With so much hype about the metaverse, it can be difficult to know exactly what it is and where VR fits in. This article will help you understand what the metaverse is, and explain the differences and similarities between it and VR.
The metaverse is a term used to describe immersive ways to interact with computers and other people who are not in the same physical space as you. VR is a technology that enables you to interact with immersive, 3D, computer-generated environments to allow these interactions to take place.
Metaverse Vs VR
To understand how these two terms are connected, and how they differ, let’s start by learning exactly what VR and the metaverse are, and what they are not.
What Is VR?
Virtual Reality is a technology that allows you to experience a 3D, computer-generated environment by wearing a head-mounted display that creates a sense of immersion in a digital space. You can move in this virtual world by moving your head and body, or using controllers. Visual, auditory, and haptic feedback are used to increase immersion while in VR.
VR headsets can either be standalone, such as the Meta Quest 2, or require a wired connection to a computer, such as the Valve Index.
Common uses for VR include the following;
- Gaming – Immersive 3D games such as Beat Saber, Half-Life Alyx, Boneworks, etc.
- Social VR – Examples include VRChat, Rec Room, and Horizon Worlds
- Entertainment – Watch live entertainment such as sports and shows in VR.
- VR Flight Simulation – VR is used widely to train pilots in VR simulators.
- Education – VR has a wide range of educational applications, from teaching anatomy, geography, space, and lots more.
- Design – From architects to engineers, design work is being increasingly done in VR.
What Is The Metaverse?
The term metaverse is used to describe the evolution of the internet, incorporating more immersive ways of interacting with computers, and other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.
The next evolution of the internet will be the development of more immersive methods of human-to-computer interaction. This will allow users to interact with 3D, immersive spaces that are persistently online, using technologies including virtual reality and augmented reality.
As the internet developed, we first interacted with electronic devices using keyboards, mice, and text-based communication. The development of smartphones, social media, and internet infrastructure allowed us to carry internet-connected devices around, share videos and pictures, and socialize instantly.
New technologies including virtual reality and augmented reality will allow us to enter immersive environments to socialize, shop, and be entertained. Your window into the online space will be smart glasses or headsets, rather than phones or computers.
The metaverse is not one single, persistent online world, but is better thought of as a continuum in the development of human/computer interaction.
The problem with the metaverse at present is that the term has considerable hype and skepticism attached to it. Many people have an expectation that the metaverse will be a single, all-encompassing digital space, but this is not going to happen. In the same way that the internet and digital communication are made up of a myriad of separate, but interconnected digital environments, this will also be the case for the metaverse.
The other point to note is that the metaverse will be driven by the public’s desire for services. People are always going to seek more satisfying and enjoyable ways of socializing, shopping, and being entertained, and if new platforms that incorporate technologies such as VR and AR can provide this, then they will be adopted at a rapid rate.
Without compelling applications that people want to engage with, the metaverse will fail to thrive.
Metaverse Vs VR
A good analogy for the difference between VR and the metaverse is that the metaverse is like the internet, and VR is like the mode you use to access the internet, such as via smartphones and computers.
In the 90s, most people had a reasonable understanding of the internet as a network of computers that let us communicate and share information around the world. However, few people could have predicted what we would use the internet for and how our digital world would look 20-30 years later.
Similarly, we can precisely define what VR is today and have a reasonable idea of how the technology will progress over the next 5 to 10 years at least. In contrast, our understanding of what constitutes the metaverse today is unclear and imprecise, and we have little idea of exactly what the metaverse is going to look like in 10, 20, or 30 years from now.
The metaverse will be defined by how people use the hardware and software that creates immersive experiences.
Do You Need VR For The Metaverse?
VR is a more immersive way of interacting with digital environments, but you will not need to use VR to interact with the metaverse. There are plenty of games and applications that require you to use VR to interact with them, but there are far more applications that do not require VR.
As the technology develops and barriers to use are reduced, it will become more common to use VR to interact with digital environments. It is also likely that augmented reality (AR) will form a significant part of digital interaction in the future. AR allows you to view the real world, but have digital information overlayed on your vision by wearing a headset or smart glasses.
It’s important to think of the metaverse as being an evolution of technologies that allow us to more easily interact with computers and digital worlds. VR is one of these computer interface technologies but is not the only option.
Where Did The Term Metaverse Come From?
The term metaverse originated from the 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash, written by Neal Stephenson. He described the metaverse as being a virtual reality-based successor to the internet where humans used digital avatars to interact with each other in a 3D digital space.
The term metaverse is a portmanteau of two words;
- Meta – meaning occurring later, in succession to, change, or transcending.
- Universe – meaning the world of human experience, or the entire celestial cosmos.
When Will The Metaverse Come Out?
The metaverse will develop slowly over time, in a similar way to how the internet gained greater use and acceptance over a number of years. Depending on your definition, you can already take part in many activities that could be considered part of the metaverse. Any immersive digital environment that lets you interact with people who are not in the same physical space as you could be considered to be part of the metaverse.
Growth in the use of the metaverse is likely to be driven by new hardware or software applications that make use of metaverse features. This is similar to how the internet developed slowly over the space of several decades, but it wasn’t until it became affordable, accessible, and user-friendly, that exponential growth occurred. The same was true for smartphones, where the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 led to rapid user growth.
Is The Metaverse VR Or AR?
The term metaverse was originally devised to describe a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. VR and AR are both technologies that allow us to interact with 3D virtual worlds in a more immersive way.
Both technologies will help us to have more enjoyable, meaningful, and immersive interactions with digital spaces and it is likely that both will be used extensively as the vision of the metaverse becomes a reality.
Can You Access The Metaverse Without VR?
Depending on what you consider to be part of the metaverse, you can definitely have a metaverse experience without VR. Many persistent virtual worlds could be considered to be part of the metaverse, so if you are playing World of Warcraft, Rec Room, or Fortnite, you are experiencing many of the features that will be present in the metaverse of the future.
How To Access The Metaverse In VR
The most important thing you’re going to need to experience the metaverse in VR is a VR headset. You can opt for either a standalone headset, such as the Quest 2, or a PC-tethered headset, such as the Valve Index. Most VR social spaces don’t have huge hardware requirements, so if you want to keep the cost down, then a standalone headset is an excellent choice.
Next, you need to choose a VR experience that has features of the metaverse. Here are a few of the most popular options.
VR Metaverse Examples
VRChat is a social VR game where you can interact with a wide range of people in any one of thousands of user-created worlds and activities. Each person has an avatar that you control and you interact with avatars controlled by the other people. VRChat is available for Steam VR and Oculus/Meta headsets and is completely free.
VRChat has many of the features that many people think will become increasingly popular as the vision of the metaverse develops. It’s so easy to meet and chat with people from all over the world, take part in a variety of games and activities, or just hang out in some really interesting places.
Horizon Worlds is Meta’s big push into the metaverse. Since its launch in December 2021, it has gained quite a lot of traction, and the amount of user-generated content is growing quickly. You can visit nightclubs, enjoy standup comedy, play games, and take part in loads of group activities.
Horizon Worlds is pitched as a connected, persistent VR online social space and it is well worth checking out.
Rec Room is another social game that thrives on its user-generated content. There are loads of user-designed rooms where you can practice activities such as basketball, pool, rock climbing, or visit the fair, a recreation of the Millennium Falcon, or an escape room.
Rec room shines when doing activities with your friends, and I’ve had an absolute blast trying new activities and meeting new people. Rec Room is available for Steam VR, Oculus/Meta, and PSVR headsets, but you can also play it on your smartphone, PC, or console in non-VR mode.
All three of these examples are tangible ways you can get an impression of what the metaverse has to offer. However, they only scratch the surface of what we will experience in the future.
Is The Metaverse Just VRChat?
VRChat is an example of the type of environment and experience that people will have in the future when interacting with online spaces. VRChat could be considered to be a part of the metaverse, in the same way that Facebook is a part of the internet.
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