Facebook is trying to make virtual reality social.
More than 20,000 videos shot in a 360-degree format have already been uploaded to Facebook news feeds since late last year, with hundreds more added daily.
Now Facebook has created “dynamic streaming technology” that automatically increases the resolution of those videos, depending on the angle the viewer chooses. And the company has assembled a team of employees to explore the “future of social interaction in VR.”
“Going back about 10 years, most of what we shared and experienced was text,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Sunday at the Mobile World Congress telecommunications industry convention in Barcelona.
“And then it was photos. And now we’re entering into a world where that’s video. But pretty soon we’re going to live in a world where everyone has the power to share and experience whole scenes as if you’re right there in person,” he said.
Facebook placed a huge bet on the future of virtual reality in 2014 when it spent $2.3 billion to buy startup Oculus VR, which next month plans to ship its first consumer-ready virtual reality viewing headsets, the widely anticipated $599 Oculus Rift.
But Facebook is trying to stay ahead of the competition. Electronics device maker HTC said Sunday the company will charge $799 for its heralded HTC Vive virtual reality system, due out in April. Meanwhile, Sony also plans to release a PlayStation VR headset this year.
In the online battle, Google’s YouTube began offering 360-degree video months before Facebook.
So Zuckerberg made a surprise appearance at a Mobile World Congress press conference Sunday. He joined Samsung executives, who introduced the South Korean electronics giant’s consumer-oriented virtual reality camera called the Gear 360, which the company hopes will increase the volume of user-generated virtual reality video posted online.
Samsung’s $100 Gear VR viewing headset is also powered by Oculus technology. Facebook said more than 200 games and apps have become available for the Gear VR since Samsung began selling the device in November.
To extend that partnership, Facebook said its “dynamic streaming technology” will be viewable to Gear VR owners in a few weeks.
In a blog post, Facebook said dynamic streaming will deliver 360-degree video over the Internet more efficiently, “showing only the pixels you’re actually looking at in the highest quality, instead of delivering the entire 360 video in high resolution.”
The technology creates “dozens of variants” for each video, “each tailored to a specific viewing angle, and then as you watch the video, we rapidly adjust which variant we display based on where you’re looking,” the company said.
The process quadruples the resolution quality while reducing the bandwidth required “so videos look clearer and play faster,” Facebook said.
The Social VR team, meanwhile, is charged with exploring how people will share virtual reality video now and in the future.
Benny Evangelista is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ChronicleBenny