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virtual reality

Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR this week put the social media giant in the news again. The company recently purchased WhatsApp for $19 billion, but their most recent move signals Facebook’s plans to embrace the futuristic world of virtual reality. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been open of late regarding the future of social media, and it’s apparent he is attempting to secure the long-term success of his business.

Oculus VR displayed their prototype at E3 in June 2012, and initiated a Kickstarter campaign soon after. With a target of $250,000, the company had secured this within four hours, eventually amassing a total of over $2 million. Anticipating the hardware’s immense potential, Facebook has secured the company under their name. With most technology now home to social media, is the next step the virtual world?

Eyeing The Future

Oculus Rift headset

Virtual reality has long been a popular concept, although its more advanced features have been restricted to science fiction. It can be traced back to the 1860s, when 360 degree murals of artwork were used as public attractions. From the 1920s vehicular simulators were being used, and by 1968 Ivan Sutherland had created the first head-mounted unit. Jaron Lanier helped to coin the phrase “virtual reality” in the 1980s after his company pioneered VR goggles, and NASA continued to develop the technology in the 1990s as part of their space program. Since then, public fascination has rapidly grown.

Recent hardware is bringing virtual reality closer to reality, and Facebook are attempting to be prescient and jump ahead of the competition; whether their deal pays off is subject to the passage of time. Many business insiders are still baffled by the $19 billion spent on WhatsApp, and the move to secure Oculus VR could be construed as another overly hasty piece of money flaunting. However, Facebook’s recent endeavours suggest they are aware their long-term future isn’t secure, despite their current unprecedented success.

The hardware itself, called the Oculus Rift, consists of a headset which has a mounted display the user places around their head. From here, a user can observe a display screen. The consumer version is in development and will advance upon the developer model. Although details haven’t been finalised, it is expected that head tracking motion detection, positional tracking, 1080p resolution, and wireless operation will be part of the finished product. Several versions of the device have motion tracking, which employs an external camera. This tracks the movement of the headset, allowing a user to lean and crouch and have their movements simulated. This would help alleviate any motion sickness. Asides from this, until we all try one it’s difficult to comment on the actual experience (you can see videos of it in action here).

Naturally, CEO Mark Zuckerberg delightedly noted the acquisition with an official blog post. He stated, “They build virtual reality technology, like the Oculus Rift headset. When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people. People who try it say it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives.”

He went on to outline some possibilities, “This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.” It’s an exciting prospect for technology fans, one which Facebook were willing to part with $2 billion for. Can it possibly be worthwhile?

Virtual Reality and Social Media

Project Morpheus headset

The technology is one way for Facebook to ensure their brand doesn’t become obsolete due to complacency. Although in its development stage, and not guaranteed to lead anywhere, the virtual reality concept could be revolutionary. As the hugely popular video game industry is ever immersing itself with social media and impressive technology, these headsets could play an intrinsic part in the development of the industry. Outside of this, its impact on home computing would be extraordinary, whilst the smartphone and home entertainment industries could also play a major part in its success.

In the electronic industry, Nintendo flirted disastrously with the technology in 1995. Their Virtual Boy console was poorly designed and failed commercially. Almost two decades on, Sony showcased their virtual reality headset (Project Morpheus – pictured above) at the Game Developers Conference this year. Oculus VR’s attempts have received the most interest, although backers haven’t taken kindly to the Facebook merger. Defending the deal on their official blog, Oculus VR stated, “Facebook understands the potential for VR. Mark [Zuckerberg] and his team share our vision for virtual reality’s potential to transform the way we learn, share, play, and communicate. Facebook is a company that believes that anything is possible with the right group of people.”

They added, “This partnership is one of the most important moments for virtual reality: it gives us the best shot at truly changing the world. It opens doors to new opportunities and partnerships, reduces risk on the manufacturing and work capital side, allows us to publish more made-for-VR content, and lets us focus on what we do best.” In terms of the business world and social media, Oculus Rift will no doubt raise many corporate eyebrows once it clears its next big hurdle — launch day. From there, all eyes will be inside its headset judging whether a futuristic dream has been realised, or $2 billion has been squandered.

The hardware is set for release in late 2014/early 2015 at an expected price of $350. In the meantime, you can visit the Oculus Rift website for further information.

About Alex Morris

Alex Morris has worked as a copywriter, digital marketer, creative SEO, and social media manager for a leading small business in the UK. He now spends his time reporting about the business and technology industries, whilst developing his blog and working on a debut novel. He has been a business writer and blogger since completing a Journalism Masters degree in 2007.

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