Facebook is adding a live-streaming feature to its virtual reality app Spaces. Starting today, Spaces users can position a virtual camera and stream a two-dimensional feed of themselves to people outside VR. Viewers can send reactions and comments just as they would on a normal Facebook Live video. (Streamers will see both floating in space.) It’s part of Facebook’s ongoing efforts to bridge the gap between first-generation VR headsets and more traditional computing platforms.
Spaces, a virtual environment for the Oculus Rift, launched earlier this year at Facebook’s F8 conference. At that time, it allowed users outside VR to “dial in” using Facebook Messenger. “We really wanted to expand on that experience and let you hang out with your friends who don't yet have VR,” says Mike Booth, product manager for Facebook’s social VR team. “We really want to just put this technology out there and see what people do with it.”
The platform offers a couple of options that normal Facebook Live doesn’t. Spaces was built so people could virtually meet up with friends from any geographic location, and they can all appear on the same live stream as well. Streamers can also drag comments around as physical props in VR, and, depending on the virtual environment they’ve chosen, they can appear to be streaming from just about anywhere.
Spaces is only available for Facebook’s Oculus Rift, which occupies a relatively small part of the VR user base. Because it relies on hand motion and body language to create a sense of virtual presence, it won’t work on Oculus’ more accessible but lower-end Gear VR anytime soon. But Booth says that in the long term, it’s a natural fit for augmented reality, which Facebook has been recently exploring. “Everything you see in Spaces could be an AR experience as well,” he says — people would just be projected into real space instead of a fully virtual environment.
Booth emphasizes that these are still early days for Facebook and VR. “We have a laundry list of things that seem really obvious and interesting,” he says. But for now, Facebook just needs to get people to see VR as an integral part of its service, rather than an experiment.