For anyone tired of choosing the perfect real or illustrated Zoom wallpaper, a startup called the TMRW Foundation is releasing a video conferencing alternative called Roomthat places participants in a video game-like 3D environment.
Founder and CEO Cevat Yerli says humans have evolved enough to interact in 3D spaces, not just look Brady Bunchstyle images of each other in typical video chat software.
“It’s an exhausting experience, unlike video games, which are engaging experiences,” Yerli says of traditional video conferencing tools. Yerli previously co-founded the software company Crytek, which Far cry and crysis games and the CryEngine video game platform.
“We take advantage of the gaming background,” he says. “I believe that if something mimics human nature, it will eventually win because it’s more fun, more natural, and easier.”
TMRW spent three years developing Room, which is powered by its own graphics engine. The software can run in common browsers on desktop and mobile devices without the need for an app download. Still, the device uses cameras to capture real-time videos, which are set in realistic environments, ranging from a simulated chic coworking space to a quiet beach to a virtual talk show useful for interviews. They all contain a high level of detail: “You can see my reflection on the table,” said Chief Product Officer Stefanie Palomino during a demo for londonbusinessblog.com-allowing users to see their colleagues and other functions with a drag of the cursor.
“When you’re the host, choose a space that matches the atmosphere of your meeting,” says Yerli.
TMRW isn’t the first company to offer game-like alternatives to meetings on platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. Other companies have built environments reminiscent of 90s video games, and Facebook parent Meta offers a VR workspace with its Quest 2 headsets. Zoom and teams also offer views in which meeting participants are displayed side by side on a virtual background rather than a grid, but those backgrounds are two-dimensional and lack the interactive elements of Room. Yerli says TMRW’s engine will capture the sweet spot to enable realistic 3D environments and movement without specialized hardware, such as a VR headset.
The Room team is already using the technology for a variety of scheduled and impromptu meetings, including holding daily standup meetings and playing puzzle games together, Palomino says. The company plans to keep the software free for everyone who attends meetings and then offer a variety of payment plan tiers with different features for business users hosting meetings. A free tier allows anyone to host meetings of up to an hour with up to three participants.
The virtual environments also include features such as whiteboards to draw on, virtual sticky notes to post, and screens to display presentations and other materials. Those are based on an app framework that the company plans to make available to others to build on; developers can also build and sell access to their own designs for 3D spaces.
Through this virtual space marketplace, Yerli hopes to leverage the creative economy to help Room grow. He is optimistic that despite the edge that platforms like Zoom and Teams have, Room’s 3D realism will still allow it to convince users and businesses.
“I believe that if something mimics human nature, it will eventually win because it’s more fun, more natural, and easier,” he says.