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Metaverse vs Virtual Reality: What Are the Key Differences?

On the face of it, early comparisons between the Metaverse and VR systems make them out to be very much the same. Casual observers see VR as a means of accessing the Metaverse, and that will become more streamlined as technology makes better VR headsets. But what is the definition of these two technologies?

VR is the oldest of the two, having been mooted as far back as the 1950’s but the sheer knowledge to drive the experience didn’t exist, and would require technological advances in several fields to make it a reality. By the 1980’s budding systems were emerging, but tended to be confined to military or medical applications, and were prohibitively expensive. Virtual reality, abbreviated as VR, is a virtual experience that may be comparable to or wholly distinct from reality. Virtual reality applications include entertainment such as video games, education, and business such as virtual meetings. Augmented reality and mixed reality, often known as extended reality or XR, are two separate forms of VR-style technologies. Virtual reality systems provide realistic visuals, sounds, and other sensations that imitate a user’s physical presence in a virtual world using either virtual reality headsets or multi-projected settings. The user of virtual reality may look around the virtual environment, move about in it, and interact with virtual elements or products. VR headsets with a head-mounted display and a tiny screen in front of the eyes are widely used to generate the experience.

By comparison, the Metaverse is a much newer concept, and one that has far-reaching ramifications for society. While there is no current or commonly agreed-upon definition of a true Metaverse, other than that it is a nicer successor to the internet. Proponents of the Silicon Valley metaverse often cite a depiction by venture entrepreneur Matthew Ball. He described it as “…an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.” Meanwhile, Facebook – recently rebranded as ‘Meta’ – describes the concept of the Metaverse as “…a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”

So, plainly, VR and the Metaverse are actually wildly different concepts, and you don’t even need a VR headset to access the Metaverse – a good PC will do the same thing in a 2D way – but VR will enhance the experience. The real distinction seems to be that while you can access the Metaverse through a VR headset, it is not tied to that particular type of device, and it is part of a much larger – though not yet fully formed – idea.   

The fact that a growing number of different companies are working on their idea of the Metaverse will tell you a little more about it, and that there is no specification of what it will become. One thing is certain though; by whatever means we access it, the Metaverse WILL become the next iteration of the internet, and while the web that we know today will probably still be there in the background to allow simple searches for those not au fait with or a bit worried about the implications of entering a virtual world.  

But saying that actually devalues the concept of the Metaverse; it’s going to be much more than that!!!  The Metaverse will have a number of distinct characteristics that will define it, being:

  • It will be boundless. The notion of the Metaverse will have no discernible boundaries between the real and the virtual, and everything will exist together.
  • It will be decentralised. No one person, corporation, or Government will have control over it.
  • It will be immersive. Users will experience intensive and realistic sensory encounters.
  • It will be persistent. Because it will be decentralised, it cannot be ‘turned off’ or interrupted.

Almost certainly, the Metaverse will become a magnificent, buzzing, and vibrant virtual world where you will be able to integrate with others and do almost anything that you want, with social experiences, and a coherent economic system. The Metaverse will be towering virtual vistas of impossible architecture, where people will buy and sell land and property, and businesses will build believable virtual shops which people will be able to enter and purchase whatever they want. They will be able to become a virtual land owner and build their own properties. They won’t – probably – be subject to a mass of restrictions, because no one owns the internet, in whatever form it is now or becomes.

In this context, VR becomes a simple tool that allows access to the Metaverse for the time being, but will be consigned to history – much like a Sinclair ZX Spectrum – when technology overtakes it.

The inception of the internet as a series of dumb pages via mainstream computing was an exciting time, as was the advent of Web 2.0, which allowed interaction with those pages, and the growth of on-line sales and social media. The Metaverse is going to be ground-breaking and exciting, with even more to do, and new ways of interacting in a believable and ever expanding environment.  

But beware; the Metaverse is happening now, and the longer that you wait to access it, the more you are going to miss out on. Websites such as Decentraland and SomniumSpace are where it starts; where it ends is anybody’s guess.