Oculus Social Alpha (Gear VR)

I have been trying Oculus Social Alpha for the Oculus Gear VR Platform and I have to say there's a secret sauce there that I think people will really gravitate towards.

Here are some of my insights into using "Oculus Social Alpha".

For those who are unfamiliar with this VR app, which at this time is most people, I'll give you a quick "walkthrough" of the experience.

When you load the app you'll find yourself in this resort like Oculus environment.  You can't really navigate anywhere but you can look around.  In front of you is a menu where you can configure your avatar or hop into a room.  At this time it's connected to VIMEO and Twitch.

The Avatar selection is somewhat limited at this time, but it does give you a starting range, Since this is early days, I'm sure this will become more configurable as the platform matures.

Here's a screen grab of the GUI where you can join into a room.

Once you load into a room, you'll find yourself in viewing room with a screen where you can select a video from Vimeo or Twitch and watch it at the same time with up to 4 other people in the room.  There are several environments including a movie theatre, the moon, a mini-ant sized world, etc.  Your avatar is floating in a chair while the others can be seen as floating heads, their avatars.  The gyroscopes sensors on each headset is sync'd to their avatar head so when they turn their heads, you see it.

On top of being able to translate the head movements of each user, these avatar heads are animated, they blink and look about, it feels very dynamic and "alive".  So it's like watching a movie with friends in the same room, only they're floating cartoon heads.

If they talk to you, you'll hear them and if you talk, they'll hear you:  It's pretty neat!

Yes it looks very crude and simplistic, but the experience is surprisingly appealing and demonstrates a lot of potential as VR continues to evolve.  I can now see why Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus, and I see now the value of building up a Oculus platform for the device.  It was a good idea to explore a partnership with Samsung too as it offers a cost effective alternative to the more expensive PC unit.

Even though the idea is that everybody in the room watch videos, it does not seem to be what people are using it for.  I have joined several rooms where all they do is just sit and talk which tells me that people are drawn to the social aspect more so than the ability to watch videos.  This only reinforces my prediction that social and VR will be huge.  I won't lie: the book, "Ready Player One" immediately comes to mind.

Right now the Oculus Gear VR only has the ability to stream your head movements to the others in the room which is a solid start, but I wouldn't be surprised if we'll start to see a future iteration of this technology that can track and broadcast your hand movements, perhaps with a device like the X-Box Kinect?  There are VR pioneers already exploring these new approaches so I wouldn't be surprised if stuff like this is already in the works.  We'll have work meetings in space before you know it!

CONCLUSION: Oculus Social Alpha:  It's a solid start, I highly recommend giving it a try IF you have the technology handy, I wouldn't go out of your way at this time.  As the title heavily suggests, this is a very early "ALPHA" release.  So it's early days, the technology feels half-baked.  There are limitations:  For example - there does not yet seem to be a way to make Oculus Social Alpha "friends" at this time, kind of makes you think twice about making a VR friend because at this time it's difficult to know if you'd ever connect with them again.  Another short coming that bothers me is the inability to watch YouTube videos on Social Alpha.  YouTube is full of awesome content which would be great to stream/share with your VR friends, but that's not possible at this time.  Maybe Google is hoping to make their own version of the Oculus platform through Cardboard?  Again, early days, but this definitely feels like we might be looking at a modern day Yahoo chat room here.  Interesting times.