Facebook has announced its new Virtual Reality experience - Facebook Spaces. We take a look at how it works and what advantages does it offer over the traditional social media experience.
Is Facebook Spaces a game?
Virtual Reality has been one of the big technologies of the last year or so, and its innovations have usually centred on gaming.
Resident Evil 7 did it’s best to induce cardiac arrests in players with it’s terrifying atmosphere and violent surprises, and as you'll see from our Best Oculus Rift games of 2017 guide there are plenty of more exciting titles on their way.
So is Facebook Spaces just a fancy version of FarmVille or Clash of Clans? No. Not in the least. At the moment the platform offers no end goals, treasures to collect, or demons to overthrow.
Instead it’s a step into VR for social media, giving users the chance to interact with friends, share photos, videos, and just chat. It’s kind of like Facebook, but without all the political arguments and cat videos. Unless you bring them with you of course.
You'll need a VR headset, of course - we explain more about that below.
Where is it set?
Those with an interest in virtual worlds will remember Second Life, which offered users the ability to buy ‘land’ in the online world, on which you could build structures and even run a business.
This was interesting for a while, but the limitations of graphics and controllable characters meant that once the novelty wore off so did the desire to visit the pixelated shores.
Facebook Spaces takes this in a new direction by allowing users to create 360 videos (or take others found on the net) and ‘step-into’ those worlds with your friends.
Say one of your mates has been diving at the Great Barrier Reef and recorded the event, with Facebook Spaces you can explore those watery depths with them in VR.
The same is true if you’re planning an event or trip and want to check out the hotel or resort you’ll be staying at. So long as you can find a 360 video of the location then you can all wander around it together.
To see how you can easily create your own 360 images using your smartphone read our How to create 360 photos for Facebook on iOS and Android feature.
Facebook provides a number of 360 videos from around the world to kick off your Spaces experience, and if the VR initiative catches on then expect to see an explosion of content online from other sources.
Is it like video calling?
In a way, yes, but it’s much more than that. Facebook has fully integrated its normal social media platform into Spaces, meaning that all your friends and content are available.
The difference is that rather than just staring at your feed or a video call, you actually enter a 3D immersive world where you can look around, create items by drawing them in the air, and talk with friends who will also be present in that space.
When you first install Facebook Spaces the software will take you through creating an avatar which will be based on pictures of yourself already posted on Facebook.
These aren’t photo-realistic, but rather animated versions akin to the Mii avatars that were used on the Nintendo Wii.
With this done you’re then able to call other friends who are using Facebook Spaces and even hang out in a group chat together, but all in a virtual 3D environment.
Spaces also offers the ability to take selfies while in VR, and these pictures can be posted directly to your standard Facebook feed.
It is possible to call non-VR enabled friends, and while they will be able to see what you’re doing and talk with you, they won’t be able to interact with the environment.
For families and friends spread out across a country, or indeed the world, this could be great way to feel closer to each other while sharing experiences.
How does it work?
To enter into the Virtual Reality world of Facebook Spaces you’ll need a VR headset and controllers. The Oculus Rift is the favoured child, mainly because Facebook owns the company.
VR usually needs a reasonably powerful PC, and Facebook recommends at least an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 GPU, Intel i5-4590 equivalent or later, plus 8GB of RAM and 1.35 GB of storage space.
How can I get Facebook Spaces?
At the moment the software remains in beta (in development), meaning that it will have mainly quirks and bugs that need to be ironed out.
But those willing to experiment in this new social media environment (and already equipped with an Oculus Rift headset and controllers) can visit the Facebook Spaces Beta site and download the app.