so many transformational moments in the last couple of weeks running up to this, so much that I want to share. I've written copious amounts of notes, and even made little video diaries of stuff that's been going on the last month or so involving this project. As soon as the project goes public (It’s a client project so at the moment, it's under NDA) but as soon as it goes public in a couple of months, I'm really hoping that I'll get to be able to do some really in depth episodes, taking you behind the scenes of this shoot and talking about the intricacies and all the things that I've learned directing a big volumetric project. So thank you, again, so much for all of your messages, it really genuinely means the world.

Let's dive in to all of the news from Facebook Connect. So, I'm recording this just after watching the Facebook Connect keynote, and there's definitely some really exciting things that came out of the keynote. So first was the announcement of the Oculus Quest 2, so this headset is replacing the first generation quest and it's got some serious tech upgrades that are going to really change the game for VR hardware. So just like the first quest, the Oculus Quest 2, is an all in one headset that can be used completely on its own. The main differences are a) it looks different. It's a white headset, which is interesting because I personally prefer the black slick look b they've changed the head straps to make it more comfortable. Supposedly, again, I'm really interested to actually get my hands on one because I feel like they've replaced the quest head straps with one that looks a bit more similar to the Oculus Go and I notoriously hated the head straps on the Oculus Go so I'm interested to see whether ergonomically this head strap is better for you and makes it much, much more distributed c) it’s got a slightly smaller form factor, so it's a slightly lighter, so you can wear it for longer, it's got a 50%, I believe they said more pixels in the screen, it's like an all in one screen built into the headset, which means 50% more pixel density, which is absolutely huge.

This is going to be a total game changer, especially in the realm of 360 video. I’m so excited to be able to have a look at some of the footage that I've shot on something like the Insta 360 Titan, to see how that image compares, because obviously, if you've got a much crisper display, you're going to have a much crisper image. Often the criticism that 360 video gets is that, you know, it's a little bit kind of VHS quality, it's a little bit blurry. I remember when I first started showing people 360 and they'd be like - is this meant to be that blurry? And I always had to use the analogy of you know, it's literally like the equivalent of going from watching a VHS to a DVD. Going back and watching a VHS, of course, the quality's gonna look a bit sucky but Fingers crossed with this pixel, this display, update, we're going to be able to really push the boundaries of a more immersive experience because that image is going to be so crystal clear. And the better the image quality, obviously, the higher resolution, the more that your brain is going to be tricked into believing what it is seeing. And you know, the high quality the image, the more it's going to closely resemble photo realism, aka what your eyes see, which is going to help in so many ways and further engage VR audiences.

Speaking of engaging audiences, how about that price point? So the Oculus Quest 2 is going to start at $299, or 299 pounds, which is £100 pounds cheaper than the original Oculus Quest. So not only are you getting a much better, more powerful, more high quality hardware, you're getting it for a cheaper price. That is going to encourage so many more people to want to take a chance on VR. Now of course, it's still at a price point where only early adopters and I would guess majority gamers will be enticed but there's probably going to be, you know a good percentage of people that wouldn't have touched it, the 400 pound price point, they're now going to be considering it because it's more closely aligned with a traditional price for a games console, which is potentially going to be absolutely game changing. So this is really setting the standard for that first time VR experience. And there was a lot of rumblings in the VR industry and a lot of kind of discontentment including from myself, when it was announced that Oculus were going to discontinue the Go and that was purely from the point of view of what about that first time user?

What about those independent venues that want to dip their toe into bringing new audiences into VR that can't afford the 400 pound price point per headset? Now, of course, 300 pound is still a lot of money and it's still going to be cost prohibitive for a lot of people, but all of a sudden, and that does open the I guess the window of opportunity for new organisations and new institutions for experimenting with VR, especially because for that price point to have a fully room scale interactive headset, not only you're going to be able to do things like put on VR cinemas, and have this beautiful high quality display for 360 viewing experiences, but you've also got the opportunity to have those interactive

experiences. All of a sudden an art gallery that might have previously had to only have one or two PC/VR setup to display some kind of VR work now that same art gallery can have maybe multiple headsets and in one session in the morning, they could have a synchronised viewing experience of a 360 film. And then in the afternoon, they could potentially have an interactive workshop where an artist live draws something or people are invited to live draw in Tilt Brush, I don't, I'm just spitballing here, but you see what I mean, the versatility of it, is now really exciting because you have a really fantastic middle ground technology that can allow both the full room scale and incredibly processing powered heavy experiences, at the price of something that even just couple of years ago, would have limited you to a three degrees of freedom very, very basic VR, and experience. So that's really, really exciting. And I think that's going to open a lot of doors.

For me personally, I still, as a consumer, don't have enough of a reason to really want to invest 300 pound in a VR headset, like a new VR headset, especially because I've already got the quest. You know, as user of VR, I'm not pissing my pants with excitement to go out and spend 300 quid on this headset that, yes, it's got all this extra power. But it's not really going to massively change the way that I use VR. But as a business owner, as someone who works in VR, as someone who's now going to be able to take this to my clients, and factor this into when I'm making original work and I'm planning on how to tour and distribute that work. This is totally game changing. And that's something for all of us to keep in mind, is just how we're going to position this all of a sudden, now we've got this really interesting middle ground for when we're pitching clients on using virtual reality technology. And that's, that's where I'm the most excited because it opens up this whole world. And you can get your clients to invest in something like an Oculus Quest 2, and be confident that they're going to get a lot of value out of it.

Because now not only can you deliver them a interactive 360 video, for example, but you will know that they could also be experimenting with collaborative, remote working using this headset, they could be using it for next level socialising or holding meetings in VR, they could be using it as a design tool with something like Tilt Brush, or what are some of the other ones…gravity sketch those kinds of things, all of a sudden, one device can have multiple users use cases within a company. So it's going to make that argument much easier when you're going in there pitching for a company to invest in VR, because all of a sudden, there's longevity, in that hardware. It's not just, oh, you buy it once for this one thing and it's hard to just survive the ROI. All of a sudden, this opens a whole world of possibilities for them to use the hardware in other ways. So that's very exciting.

The other big thing that I found really interesting was the focus on augmented reality. Now for those of you who have been listening to a lot of these episodes, you'll know that although I create mainly in VR, my business is VR and I am a massive, massive fan and believer in the next big mainstream adopted version of immersive technologies. And as smart glasses, in augmented reality. I think that in the next five years, we will all be walking around with with a pair of Ray Ban smart glasses and the way that we will build for smart glasses will totally revolutionise the way that we interact with each other. It will be the next level, It will be like having a smartphone on your face, I think that it's going to become integral to our lives. And clearly that's what Facebook are banking on as well, because a lot of the talk and a lot of the keynote was focused on their vision for what AR will be and it was interesting to hear about them announcing project Aria, which is their next phase of development, research and development around AR smart glasses. And what project Aria is, is a pair of not AR but just smart glasses that are basically researching and tracking a select group of people's interaction with the world through the lens, pun intended, of these glasses.

So this raises some really interesting questions about privacy, and the ethics of the future of our wearables, because the kind of data they're going to be collecting is everything from, you know how this person is interacting with the world, it's going to be mapping their spaces, wherever they are, it's going to have information about the locations and all the kind of geo tagging. And that goes on with our smartphones anyway but this is next level, because it's literally something that's on your face. Not only that, but obviously, you've got the eye tracking. Not only is it seeing what you're seeing in the world, it's also looking back inwardly at you and tracking where your eyes are, what are you looking at? What are the things that you're interacting with? What are the things that you're taking in, and as well as being able to not only record audio, but also record video, the video feed, because it's a bit like how Siri is constantly listening. And these glasses would be constantly watching because of course, it would have to map digital overlays onto your real life world. And so obviously, that begs a lot of questions about the ethics around the data being collected there, and what it's being used for. And I think it'll be really interesting to see how that evolves with a company like Facebook, because they're under so much scrutiny and they don't have the best track record, when it comes to being careful with people's data, I guess. And it has been known to be used for bad.

So how on earth will this company be able to get enough trust from the public to not only let them into our lives in an even more personal way, but literally be able to shape the world that we see through these glasses. It's going to be a really interesting in a few years to see how they go about that but I personally am fascinated by that stuff and that was one of my favourite things about this year's keynote, Facebook Connect was understanding their roadmap for where they see all this technology going. I think that's one of my favourite things about these events in general, it kind of reaffirms to me what I already kind of know. But it’s nice to kind of have these suspicions and have these thoughts about your industry, and have it reconfirmed by the people at the top, who is essentially driving it, who are spending billions of dollars, investing in the r&d and pushing the technology forward in that direction, it's really nice to kind of have those suspicions confirmed. And so for me, one of my favourite things was not even necessarily on the VR side, it was more hearing about what they envisioned of the future for all things augmented reality and spatial computing. I was watching a demo actually on the Facebook Reality Labs website because I think one of the big things that we all know is coming but hasn't quite been mastered yet, is this idea of social VR and this idea of social interactions. Instead of logging on to a zoom call, I could put on a pair of glasses and be in the same room as all of the people that I needed to be in a meeting with. So it's like with physically there, and I would absolutely prefer that to a zoom call if those people were photorealistic. That's one of the big things that I think is the challenge, I personally hate the avatar culture around social VR. Reminds me of being like a kid and playing on Habbo Hotel, and choosing like a silly kind of avatar to represent myself. Like it reminds me of that and I don't really like it. And I also think that there's a whole different wormhole of ethics that we go into in terms of anonymity and that kind of thing when it comes to the virtual world. One of these things that they're working on at Facebook Reality Labs is those photorealistic avatars and I was looking at a demo on their website where they've actually mastered a photorealistic avatar and it's got this kind of hanging down little panel from the VR headset that's tracking the mouth movement and you cannot really tell that the avatar moving isn't a person, like it looks just like a video, just like a video of someone moving their face around. But then they show you that it's actually someone in a VR headset with this little kind of motion sensor device that hangs out the front of the headset, which is tracking their mouth movement, and making the avatar move perfectly in time with it. Now that to me, that's next level. That's where all of this is going. That's where the next level of social VR is going to come from. Because one of the other things they touched on very briefly in the keynote, was about Facebook Horizons. So Facebook Horizons, for those of you don't know, which has just entered beta is essentially Facebook version of the Oasis, the iconic Oasis from Ready Player One, this future virtual playing ground, Facebook are betting on the fact that in future, instead of logging into your social media account to just scroll the feed, and to comment on people's photos or DM, you will log into this virtual world, you will put on a headset pair of glasses, whatever ends up being, and you will actually go to a physical virtual space with your friends and you will play games and you will hang out in these virtual spaces. Because why wouldn't you? I mean, it makes total sense. And I think there's going to have to be a lot that happens in between now and then because we are just so used to the kind of passive nature of interacting with things like Facebook groups, or message threads, like all of that is on our terms, unless you're someone that is really into the twitch and live streaming communities. And we're quite used to the passive nature of group hanging, I guess online, but Facebook are betting on the future of active socialising in virtual spaces, which I think is really interesting. And it'll be yeah, it'll be interesting to see how much they kind of get behind it, and how much they push that in the future but Facebook Horizons, if you've not heard of it, or you've not checked out the latest kind of videos from the demos definitely have a look because that tells us a lot about where they're pushing VR.

So all of these announcements combined make me pretty goddamn excited for the next year. In our industry, I think there was a bit of a low the last couple of years, COVID definitely put a bit of a nail in the coffin for location based immersive experiences and so it's interesting to see now the big push towards this remote socialising and advancements in the VR and AR hardware. I personally am really, really excited for the first pair of smart glasses to come out, I will be probably one of the first to use them because clearly I have absolutely no regard for my own privacy and data but I'm just fascinated to see how we can get away from this rectangular thing that we have in our pockets and, all of a sudden have the kind of world open up in terms of having all of that power on our face. That's going to be super exciting. I would love to hear from you.

What are you excited about in the next year of immersive tech? What did you think of

all the announcements at Facebook Connect?

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