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Facebook Signals It's All-In On VR

Facebook has created a Social VR team to help figure out how best to help people use the technology to connect with each other.

[Photo: Flcikr user ETC-USC]

Facebook wants the world to know that it's all in on virtual reality.

Today, in a blog post timed to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, the social networking giant gave some new insight into its commitment to VR, and to how the technology has been performing on its mobile VR platform.

"We believe virtual reality is the next major computing platform," the company wrote in the post. "Today we're announcing new advances in our long-term efforts to build that future."

The company is certainly not the only one bullish on VR. Analysts have pegged the technology to generate $30 billion in annual revenue by 2020, with $5.4 billion in content sales alone by 2020.

Facebook, of course, owns Oculus, which next month will be releasing its high-end VR system, the Rift, which tethers to video game-quality PCs. But Oculus technology also powers Samsung's Gear VR, which works with the Korean tech giant's highest-end smartphones.

In the post, Facebook noted that there are now 200 games available for the Gear VR, and that users have watched more than a million hours of video with the device, which went on sale at the end of November.

In separate announcements at Mobile World Congress Sunday, Samsung unveiled its Gear 360 camera, which shoots 360-degree video ideal for VR systems, and said that it was including a Gear VR with all Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge pre-orders.

Virtual reality is ideal for the Facebook social network as well, the company said. It has put a lot of energy into supporting 360-degree video, which lets users look in every direction and feel like they're in the middle of the story. YouTube has invested in similar tech. To date, more than 20,000 360-degree videos have been uploaded to Facebook, the company said, and millions of people watch them every day.

At the same time, Facebook said it taking steps to make watching 360-degree video a better experience on the Samsung Gear VR. It is bringing its dynamic streaming technology—which it calls a more efficient way of delivering 360 video—to Samsung's VR headset. That technology quadruples the resolution quality of streamed 360 videos in virtual reality, and slashes required bandwidth by four times, by showing in high quality only the pixels someone is looking at rather than making the entire video high-res.

"To make this work," Facebook wrote, "we create dozens of variants for every 360 video that gets uploaded to Facebook, each tailored to a specific viewing angle, and then as you watch the video, we rapidly adjust which variant we display based on where you're looking."

Being the world's largest social network, Facebook knows the value of giving users a way to connect with each other.

That's why, it said, it has created a Social VR team "focused entirely on exploring the future of social interaction in VR. This team will explore how people can connect and share using today's VR technology, as well as long-term possibilities as VR evolves into an increasingly important computing platform. They'll work closely with Oculus and other teams at Facebook to build the foundation for tomorrow's social VR experiences on all platforms."

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