hifi-logoAbout a week ago Philip Rosedale, founder of the virtual world Second Life and High Fidelity, was a guest speaker at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Meetup where he spoke and showed a few very interesting things about his new Virtual Reality project.

The full video can be seen below but I choose to pick a few things and mention them here.

Screenshot_1He demonstrated how he could move his avatar’s face and arms by simply talking to his webcam and using some controllers.
Although a Kinect like device was also viewable on the computer.
It was very impressive, it brought his avatar to live in a whole new way.
But, and I know I sound like a broken record, every time I see someone waving controllers around, I can’t help but thinking to myself, what’s keeping the designers to move on from these silly gadgets to gloves, bracelets, rings, etc.
I know a few people are experimenting with them, but well, they have to hurry up.

I think that for a lot of reasons, being able to use these devices to make the process of getting into a virtual world and the actual qualitative experience of being there fundamentally different is going to take us from the million people Second Life has today to a 1 billion users with something we’re all going to build together.

I agree that communication will be completely different and our bond with avatars will become much stronger than it already is.

This direct communication he was showing was extremely fluent and very natural, something “you just can’t do with anything else”.
Spatial sound is another very exciting thing High Fidelity (can we name it HiFi yet?) has to offer.
It makes voice chat so much less annoying and intrusive but it also adds to the immersion.
Mr Rosedale demonstrated it by having another avatar inworld whisper into his left and then his right ear.
I love that sound is very important to the HiFi team, especially with the coming VR renaissance, it is going to be much more important as part of a VR experience.

According to Mr. Rosedale HiFi has a latency of 100 milliseconds, while these numbers can go up to 500 with mobile phones and even higher with voice over IP services.
The kind of person to person communication HiFi is offering can’t be compared to anything else (except perhaps RL…) and is revolutionary.

The avatars we see in the demo look nice but a bit cartoony.
Of course eventually users will be able to completely customise these avatars but the “anime” characters look like fun and of course they reinforce any facial emotions.
Mr. Rosedale also said that they did try a more realistic version but the “photorealistic faces are scary”.

Screenshot_5He then showed us a nightclub, perhaps the first (public building) in HiFi?
Again the Spatial sound makes a big impression, the music clearly comes from within the club.
In a city like 1920s Berlin this would be amazing, especially when you’re walking around using a VR headset.
You go trough a narrow street and you hear a baby crying from an open window, music coming rom a radio in a shop, a couple fighting from another house, a dog barking, etc.

In the club there are 40 avatars jumping around a bit, probably bots.
Mr. Rosedale explains that all of these could run on separate devices, a test showed that you could run an avatar with just one cell phone.


Screenshot found on Reddit. http://imgur.com/uenRSyZ


You can build any avatar you want… …we’re using full on triangles and textures to build these characters as compared to something like Second Life.

At the moment it seems like they are concentrating a lot on avatar interaction, I think that is a very wise thing to do and something that could definitely be improved in Second Life.Screenshot_8
But from my personal very narrow point of view, I’m hoping (and assuming) that the tools to make large realistic looking cities are going to be worked on soon as well.

Mr. Rosedale did not talk about alternative ways of communication.
It seems that you can decide not to use your camera so your facial expressions are not translated into the virtual world, but there was no mention of other ways to interact with other people.
In Second Life there are many users who for one reason or another don’t want to use voice chat so I wonder how they will fare.

Screenshot_3Prims have been replaced by something he calls ‘Voxels‘, but in a way, they are just boxes he rezzes in VR, so prims.
But in the demonstration he shows how he can build with the sensors, drawing in virtual air, in 3D just by waving his hands around.
Looks good and works good, but of course, I can’t help but think about how I’m going to be able to build my cities with that.
Will there be serious architectural tools as well?
I’m sure there will be.

Because HiFi is using JavaScript, the prims, excuse me, voxels appear to have already some functionalities that we would normally need scripts for in Second Life.
Mr. Rosedale throws voxels all over the place, when he shoots them they vanish, etc.

Screenshot_4He also shows off a statue of David, it looks impressive but still a bit ‘Minecrafty’.
And it didn’t fully load till we got really close.
But I’m nitpicking and of course, this is all still in an Alpha phase.
The statue uses its own server, you could use servers for everything, you could have a city with a server for every single apartment or even each closet.
Making it all run a lot smoother I guess.
The statue was made with “several million of voxels”, I wish we could see how it was made!

I love the idea of building things that could actually be damaged, imagine a car crashing into a house and half the façade falls apart, bricks raining everywhere!

Lag may become a thing of the past when HiFi is going to be able to use people’s computers as their servers.
Machines are already so fast these days that the HiFi team has more power than they need.
But I can’t help wondering how the smooth way HiFi works will start slowing down when I import my infamously laggy 1920s Berlin sim there…

High Fidelity, the business, will make their money providing the service and selling names for avatars and locations.
The club and people have single text names that are unique in the entire virtual world.

Whois gonna own ‘San Francisco’ is going to be as interesting a debate as who is gonna own ‘sanfrancisco.com

I can imagine a lot of early birds snapping up some of the big names and then making a bundle selling them on.
Screenshot_7What would you do if somebody already has your name or a server with the name of the simulation you wanted to build?

Hifi will have its own, new, currency and a fluid economy.
There will be new tools and a marketplace where you can buy and sell things across virtual worlds.
And as mentioned before, it has worked with the Oculus Rift since the very beginning and Mr. Rosedale thinks it will be a visual access point for many.

The Uncanny valley becomes even more uncanny when its you, looking at yourself in the mirror.

Second Life shows that it can be done and Mr. Rosedale thinks the virtual world will become as big as consumer internet is today.

When asked if it will be possible to bring things and avatars from Second Life to High fidelity Philip Rosedale didn’t give a straight answer but did say some rather interesting things;

I don’t think any of us, even those of us here, understand once this all starts to work how large a space, set of interactions, people using it, we’re talking about. I think we’re talking about the same scale as the consumer internet today, eventually…
…Everything in the Google warehouse, everything in Second Life, everything in Turbosquid, will just be sucked up into this expanding network of systems that people are putting online as if a drup of water in an ocean.

He also mentioned identity, he said that it is very important and that just like in real life, it should be your choice what you tell others about yourself.
So walking around with a big sign over your head with your name on it would be weird.
In High Fidelity, you choose what you want to disclose about your RL.

The default choice, I guarantee you that makes virtual worlds really big, is zero, you don’t identify anything at all.

There will be unique user names, Philip couldn’t say when we can start registering these but promised it would be very soon.

As mentioned before, High Fidelity plans to use regular users their computers as servers, on this Philip said;

There’s only 600.000 servers, we estimate, plus or minus, on earth in server farms.
That is all of Rackspace, not counting Google… …there is 600 million machines (laptops an desktops) out there… …Second Life today is about 40.000 Host Islands, that is enormous but think what it would be like if we could have 40 million.
Second Life is so staggeringly large, it boggles the mind, and beautiful, you can’t believe how much is in there.
But what’s it going to be like when it is 2 or 3 orders of magnitude larger than that.
And if we can use everybodies machines togethers in a common network, it can be and it can be really fast.

At the moment it does seem like transporting our Second Life avatars and things to High Fidelity won’t be an option.
Screenshot_12Making the odds of me actually switching very small indeed.
HiFi does look very promising, but I have an entire 1920s city in SL and the idea of having to even pack it up and move it to a new world gives me a headache.
Let alone having to rebuild it from scratch.
I’m not sure I’d survive that.

Having said that, I have to say that this is the first time that I am officially getting excited about HiFi, I am starting to see progress and potential and will be keeping an eye on it even more now.
But I can’t help wondering if Mark Zuckerberg is thinking the same thing…

You can watch the full Philip Rosedale segment of the video here;