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Are you ready for the Metaverse?

Words are a funny thing. Just a few years ago, if you'd have asked somebody about an NFT they'd assume you were asking for medication and, until recently, the phrase "metaverse" sounded like a piece of random jargon from one of the lesser Matrix films. 

But in 2022, the metaverse is no laughing matter - it's a potential game-changer that Mark Zuckerberg has essentially staked the entire future of Facebook on. But what is the metaverse really and how do we mere mortals get involved in it all?

What actually is the Metaverse?

In essence, the Metaverse is the internet as a three-dimensional entity. If anyone has ever seen Futurama, the way the internet is depicted pretty much hits the nail on the head. It's a living, breathing virtual space inhabited by 'avatars' that can interact with one another not just by text, audio and video but touch and feel.

Futurama's vision of the internet in the year 3000

During the pandemic, the internet became a lifeline for millions of us as we connected in the only way possible. As such, while just a few years ago many might have sneered at the concept of a virtual world where we spend our day working, playing and socialising while sitting at our desks behind our VR headsets, we now live in a post-pandemic world. This is a world where we've learned to connect remotely in ways we might not have imagined before.

But while COVID might have prepared us for the Metaverse, are we adequately equipped for it?

Preparing ourselves for the Metaverse

The metaverse is, by design, something "for everyone." However, as with any major technological leap, there is always going to be a barrier to entry at first. So, what do you need to overcome that barrier and build your own metaverse rig?

Software

While the eventual goal might be one gigantic connected network of virtual spaces, right now the metaverse is a surprisingly siloed experience, for the most part. To access it, you'll need to choose a platform such as Decentraland or Rec Room and then open that software and design your avatar.

Rec Room for VR socialising

Your avatar is a digital representation of yourself and can often be customised to suit your whims. So, whether you want to be a gigantic purple robot or a vague approximation of your physical self, there are options that will allow you to do just that (depending on the platform). But of course, the software itself is largely useless without any hardware to run it on.

Hardware

When most people hear the word Metaverse they immediately think of virtual reality and with good reason.

In the early days of the VR trend, options were limited, with bulky headsets that needed to be connected to a powerful computer with plenty of graphical processing power and memory.

To properly run the top-tier Valve Index headset and enjoy games such as Half Life Alyx, for example, you'd need at least 16GB of RAM and the equivalent of an Nvidia GTX 1060. And that's just to get it running, let alone make it an enjoyable experience.

The Quest 2 and Valve Index side by side

In 2022, however, the most popular headset is Facebook's (sorry, Meta's) own Quest 2 VR headset. This is a standalone system that's surprisingly light and, as it's industry standard, will be more than enough for the vast majority of users. The hardware you need, however, ultimately depends on what you actually want to achieve within the metaverse.

Levels of metaversal commitment

Just how committed are you to the metaverse? And how committed can you afford to be? There are two ways to go here - connected or unconnected. For the latter, the Quest 2 is comfortably the best choice right now as far as form, function and practicality are concerned. However, compared to a high-end Gaming PC, it has very little computational power. It's certainly miles ahead of strapping a phone to your face in the Google Cardboard fashion, but it still has a long way to go.

Google Cardboard using a phone for accessible VR

For most users this is fine, but for those who really want to experience everything the metaverse has to offer, right now, there are more 'serious' options available. These are headsets that are tethered to your PC and can draw on all of its immense graphical power. They also include more accurate motion tracking tools and improved field of vision (FOV) and resolution.

Many of the top modern Nvidia GPUs such as the RTX 3090 Ti have been developed not only with simulation and machine learning in mind but with the metaverse in mind too. These are far too large and demanding to strap to your head, of course, but when it comes to more demanding metaverse applications such as real-time military simulation training, the power is undoubtedly going to be needed.

Conclusions on the metaverse

As with any nascent technology, there is still much to be written and there are any number of ways it could all go. For one thing, when discussing the Metaverse there are really two to unpack; the 'BIG M' Metaverse, which is a direct parallel of the internet and the multiple 'little m' metaverse platforms being developed by everyone from Microsoft and Apple to Nvidia.

If the metaverse is going to be the "new internet" then it's going to need to cater to hobbyists, professionals and everyone in-between. The hardware is already out there and it's getting better every day. 

How far you chose to descend down the rabbit hole right now will depend on your professional and personal creative life but the sooner you choose to start dipping your toes, the sooner you'll start to realise just how freeing it can be.

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Posted in Gaming and esports

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Published on 20 Jun 2022

Last updated on 20 Jun 2022

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