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Tech Matters: An introduction to the metaverse

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jan 12, 2022

Joe Buglewicz, Associated Press

Kelly Taylor tries out a metaverse virtual shopping experience at the LOTTE Data Communication booth during the CES tech show Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Las Vegas. The thousands of people who gathered in Las Vegas for this week's CES gadget show were a fraction of the usual crowd for the influential tech conference, the event's organizer said Friday, Jan. 7. The Consumer Technology Association said on the show's closing day that more than 40,000 people attended the multi-day event on the Las Vegas Strip.

Headlines from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas focused on BMW’s color-changing concept car, foldable laptops and gear designed to support the emerging metaverse, which brings us to the question, “What is the metaverse?”

While the concept is in its infancy just like the internet was in the 1970s, there are many examples in the gaming world, TV and movies that illustrate what a metaverse looks like and how it works. The 2018 movie “Ready Player One” based on the book by Ernest Cline, shows us a virtual world accessed through a sophisticated virtual reality rig where the hero can escape his grim real-world existence living in a rusted shipping container and hunt for an incredible treasure. A less dramatic example is the online game Second Life, which launched in 2003, where players create an avatar for themselves and have a second life in an online virtual world, forming relationships (some actually got married in real life), shopping and building homes.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is betting big on the metaverse; he even changed the company name from Facebook to Meta. “I believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it,” Zuckerberg said on Facebook. When asked exactly what is the metaverse, he said, “Where instead of just viewing content — you are in it and you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.”

So think of a parallel universe that you can jump into and experience with others. But you’re not just a bystander. In fact, individuals and companies are already buying real estate, designing fashion lines for sale and generating a slew of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, that may someday adorn the walls of your metaverse home. Of course, the currency for all things metaverse is digital.

Beyond gaming and entertainment, the metaverse could affect how we work, according to Zuckerberg. “With metaverse technology through VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality), people can connect more naturally, even if their physical bodies are distant,” he said. “In the future, instead of just doing this over a video phone call, you’ll be able to sit as a hologram on my couch, or I’ll be able to sit as a hologram on your couch, and it’ll actually feel like we’re in the same place, even if we’re in different states or hundreds of miles apart.”

Joe Buglewicz, Associated Press

Chang Song, President and Head of TaaS Division at Hyundai Motor Company, speaks during the Hyundai news conference at the CES tech show Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Regardless of how the metaverse unfolds across use cases, we still need a way to access it. Today, that means a virtual reality headset and body sensors such as Oculus Quest combined with a computer, game console or smartphone. While tech companies include holograms in their visions, there is no technology close to delivering that experience to the public.

CES revealed new entries by smaller companies into the VR market that reflects a growing interest in the metaverse. Shiftall unveiled three VR-related products that will be available later this year. Its MegeneX, an ultra-lightweight and ultra-high-resolution VR headset aims to help prevent headset fatigue, a common issue faced by VR users. The company also demonstrated PebbleFeel, made to strap onto your back so that you can feel the temperature of the VR environments you’re exploring. And then there’s mutalk, a Bluetooth microphone designed to suppress any ambient noise from your real-world surroundings.

You can be sure we’ll see more and more entries into hardware for the metaverse, but it will be some time until this patchwork approach is streamlined and becomes accessible to the masses. For those interested in trying a VR experience, Oculus is the leader in this space (owned by Meta) and its standalone headset starts at $300, followed by HP Reverb G2 for the PC at $600, the pricy Valve Index for PC at $1,000, and for those who have a Sony Playstation 5, the PSVR 2 should be released this fall.

Analysts are predicting the rapid development of the metaverse, meaning we could see a fairly stable platform by 2030. While I understand the appeal of virtual worlds where anything is possible, I’d prefer we put our resources against making our real world a better place — no rusty containers for us.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

Photo supplied

Leslie Meredith

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