Is the Facebook-driven metaverse opportunity for real? Chip makers seemingly have more important things to worry about than a concept that could either take off or emerge as the Myspace of virtual reality.
Facebook, as a corporation, last week rebranded itself Meta, and is betting its future around a metaverse, or a large virtual-reality world in which people create and appear as avatars that can interact, play, and work. Meta is building virtual reality headsets and other hardware to meet its vision, but it will need chip makers and hardware companies to create the underlying electronics and infrastructure.
Qualcomm dedicated some time early in an earnings call this week highlighting its XR platform – XR being a term encompassing virtual and mixed reality scenarios – which includes chips and software for virtual reality devices. But other than that no more time was spent on kit dedicated to the metaverse.
"Our early investments have established Snapdragon XR as a device platform of choice for connecting physical and digital spaces. And recent market developments position us as one of the key enablers of the metaverse opportunity," said Cristiano Amon, CEO of Qualcomm.
Imagination, which makes mobile graphics processor designs, is being cautious, and will watch how the opportunity develops over the next decade. The metaverse is an interesting concept, but "we must remind ourselves that there is a significant gap between reality and expectation," a company spokesman told The Register.
"From a processing standpoint, there’s a considerable demand for power especially when rendering realistic virtual environments at that scale," he said.
There are challenges and opportunities that come with GPU products in the graphics-driven metaverse, but the "concept is still in its infancy and will require digital infrastructural change across a variety of areas for it to be implemented successfully," the spokesman said.
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Nvidia is ahead of other chip makers in the metaverse opportunity, and stands to gain if the idea takes off. The graphics card maker provides tools like its Omniverse platform for companies to build a metaverse without borders so users can theoretically jump from a Facebook metaverse to the universe of Roblox or Minecraft.
"The metaverse is vast – just like the internet, it will be a collaborative effort to build. Omniverse is a technology layer focused on connecting and building physically accurate virtual worlds or “digital twins” to help solve the world's hardest engineering and science problems," Richard Kerris, vice president of the Omniverse development platform at Nvidia, told The Register.
The company is holding multiple metaverse sessions at its upcoming GTC conference next week, including one in which Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games, and Morgan McGuire, chief scientist at Roblox will participate.
Nvidia is dedicating its latest RTX graphics cards to run the Omniverse platform.
Arm sees the metaverse and emerging virtual and mixed reality ecosystem as an opportunity for mobile-based experiences using its high-performance, low-power specialized processor designs.
"To address this, we started our Total Compute strategy more than 2 years ago to prepare for the expansion of high-performance compute to address specific workloads – like ML – which will feature heavily in these type of XR use cases and applications," Ian Smythe, vice president of marketing, Arm client line of business told The Register. Arm designs are also likely to feature in licencees' metaversal products: Qualcomm's XR platform is based on the chip designer's specs.
Intel and AMD declined to comment for the story. The companies haven't talked extensively about the metaverse opportunity. ®