Exploring the Metaverse Without a Headset

The “metaverse” is a popular buzzword right now, but the “Ready Player One”-like futuristic sci-fi vision of popping on a headset and entering a wild new virtual world just doesn’t match the reality. Even with Facebook rebranding as Meta and Microsoft acquiring video game–maker Activision Blizzard to “get a foothold in the metaverse,” there is still not a lot of agreement on what the metaverse means and how we will interact with it. At the moment, some metaverse experiences require a virtual reality headset—while plenty of others don’t. Let’s dig in.

First, what is the metaverse?

Nobody really knows what the metaverse is because it hasn’t been built yet. There is a lot of speculating about what it could be—and companies trying to build products that match their vision.

It’s like the term “cyberspace” in the late ’90s. A lot of people recognized that the internet was the future, but no one knew exactly what shape it would take. There were a lot of wild ideas tried, and many—like shopping in cyberspace—that were just slightly ahead of their time.

The metaverse is in its cyberspace shopping phase. Some of the wild ideas that are being tried—like digital store fronts and event centers—might be regular occurrences in a few years’ time. Or they might not be. Nobody really predicted Facebook, Instagram and other social media services, so there’s a very good chance the best metaverse experiences will be completely novel.

Virtual reality versus augmented reality

Most visions of the metaverse presume it will be built with virtual reality (VR) glasses in mind. However, a lot of the features that people predict actually call for something a little different: augmented reality (AR) glasses.

You see, VR glasses are basically a screen you strap to your head. You can’t see out, which is great for gaming and other totally immersive experiences, but it makes it kind of hard to drop in and out of the metaverse at will.

AR glasses, on the other hand, won’t be as immersive. Instead, they’ll overlay some virtual elements over your real world field of view. You know those scenes in movies where the characters walk past a billboard and it turns into a customized ad only they can see, or they get a preview of how they’ll look wearing a sweater in a store? These are examples of augmented reality.

Right now, though, AR glasses aren’t widely available. Microsoft’s HoloLens has some industry applications, but people don’t wear them walking down the street. This is all likely to change in the next year or two, though, if Apple ever launches its much-rumored AR glasses.

But let’s not worry too much about the future. Let’s look at how you can explore the early metaverses right now.

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Do I need a VR headset to access the metaverse?

No! The vast majority of today’s metaverse experiences can be accessed with any computer, or even a smartphone or video game console. You just use a keyboard and mouse, touchscreen or controller to move around and explore the virtual world. Your screen will show a more limited field of view, but you’ll still be taking part in the metaverse.

Meta’s Horizon Worlds is the biggest metaverse experience that demands a VR headset. To access it, you need an Oculus Quest 2. However, Meta plans to bring it to smartphones later this year.

Most other metaverses (and metaverse-like games) don’t need VR goggles:

  • Decentraland” can be accessed through any browser.
  • Roblox” has mobile apps and is available through the Web. (Make sure to check out “Nikeland.”)
  • Fortnite” is available on almost every platform.
  • Minecraft” is also available pretty much everywhere.

You might notice that a lot of these are gaming platforms. That’s because almost all the most interesting metaverse experiences like live concerts are currently being built using them.

How to access the metaverse right now

As there is no one metaverse, just different metaverse experiences, there is no one way to access the metaverse.

To access “Decentraland,” where you can speculate on some metaverse real estate, you’ll need a crypto wallet so you can create a “passport.” “Fortnite,” on the other hand, just requires a free account and an app on whatever device you want to use. If you find a metaverse you want to join, you can probably do it in a few minutes using your browser.

But whatever metaverse you decide to explore, there is one must-have: a fast, stable internet connection. Fiber is best as it has the bandwidth up and down to handle whatever weird and wonderful shape the metaverse takes—regardless of whether you need VR goggles, AR glasses, a computer or a hologram projector to take part.

Product features may have changed and are subject to change.

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