Take the Red Pill: Social Mobile VR in 2016

Facebook's social feature integration into the Samsung Gear VR was announced a week or so ago (read about it here). It was an impactful first step in Facebook's integration of Oculus, it's $2bn VR division, with the broader company's core strengths - i.e. surfacing and monetizing socially relevant content.

It’s just a matter of time before we see an increasing number of 360 videos in our Facebook news feed.

Currently, the majority of these are professionally produced, promotional videos, embedded as Facebook ‘promoted posts’ to accompany major Hollywood tent pole movies, such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens orZoolander 2. This year will see a number of affordable 360 degree capture cameras on the market (e.g. Samsung Gear 360 camera) and the genesis of user-generated content on platforms supporting native 360 video such as Facebook and YouTube.

This is important because 360 presents a more immersive content medium than current 2D video viewing.

Ad networks that are native to 360 video have already started to emerge (e.g.Immserv) and the possibilities for native ads in VR are very exciting. If past is prologue, then I’ll bet that CPM’s ought to be far more valuable, the more engaged a viewer is with a particular piece of content — and what’s more immersive than VR? Granted, mobile VR is not quite there yet in terms of truly immersive experiences as virtual reality intended, but I think 2016 will see that start to change. More on this later.

Placing Facebook social features, such as the ability to check your feed and navigate between various pieces of viral media on the web -while wearing a mobile VR headset - is significant. It will allow users to remain connected to the real world, while intermittently jumping into more immersive experiences as desired. They will also be able to create social experiences and hang-outs with friends on the Gear VR, synchronously co-consuming content such as Twitch and Vimeo streams, playing basic games, listening to music (e.g. think Turntable.fm), and probably a few other things too. This is very cool, but certainly not sufficient to create for true ‘presence’ and immersion.

Adding in hand tracking, voice input, and, most important of all, positional tracking for mobile VR, alongside major support from platforms like Facebook and Google (& probably Apple later this year) gives me faith that near-term mobile VR could be a viable stepping stone towards true presence and to evangelizing VR for the masses. However, current smartphones still have GPU’s and screens with client-side rendering limitations that inhibit photo-realism, low latency, and high resolution in comparison with PC-tethered VR experiences from the Oculus Rift or HTC-Vive. Client side rendering related latency is being reduced on PC’s with innovations such as Oculus Direct Modeand Asynchronous Time Warp. I think it will get even better with Texture Space Rendering. Networking will improve rendering transmission from server to client phones / PC’s with the advent of 5G by 2020, if not sooner. Few things are more essential for immersive experiences in VR than low latency — mobile still has a relative ways to go, as the above demonstrates — PC VR is only just starting to figure this all out.

Overall, I’m excited about Facebook social integration into GearVR and think it illuminates a bright future for mobile as a VR platform. We’re just not quite at the Oculus Toy Box experience on mobile just yet though.

You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.


I'm an early stage venture investor at Signia Venture Partners, a $100m fund I co-founded in 2012. For more early stage tech (and lots of VR) news, follow me on Twitter: @SunDhillon

Sandeep Dhillon