A year after changing its name, the company formerly known as Facebook has revealed plans to give the metaverse some legs – literally.
Mark Zuckerberg’s VR project is getting a slew of additions including a $1,499 (£1,356) ‘pro’ headset, integration with Microsoft Office and sitcom The Office, and, yes, walking appendages.
The legs join the shoulders and knees, but not yet the toes, as part of an upcoming visual overhaul of avatars in Meta’s Horizon virtual worlds, Zuckerberg has revealed. Currently, other users are simply hovering slightly above the ground, with heads, arms, and torsos rendered in cartoon style but bodies ending at the waist. As a result, legs are “probably the most requested feature on our roadmap,” the CEO and co-founder said. “But seriously, the legs are tough, which is why other VR systems don’t have them either.”
The company’s systems will now try to guess the position of users’ legs and feet using a number of inputs, from direct visual tracking using front-facing cameras to more advanced attempts to predict their movement with just the movement of the head and hands, based on human anatomy models.
The derision of Horizon’s avatars has irritated Zuckerberg in the past. In August, a post from the Facebook founder about his glassy-eyed figure standing in front of a virtual Eiffel Tower went viral on social media, with people mocking the virtual world’s vaguely soulless appearance. In response, he shared a render of a more realistic version of his virtual face a few days later. “I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic – it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch,” he said. “Horizon’s graphics are capable of so much more.”
While the legs may have been the most requested feature, the star of the Meta’s Connect event was the Quest Pro headset, a new business-focused device that will retail for $1,499 and advance what’s possible in virtual reality. The headset introduces two flagship new features to Meta’s VR lineup: eye-tracking and passthrough mixed reality.
The first uses tiny cameras mounted inside the headset to track where a user is looking in the virtual world. This allows developers to deliver experiences that respond to a user’s attention, from virtual characters that react to being looked at, to interfaces that can be activated at a glance. But it also enables new levels of monitoring, with advertisers potentially able to gauge exactly who watched what promotions for how long.
Mixed reality passthrough attempts to deliver a similar experience to devices like Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens AR glasses, by layering a virtual experience on top of the real world. But rather than experimenting with holographic lenses like these two devices, the Quest Pro uses high-resolution front cameras to simply record the real world and then display it on the interior screens. This turns a display technology challenge into a computational speed challenge, as the device must be able to process and display live images fast enough to have zero lag, otherwise users would be in horrible pain transports.
None of these features come cheap, and Zuckerberg hinted that the Quest Pro would be sold at a loss despite costing $1,100 more than its consumer Quest 2 headphones. “The overall strategy isn’t to make money on hardware,” he told tech site The Verge, though “there are a lot of different ways to do the accounting on this.”
But the Pro market is that of professional users. “If I could give all our engineers a device and make them 3% more productive, I’d give them a $1,500 device for sure,” he added. To that end, the company announced new deals with partners including NBC, which will bring experiences based on sitcom The Office to the platform, as well as Microsoft, which is a version of Office, Teams and even Xbox. Game Pass for the Quest platform.