Earlier this month, I told you about the emerging world of social networking in virtual reality. But lurking on the sidelines of this newly active space is Facebook’s own social VR behemoth known as Oculus Rooms.
This is where the strategy behind the marriage of Facebook and Oculus begins to reveal itself.In some ways, the mobile version of Oculus Rooms is as powerful an experience as the Oculus Home app on the higher-end Oculus Rift.
Currently only available for Gear VR users, Oculus Rooms first brings you to the same virtual apartment displayed when using the Oculus Rift. Then, when you’re ready to launch into a social encounter with someone you’ve connected with on Facebook, you simply select the Party option and you’re brought into a new virtual space with three distinct areas.
First, there’s the Group Applications Launcher, which serves as the app’s home base, allowing you to launch various VR apps or move to other areas in the apartment. Next is the TV Area, a semi-circular couch that presents a variety of video content that you can watch on a large, virtual cinema screen. You can either watch popular, pre-selected videos, or you can watch Facebook videos from you or your friends.
One cool aspect I noticed is that the videos continue to play even if you move to another part of the apartment, effectively enhancing the sense that you’re in a real space where actions have impact.\Just to the left of the Group Applications Launcher you’ll find the chat area. Unlike Facebook’s web and mobile social spaces, which are generally focused on text or live video, in Oculus Rooms your VR avatar serves as your “body” and social interface with others.
The major difference between using your avatar on the Oculus Rift (which offers Touch controllers that move virtual hands), and Oculus Rooms on the Gear VR is that on the latter you just have your avatar’s head (no hands) and a beam of light serving as your virtual base (or body).
Another key difference from the Oculus Rift experience is the fact that there’s a very limited amount of customization that you can add to your avatar in the Gear VR version of Oculus Room. Basically, the options are male and female and just a few hairstyles. Beyond that, it’s pretty basic, for now.