The way you use Facebook to chat with friends will be changing. Rather than just typing and reading the conversation Facebook users will be able to sit in the same room and carry on conversations in virtual reality.
The social network purchased Oculus, the first major player in virtual reality in 2014 for $2 billion and has begun implementing the VR experience through the new Facebook Spaces, a messaging/chat feature where a user wears the Oculus Rift headset and Touch controllers to interact with friends in a virtual world.
"You can go in, you can scroll through your feed and see all of the different 360 degree videos and pictures people have uploaded to their feed, so you can experience it like you were there with them," said VR expert Brandon Boone.
As I interviewed Boone a man named Justin wore an Oculus Rift headset and used the controllers to crawl on the outside of the International Space Station, completing tasks that are routine for U.S. astronauts. Through a monitor I could see what Justin was seeing and watched as his hands helped him move about the station. It was impressive just to watch on a monitor and very real to the person wearing the headset.
"It's like being someplace but not actually being there," explained Boone. "Or experiencing something without actually experiencing it."
The Oculus Rift store has over 500 experiences that includes things like climbing mountains, driving a car, fighting aliens, and playing golf.
"There's yoga experiences, travel experiences. We've got something for just about everybody," said Boone.
It's impossible to accurately describe how real the experiences feel to the person using the system. When I played one where I balanced on a beam on a skyscraper above New York City, I had the feeling I was fighting the wind to stay balanced. When I played Rock Band using the Oculus I could interact with the digitally created bandmates. When I looked at one, they looked back at me, even nodding for me to take the lead.
It was crazy and I couldn't wait to do it again.
Boone told me it isn't all about games though as Oculus is working now to create curriculum for libraries and schools.
"Where people can learn about space in a more immersive environment. So instead of being told what Venus is like, you may actually be able to go to Venus in a virtual environment."
Price has been the barrier to entry for non-gamers to jump into high-end virtual reality systems but that's beginning to change. Oculus is running a promotion called Summer of Rift for a few more weeks where the system is $399 which includes the headset, two touch controllers and two sensors. $399 puts it on equal cost footing as a Playstation 4 Pro system.
To experience the Oculus Rift before buying you can visit www.oculus.com for a list of retailers.