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Here's Why You Still Look Terrible In Virtual Reality

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CNN business

Mark Zuckerberg is betting the future of his company on an ambitious long-term vision where people spend most of their lives as digital avatars in virtual spaces. But an image Zuckerberg recently posted on his Facebook page, at least in its current form, served as a kind of reality check of his virtual reality.

The image, which was also included in the company’s blog post, shows Facebook parent Meta’s flagship social app, Horizon Worlds, where his blocky, cartoon-like avatar looks like a giant hollow eye. It shows how he tightens his lips and stares into the distance. smile. In the background, simple models of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona are placed on a green lawn to mark the launch of Horizon Worlds in France and Spain in mid-August. It was written.

of criticism Online came quickly. “Imagine what your avatar would look like if you spent billions on the Metaverse!” wrote one Twitter user. “Mark Zuckerberg invented The Sims!” another tweeted. A few days later, Zuckerberg himself admitted that the images were “pretty basic” and posted screenshots of a more detailed version of his avatar, announcing that “major updates” to Horizon and avatar graphics were ” He said it will be done “soon”. He promised to share more details at his VR and augmented reality-focused Connect, Meta’s annual conference in the fall.

This episode demonstrates how difficult (and increasingly important) it is to create highly detailed VR avatars, even for tech giants who have invested heavily in buying and building hardware and software. This is a recent example showing the . Having established himself as a leader in his small but growing VR market, Meta faces two challenges. Users have high expectations of how they should look in their virtual space, but today’s headsets make it difficult in many ways to meet them.

VR avatars look great (or at least look good enough) in apps that typically run on untethered headsets like Meta’s Quest devices, rather than bulky but more powerful laptops and desktop computers. It has to work reliably in real time. There are many other non-technical issues involved, such as different people having different expectations of how their avatar should look and behave in different situations. should it look like the VR user himself or someone else, or like a giant stick of butter?

“Even in the visual effects industry, creating avatars was very difficult,” says Abhijeet Ghosh, chief technology officer and chief scientist at London-based Lumirithmic. of applications including VR.

Meta did not respond to a request for an interview about the challenge of creating an avatar. I pointed out how important avatars are.

“They are very important to how people express themselves in digital spaces both inside and outside the Metaverse,” he said.

The blocky simplicity of VR avatars isn’t unique to Meta. Meta, Rec Room, Microsoft’s AltSpaceVR and others have been working for years to improve the appearance of avatars and make them increasingly customizable.

Those who ridiculed what Zuckerberg would look like in Horizon Worlds, given the character’s realism in popular video games like Call of Duty and Gears of War, were criticized by giants such as Meta. Ghosh said he was hoping for more realistic illustrations. “But I don’t think people understand the effort that goes into high-end visual effects,” he said.

The most basic, untethered headsets like Meta’s Quest 2 still have a lot of technical limitations, so you can create highly detailed VR avatars that can respond in real time to the movements of your face and other body parts. difficult to provide in the app.

There may be limitations related to computer power, graphics processor, and amount of installed RAM. Additionally, most people using VR today aren’t using additional sensors for full-body tracking, so sensor-based tracking is limited to what’s built into headsets and accompanying hand controllers. Limited. (This is also why avatars in some social apps like Horizon Worlds and Rec Room only exist above the torso.)

Essentially, current headsets can only render the very large number of triangles used to compose 3D images in VR, says Timmu Tõke, CEO and co-founder of avatar creation platform Ready Player Me. explained. Various games and apps such as VRChat. This means that if a social app wants to include high resolution avatars, it can only support a small number of people in one scene.

Horizon Worlds currently suggests developers building their own worlds to limit them to 8-12 users at a time. The company’s Horizon Worlds creation tutorial states, “More players require more resources to render the world, which may add some limitations when building.

“Creating avatars that look good and perform well is very difficult, especially in a VR environment,” says Tõke.

But Meta is trying. Since 2019, the company has been working not only to create great-looking avatars, but also full-body avatars with realistic faces. The company believes this is the key to feeling immersed when interacting with others in VR.

This effort aligns with what Guo Freeman, an assistant professor at Clemson University, found when surveying what people wanted when it came to VR avatars in social environments. He said he repeatedly heard people want avatars that were consistent with how they looked in the non-digital world.

“The difference between social VR and other types of games and virtual worlds is that people want to create avatars that look like them,” she said.

The process of creating a customized avatar in Ready Player Me.

However, creating a photo-realistic VR avatar of the average headset wearer is still a formidable task. You must first scan a person’s face and expressions to create a 3D model of her head (or full body if you want to create an avatar that looks like it from head to toe). You can animate this. Today, this process tends to require extensive equipment, such as cameras, lighting, and computers.

Ghosh said Lumirithmic is working to make this simpler and more accessible using off-the-shelf electronics such as smartphone and tablet placement, but it’s still in its early stages. That’s it. Ultimately, he believes, people will be able to scan their faces at home or in shopping malls and use them for VR avatars.

However, as avatar faces look more realistic, VR experts tell CNN Business they worry about the uncanny valley problem. very human.

“Creating a realistic avatar that traverses the uncanny valley is very difficult,” says Tõke. “It just looks creepy.”

Also, not everyone wants to look like themselves in VR, or like humans. A quick visit to the popular VR social app VRChat makes this clear. You could walk into a virtual bar and run into a dinosaur, a chicken, or something else entirely. Cam Mullen, his CEO and co-founder of Nevermet, a dating app that helps people get to know each other through avatars, told CNN Business that he likes to appear on VRChat as a jalapeno pepper. rice field.

“You can be a more masculine and feminine avatar. You can be hairy, you can be a flower. You can express yourself freely.” “And a lot can be learned about a person’s personality by the avatar they choose to embody.”