Can Meta’s Next Headset Help VR Go Mainstream?

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg says his company’s next virtual reality (VR) headset will launch in October.

Speaking on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, Zuckerberg added that the headset will track users’ eye and facial movements, giving their VR avatars increased “social presence.” Twitch your eyes to the left and right while wearing the headset, and your avatar’s virtual eyes will move in a similar fashion; smile, and your avatar will smile with you.

In theory, this new feature will tackle one of the biggest complaints about VR: that avatars are vaguely creepy, doll-like husks as opposed to true virtual representations of human beings. That could make it easier for people to adopt VR for functions that demand non-verbal communication and facial nuances, such as family gatherings or crucial business meetings.

Zuckerberg also used the popular podcast to stress how he sees VR as the future. If everything goes according to his plan, VR headsets will eventually supplant popular video-calling options such as Zoom and Teams. “When you’re on a video call you don’t actually feel like you’re there with the person,” he said, according to excerpts reprinted by TechCrunch. “To me, what virtual reality unlocks is that it really convinces your brain that you’re there [in person].”

Meta (formerly Facebook) is making a big, existential bet on VR and augmented reality (AR). In the meantime, the company is currently sailing through rough waters; in the most recent quarter, its revenue and earnings dropped, accompanied by a significant dip in stock price. “This is a period that demands more intensity and I expect us to get more done with fewer resources,” Zuckerberg told investors on the company’s latest earnings call.

Despite pouring billions into AR and VR, Meta is also slowing its hiring—and encouraging some technologists to leave. “I think some of you might decide that this place isn’t for you, and that self-selection is OK with me,” Zuckerberg reportedly told staffers during an internal call. “Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.”

But outside of Meta, are VR jobs in demand? Should you drop everything and master VR-related skills as fast as you can? Late last year, Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass) noted only 10,232 VR-related job openings in the past 12 months, and projected such jobs will only grow 4.5 percent over the next two years. Median salary for VR-related positions stood at $81,000, which is relatively low by technology-industry standards. The rise of VR jobs might hinge on whether Meta and its competitors can make the technology go truly mainstream.