Mark Zuckerberg is teasing significant graphics updates for Meta Avatars and Horizon Worlds.
Meta Avatars are used in the company’s Horizon suite of social VR apps, and available to Quest developers via an SDK. Horizon Worlds works similarly to Rec Room, allowing users to create their own social experiences inside VR by using controllers to place & manipulate shapes and using a visual scripting system to add dynamic functionality. Because these platforms support user created worlds and run on mobile chips, the graphical fidelity achievable is limited. VRChat worlds are premade in Unity on desktop, with most lighting “baked in” by a powerful PC – and the most impressive worlds aren’t accessible to Quest users at all.
A Horizon Worlds screenshot shared by the Meta CEO on Tuesday announcing the platform launching in France & Spain didn’t go down well on Twitter and other social media platforms. The crude graphic fidelity of both the avatar and the world shown led to widespread ridicule.
Zuckerberg responded to this ridicule on Friday with a new image teasing graphical updates “coming soon”:
Major updates to Horizon and avatar graphics coming soon. I’ll share more at Connect. Also, I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic — it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch. The graphics in Horizon are capable of much more — even on headsets — and Horizon is improving very quickly.
The “even on headsets” qualifier seems to refer to Meta’s intention to launch Horizon on the web and mobile platforms later this year. Barrett Meeker, who leads Horizon’s visual fidelity improvement project, tweeted to confirm the graphics shown depict what’s planned for Quest 2. What makes even a graphically simplistic avatar feel like another person in VR is how the system translates the person’s head and hand tracking data into real-time animation, and the still images Zuckerberg shared don’t convey that.
Meta Avatars before & after the upcoming graphics update
Graphical improvements to Horizon Worlds will come as a welcome update for its user base, but increasing the graphical realism of VR avatars can have significant tradeoffs. Visually detailed features without detailed tracked motion can make an avatar feel like a lifeless mannequin. Meta plans to introduce eye tracking and face tracking in Quest Pro this year, but Quest 2 lacks these sensors.
Zuckerberg said Meta will share more at Connect, the company’s annual AR/VR conference. The date hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s also where we’ll likely hear more about the launch of Quest Pro and Horizon’s web & mobile versions.