Posey's Tips & Tricks

Metaverse Problems May Not Be Insurmountable

The metaverse won't take over your entire PC usage. But it can be used to greatly enhance your experience, when used in the correct context.

I have always said that I want the metaverse to be successful because I think that it holds enormous potential. At the same time however, I have never been overly optimistic about the platform catching on because of the requirement for users to wear headsets all day. Besides the headsets being cumbersome, I envisioned problems such as eye strain, dehydration and the fact that some tasks just aren't well suited to the virtual environment.

Of course my assessment of the various metaverse-related challenges were purely speculative. I didn't have anything to back my ideas up, aside from my own experiences with mixed reality headsets. Recently however, NewScientist published the results of a study  that was designed to assess the practicality of working in the metaverse.

The study involved getting a group of volunteers to spend a week working full time in a virtual reality environment that had been designed to mimic the metaverse. The study found that participants suffered from high levels of anxiety, lower productivity and migraines.

I can't really speculate as to why working in a VR environment might create anxiety, but the lower productivity is likely tied to the fact that some tasks are just easier to accomplish with a keyboard and a mouse. This is something that I have even found with my own day-to-day work. I use dictation software to dictate the majority of the posts that I write. Even though I have been dictating my work for many years, there are some types of content that are completely impractical to dictate. This is especially true for anything PowerShell related. It's a lot faster to just type PowerShell code than it is to dictate all of the characters that are required as a part of the PowerShell syntax.

I think that this same basic concept will inevitably apply to the metaverse. There are some functions that will seem almost completely natural in a metaverse environment, but there are other things that just don't work all that well because of hardware limitations. As an experiment for example, I tried reading a PDF document using a VR headset. While it can be done, I found that I needed to center the document within my field of view. Otherwise I started seeing doubles.

This brings up another point. The NewScientist study found that some of the participants suffered migraines from wearing VR headsets all day. These headaches could have been from wearing the devices on their heads, especially if the headsets were too tight. Similarly, the headaches could have just as easily been from eye strain. In any case, the study seems to suggest that working full time in the metaverse just isn't going to be practical.

So is that the end of the story? Perhaps not. Rather than just writing off the metaverse as an abysmal failure, maybe the solution is to avoid treating the metaverse as a one-size-fits-all proposition. Think of it like the Internet. Even though there is only one Internet, there are countless platforms for viewing it. There are small form factor devices such as smart phones, PCs with giant screens like the one that I am using right now, and yes, even VR headsets. Why can't the metaverse be treated in the same way? Sure, a VR headset likely delivers the most compelling experience, but there is no reason why metaverse content cannot be rendered two dimensionally on non-wearable devices.

Some would be quick to point out that rendering metaverse content on a flat screen undermines the immersive nature of the metaverse. However, there may be another option for those who want to have an immersive environment but who do not want to wear a headset.

Back in the late '90s I used to occasionally contribute content to a publication that was all about Microsoft Flight Simulator. Through the work that I was doing, I met someone who had constructed a full-motion F-16 simulator entirely from scratch. This simulator wasn't like the PC-based simulations of the day. The designer actually constructed the entire front half of an F-16, faithfully reproducing every detail inside and out.

I was given the opportunity to fly the simulator, which was every bit as much fun as it sounds. The only problem was that even though the aircraft was more or less complete at that point, there were not yet any out the window visuals.

The visuals were perhaps the most technologically challenging part of the entire project. A giant screen just wouldn't cut it because it would have been like sitting in a jet that was parked at a drive in movie.

To the best of my memory, the plan was to construct a dome around the aircraft and use a series of projectors to project visual representations of the outside world onto the dome, creating a fully immersive environment.

Now consider how this same concept could be applied to the metaverse. Yes, it would be super impractical to build a dome and set up a bunch of projectors for displaying metaverse content. However, it may be possible to use a single compact, 360 degree projector to project a life size (albeit 2D) representation of the metaverse. I have seen immersive projectors that are not much larger than a baseball that could theoretically be adapted to such a task.

While a projected version of the metaverse probably wouldn't look as good as what you see through VR glasses, it would probably deliver a better experience than a PC or smartphone screen and would be one more option for those who are headset averse.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 21-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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