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Facebook Inc. Has a Team Exploring Social Virtual Reality Experiences

By Daniel Sparks - Feb 24, 2016 at 3:08PM

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Already seeing promising progress, Facebook is as ambitious about virtual reality as ever.

In a Sunday blog post, Facebook (META -0.76%) updated investors with some of the progress it's made in virtual reality, along with a glimpse of its very ambitious vision for the technology in the future. Here's what the company had to say.

Facebook VR demonstration at Samsung Unpacked event. Image source: Facebook.

Virtual reality is already catching on with consumers
About three months after the launch of Gear VR, a virtual reality product combining the Oculus Gear VR headset with Samsung's mobile hardware, the platform is already gaining considerable momentum, according to Facebook's update this weekend on the platform. Over 200 games are now available in the Oculus app store for Gear VR, and users have already watched over 1 million hours of video with the device.

Facebook also noted that its breakthrough on next-generation video encoding techniques for 360 video and VR is already coming to Gear VR.

It's a more efficient way of delivering 360 videos, showing only the pixels you're actually looking at in the highest quality, instead of delivering the entire 360 video in high resolution.

The technology effectively quadruples the resolution quality of 360 streaming video by significantly reducing the amount of required network bandwidth by creating "dozens of variants for every 360 video that gets uploaded to Facebook, each tailored to a specific viewing angle."

Facebook also said millions of 360 videos are watched every day, and over 20,000 have been uploaded, with hundreds more being added every day. Yet CEO Mark Zuckerberg is convinced this is only the beginning, noting, "We've only just begun to explore the possibilities with this format."

The future is virtual
When Facebook acquired Oculus VR in 2014, Zuckerberg had big hopes for technology.

"One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people," Zuckerberg said in a press release announcing the acquisition. In the longer term, he noted it had potential to become the "next social and communications platform" -- quite an endorsement, coming from the founder and CEO of the world's largest social network.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Samsung Unpacked event. Image source: Facebook.

And it seems Zuckerberg's ambitions for VR haven't moderated at all. The company announced this weekend that it has created a team at Facebook "focused entirely on exploring the future of social interaction in VR."

This team will explore how people can connect and share using today's VR technology, as well as long-term possibilites [sic] as VR evolves into an increasingly important computing platform. They'll will work closely with Oculus and other teams at Facebook to build the foundation for tomorrow's social VR experiences on all platforms.

Zuckerberg explained that the company is helping companies connect on mobile devices today through apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, but now it will attempt to apply this same approach to a new medium: VR.

In the future, VR will enable even more types of connection -- like the ability for friends who live in different parts of the world to spend time together and feel like they're really there with each other.

Zuckerberg is clearly as serious about the technology as a medium for a future social platform as ever. But as Zuckerberg admits, the company will need to overcome some software and hardware hurdles before the platform becomes a mass-market product. But in light of Zuckerberg's huge ambitions for the platform, expect the company's execution to move as fast as the technology.

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