Two Early Images of Facebook Horizon Have People Talking on Reddit and Twitter

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Given that Facebook Horizon has asked its alpha testers to sign strict non-disclosure agreements, it’s hardly surprising that there is next to nothing publicly known about the social VR platform Facebook plans to launch sometime in 2020. (Those who do know, can’t say anything, or they risk being booted out of the alpha, and perhaps even banned from Facebook Horizon for life.)

However, a single image has leaked out, and was posted to the Oculus Quest subReddit community on Reddit (the usernames of the avatars in this screen capture have been erased):

The original poster says:

I’m not a Alpha Tester, but I managed to find a screenshot of the Horizon alpha somewhere on the web. It’s unique, couldn’t be reverse searched, and not a promotional shot. (names removed)

Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, often has reviews of products and interesting news reports about the VR industry, posted this image to Twitter, asking:

Is this a screenshot from Facebook Horizon? If it is, it looks a bit simpler than I was expecting…Will it be like this in its first release, or [are the] shaders…going to improve?

Somebody responding to Tony’s tweet posted an image from a closed Facebook group, which appears to confirm that the image is indeed legitimate (I have edited it to blur out the avatar usernames over their heads):

I do not know if somebody broke their NDA to use this image for this group, but it is already out there on Twitter, and the Facebook group is listed as Visible, which means anybody can search for, and find, this particular group. In fact, there are not one but two such groups already, this one and a second one, also Visible, with the following image (which might have been part of Facebook’s original press kit):

Given that there is so little information currently out there about Facebook Horizon, people have weighed in (on both Reddit and Twitter) about these images. Robert Scoble said:

I sure hope it is better than this. Sigh.

And Charlie Fink commented:

I should feel better about this image than I do.

Jossi Sivonen said:

What an anticlimax if so! The gfx (graphic effects) looks way better in this early teaser… (which clearly states that this AIN’T actual VR footage);

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time that a tech company’s promotional teaser video did not resemble the final delivered product (hellooooo, Magic Leap?).

And, I must admit, based on the two “leaked” images above, Facebook Horizon does look a tad…underwhelming. (One person on the Twitter thread said that the shaders looked “cheap”.) Robert Scoble’s comment led to the following exchange:

Tony: I mean, I think that I can do this graphic myself in Unity LOL! I’m sure that a billionaire company like Facebook can do better…

David: Can you do graphics like that at [a] constant 72Hz on Quest with 50 people in a fully customized (from inside VR) world?

Tony: VRChat can do that (the world is built in Unity though), Rec Room has better graphics as well. ENGAGE the same. So, if *this* is the final graphics, it is disappointing. But we all know it is going to be better, it’s impossible [that] it is this one when version 1 will be released.

David: Of the apps you mentioned, only Rec Room has true dynamic inside-VR world creation, and its graphics are pretty much on par with this.

So, what do you think? Are you excited about Facebook Horizon? Do you think that, with Facebook’s clout and deep pockets behind it, it will be the first massively popular social VR platform? Or do you think that, like Facebook Spaces, this will also be a failure?

Please feel free to leave a comment below or, as always, you are welcome to join the freewheeling discussions, arguments, and debates about social VR and virtual worlds taking place among the over 400 people who hang out on the Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion forum! We’d love to see you there.


Comparing the New High Fidelity with Online Town and Gather: “Choices!”

You know, if somebody had asked me to make predictions about the future state of virtual meeting spaces, I would not have predicted a return to two-dimensional spaces. And yet, here we are! (Everything old is new again, it would appear.)

Somebody on the Discord server pointed out that the new High Fidelity is not the only game in town when it comes to 2D meeting spaces with audio. A team of three engineers from San Bruno, California have built a couple of such platforms, called Online Town (for smaller gatherings) and Gather (for larger ones).

You can tell from the websites that they are optimized for mobile devices, and it seems pretty clear that the same design decisions were made for Online Town and Gather as they had been for the new High Fidelity: to sacrifice the visual experience for the sake of including people using as many different devices as possible.

What sets Online Town and Gather apart from the new High Fidelity, however, is the integration of video, which (like the audio) fades in and out as you approach and leave conversations in the two-dimensional space, as shown in this video (there’s no audio):

According to the Online Town website:

Online Town is a new video-calling experience designed to help people gather online. It does this by combining a standard video-calling interface with a low-fidelity 2D game.

As you move around the map with your keyboard, the webcam video and microphone audio of the other people in the room fades based on your distance to them.

Different maps make it easy to use Online Town for parties, reunions, happy hours, conferences, remote work and many other kinds of gatherings.

As far as I can tell, however, Online Town and Gather do not use the patented, spatial audio that the new High Fidelity uses. However, the new High Fidelity does not provide video. If you are in the market for something like this, you might want to test drive both and then make a decision as to which feature is more important to you (both are free, and both allow you easily create and share a virtual space, inviting your friends, family, and coworkers with a URL).

As I said up top, as a visually-oriented person, I find this sudden return to 2D environments perplexing. I particularly find High Fidelity’s complete pendulum swing from offering a social VR platform that supports tethered VR headsets to a 2D space with 3D audio to be…a choice.

As Tatianna the drag queen said numerous times while on my favourite reality TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race: “Choices!” (drag queens have the best catchphrases!):

And yes, I will be adding both Online Town and Gather to my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds (obviously, they fall into the latter category). If you are following this blog, you already know that I am working on reorganizing this rather unwieldy, exhaustive list of over 150 platforms! Please bear with me.

Also, I might just shorten “the new High Fidelity” to the acronym TNHF and leave it at that. Keeping the exact same name, and reusing it for a completely different platform, is going to prove difficult (and very confusing) for people searching Google for information about this new product, for example. I would have picked a variation of the name myself (High Fidelity 2: Electric Boogaloo, perhaps?).