i3 | November 24, 2021

The Next Internet

Brian Markwalter
Transparent virtual reality goggles

The technologies to create the metaverse are now emerging.

During CTA’s Fall Technology and Standards Forum in September, there was a fascinating panel discussion on the Future of Content where Bart Spriester, Comcast’s vice president and general manager of Content & Streaming Provider Solutions, introduced the metaverse as “the next internet.” It’s a bold but frequent description that gets at the essence of the expected shift from looking at social media in today’s internet to interacting with others in boundaryless communities in the metaverse. Immersion and interaction are key to its success, and the building blocks for those attributes are virtual reality (VR) and gaming technology.

CTA’s market research suggests that these ingredient technologies are on a hot streak. Shipments of mixed or extended (XR) eyewear (augmented reality (AR) and VR headsets combined) to the U.S. will more than quadruple from 2021 to 2025. That’s a 46% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).CTA also forecasts that consumer spending on gaming software will grow from $47.6 billion in 2021 to $59 billion in 2025. 

Immersive Tech

Consumers’ willingness to spend on gaming is a good sign for companies investing in the metaverse, but of greater interest for building the metaverse is the technology behind gaming. During the same Future of Content panel, Kaki Navarre, Disney’s vice president of product management and media technology, described the interactive short “Baymax Dreams of Fred’s Glitch” that debuted at the Virtual Sundance Festival. The interactive experience is unique in being completely driven by user interaction with the story — no linear story here — and being rendered in real time using Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service.

Even though the technologies to create the metaverse are developing, the Future of Content panelists agreed on one thing we do not yet have. Widespread adoption of these interactive immersive experiences that we liken to the metaverse will require standards all along the supply chain. Great content is expensive to create. Game engines, like Unreal and Unity, are an enabling technology that lower the barrier to content creation, but standards are still needed for exchange, distribution and rendering on consumer devices. 

CTA has been developing standards to support the future of content through its XR Committee and the WAVE Project.

That last step, rendering on consumer devices, is particularly challenging. VR headsets are improving by leaps and bounds, but there are still tradeoffs being made between image quality, device size and complexity. History says image quality will improve rapidly. Even as it does, content creators and distributors cannot expect that everyone will have a VR setup at home. The best content companies will have experiences that can be consumed on smartphones and TVs or with a full VR setup and allow users in either format to interact at the full quality their devices allow.

Standards Make it Happen

To achieve a metaverse that is open, like the internet, requires standards for how virtual worlds and avatars are going to interact. Imagine “meeting” a group of friends at a VR concert and getting the full experience, including shopping for the band’s merchandise. It’s easy to see that the protocols behind that experience require exchanging information about where you and your friends’ avatars are in real time and merging that with the live concert in much the same way Zoom merges everyone’s audio and video on a conference call.

CTA has been developing standards to support the future of content through its XR Committee and the WAVE Project which aims to improve how internet-delivered commercial video is handled on devices and to make it easier for content creators to distribute video to those devices. People with ideas of how best to standardize the metaverse are encouraged to get involved at standards.CTA.tech.

i3 magazine November/December 2021 cover

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