The following post was first published in a previous edition of IoT Daily. It has been edited slightly.
Virtual reality just went social -- and the first offering from a major player is coming to mobile-based VR viewers with immersive VR system support this year.
While social VR was also an area of focus at a recent VR Hackathon, Oculus recently launched two new social-based VR offerings called Rooms and Parties, which will enable social interaction and engagement within a singular virtual environment.
Oculus Parties are voice-only calls integrated directly into the VR environment. The calls are limited to three friends at a time, according to Oculus.
Once friends are connected in a Party, they can then join a Room where they can engage in group activities within the virtual environment. Group activities include watching videos on a TV, playing matching or guessing games, and launching multiplayer games, according to Oculus.
Others exploring VR also aim to integrate multiple users into a single virtual environment and enable interaction.
For example, a team recently developed a VR application that enables multiple users to interact with each other and virtual objects within a VR environment at the Reality, Virtually Hackathon, as the IoT Daily reported at the time ("Isobar, Hill Holliday Back Virtual/Augmented Reality Confab; 300 Compete").
Team KidCity VR’s TreeHouse platform, which won the award for Best VR Hack and Best HTC Vive Hack, is a learning tool for young children and a platform for parents to remotely engage with their children in virtual reality.
TreeHouse is similar to Oculus Rooms, with the shared environment being a treehouse where parents can guide their children through typical learning activities that would be used in the physical world, such as stacking virtual blocks.
However, the connectivity in KidCity VR’s case seems to be broader than Oculus, with parents tapping into the environment through a VR headset, desktop or mobile.
The communication is also not limited to voice-only. When connecting by desktop or mobile, parents can use video calling through a portal within the virtual environment so their child can hear and see them. This in-experience video conferencing capability is a new one, according to the KidCity VR team.
In addition to Oculus’ ecosystem, the platform ties into Facebook accounts, so users can search for friends by name or Oculus username and then become "Oculus friends."
Anyone with the hardware to support this should already have an Oculus account, which is required to set up and use either of the VR headsets.
Oculus Rooms and Oculus Parties are available to anyone with a Samsung Gear VR headset (and supported Samsung smartphone) and will be available on Oculus’ PC-based Rift immersive VR system this year, according to Oculus.
The VR headset market is currently fragmented between mobile-based VR headsets and gaming console and PC-based immersive VR systems. As a result, immersive content and interaction capabilities, such as Oculus’ social integration, are not available to every consumer with VR equipment.
In Oculus’ case, the mobile-based offering may be the better route for the immediate future, since Samsung’s Gear VR operates on the Oculus platform.
Samsung is expected to lead the market of all major virtual reality viewers in 2016, according to a recent study from SuperData Research, as the IoT Daily recently reported (VR Sales Lower Than Projected, Samsung Still Leads Market).
That study projects Samsung’s Gear VR headset to lead the market with 2 million units sold by the end of 2016. However, Oculus’ other VR offering, the Rift, is near the bottom of the list, with 355,000 sales in 2016.
Sony’s PlayStation VR and HTC’s Vive systems round out the top four with 745,000 and 450,000 sales respectively, according to SuperData.
Virtual representations of users and humanistic interactions don’t appear to be part of this social rollout, but the focus is on "enabling social activities that mirror how you may hang out with friends in real life," according to Oculus.