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Facebook wants to blur lines between reality and virtual reality

Sharon Gaudin | March 27, 2015
Facebook doesn't want to simply build a virtual reality game where users put on a headset and pretend they're flying a jet or commanding a tank.

Those senses are what Abrash wants to use in VR experience.

"An experience is what your mind infers from the data it receives," he said. "VR done right truly is reality as far as the observer is concerned."

"I've played and gotten hooked on some of these games," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "They are really much more like being in the middle of the action and are clearly far more immersive. It should revolutionize simulation and it could turn Facebook into more of a virtual meeting place between people and make it far more social than it is today."

Brian Blau, an analyst with research firm Gartner, said Facebook is on the right track to not only work on the technology behind virtual reality but also on how the human mind perceives what is happening around it.

"Without this understanding, there is a real risk that the virtual reality experiences they enable just won't be good enough to keep users engaged past it being a novelty," Blau said. "It could be years or decades before these realistic virtual reality experiences can be made. In the beginning, virtual reality skiing will be really compelling, but in future years it will move beyond compelling and become believable."

Facebook will likely first use Oculus-based virtual reality in gaming and then move it into the core of the social network, enabling users to set up their own experiences or take part in their friends' virtual experiences.

To some, this talk about blurring the lines between reality and virtual reality is sounding too good to be true.

"It's like they've taken the script of a science-fiction flick and made it into a business model," said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. "It's starting to sound like Star Trek from the '60s. We'll just have to wait and see how much of it becomes reality. There's no way to tell at this early stage, but it shows that they're thinking anyway."

Abrash said Oculus and Facebook are working toward a goal where virtual reality replaces, rather than augments, the real world. He said he envisions the companies creating new realities.

"Virtual reality is going to be the next big thing," Abrash said. "It's more than just another platform, but it can create the whole range of human experience. It will be a long time before that can be fulfilled, but the work for that is well under way. Virtual reality has the potential to change almost everything about the way we live."

Gartner's Blau agreed that virtual reality technology could have a significant impact on the way people play and communicate. It also could squeeze those lines between what's real and what isn't, but that won't come for a while.


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