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Sunday, January 16, 2022
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A Review of the FRAME Browser Collaboration Platform From VirBELA

Passing on what we learned on two FRAME tours with product manager Gabe Baker.

 

VirBELA features expansive and impressive virtual worlds, one of the best avatar customization systems in the metaverse, and loads of features and affordances. It also requires a pretty hefty app download and, depending on your system, can take quite a while to boot up. Fortunately, the team at VirBELA also offers FRAME.

What Is FRAME?

FRAME is a lightweight, heavy-hitting remote collaboration app that runs entirely in the web browser. That means that there’s no app download, no long boot-up times, and universal device compatibility – from mobile devices, to laptops and desktops, to full head-mounted VR. In fact, you don’t even need an account – though creating one has some benefits.

ARPost mentioned FRAME in our list of remote collaboration platforms, but they never got a full intro. In the last few months, we’ve had two tours of the platform with VirBELA product manager Gabe Baker, and there was a lot to take in and pass on.

Getting In and Setting Up

If you hit that first link, you’re already in FRAME – even if it is the welcome room, not an actual meeting place. This room, and the rest of the platform, are navigated with WASD controls and computer er mouse, or with controls matching the affordances of your mobile device or headset. You can also adjust controls through the USER PREFERENCES menu.

The controls aren’t the only things that change. The rendering of the rooms themselves changes based on your hardware in a system that Baker calls “the responsive fidelity system.”

“We detect what hardware you’re on and if we think your hardware can handle it, we throw you a higher quality environment,”  Baker explained in an in-app interview last month.

In the welcome room, you can navigate around the space and read the slides located around the room detailing some of the more basic tools that the platform provides. Click the stacked bars in the upper right corner to access the main menu. Here there is more helpful information under the HOW-TO menu section.

From the menu, you can create or sign in to your profile, link social media pages, customize your avatar, and add assets to your inventory. You will take this inventory with you into any rooms that you join, so any meeting materials that you may need can be uploaded here before the meeting starts to save you time once you join the meeting.

FRAME - create new frame

Supported assets include 2D media that you can “hang up” around your room, as well as 360 videos and images that you and other users can “enter” once you’re in the room. When you’re ready, select FRAMES from the menu, and select CREATE NEW FRAME. Name it, and enter.

Customizing Your Avatar and Meeting Space

The avatar system is one of the many aspects of the platform that has recently been updated. The avatars aren’t the detailed, full-body avatars that you might be familiar with from VirBELA, but you can play with accessories, hair styles and hats, color schemes, and a few other fun features.

See Also:  Hands-On Virbela Review and In-App Interview With Co-Founder Alex Howland

“The avatar system has been redone from the ground up to make the avatars more performant, which means you can have larger meetings,”  said Baker.

Customizing your avatar isn’t all – you can also customize the space. From the menu, select ADD TO FRAME to see a list of all of the items that you can use to customize the space – whether for utility or just for atmosphere. You can add all of the usual items, like PDFs, images, 3D models, and the 3D videos and photos that were already mentioned. But, that’s not all.

FRAME avatar edit

You can also add streaming media screens, spawn locations for new members, and audio zones for breakout conversations. Further, the most recent update saw the introduction of the particle beta. A particle field can be dropped anywhere to set apart special areas, but in the edit mode, you can personalize the particle field to create ambience, weather effects, anything.

“It’s one of those features where our users are really going to surprise us,”  said Baker.

Inviting Others and Holding Meetings

Once in a meeting, inviting others is just as easy as inviting others to a Mozilla Hubs room – or a Zoom call, for that matter. Just send them the link. Again, they can hop in whether they have an account or not. But, creating an account does allow them to have a persistent avatar and inventory.

Once edit mode is off and your guests are in, it’s time for the meeting. And there are plenty of meeting tools to use. Most of the most important in-meeting tools are found in the toolbar across the bottom of the screen, which has also been revamped in the most recent update. These include the standard mic controls, screen sharing, and emojis.

FRAME - add asset from toolbar

“The features were already there, but they were nested in menus,” said Baker.

One of the more unique features in FRAME is the ability to have a webcam feed appear alongside your avatar. This combines the best of both worlds in terms of representation – spatial navigation with the avatar and the live video that we expect from more conventional conferencing software.

A frame’s owner also has additional tools and features, including a megaphone audio setting, and the ability to edit the frame, even while it is populated with other users.

Space in the Industry

Because we introduced FRAME in an article about other apps and sites offering the same or similar services, there’s no hiding the fact that this isn’t the only option when it comes to remote collaboration. So, where does it stand in relation to other similar apps and services?

As far as enter-in-browser, join-with-link solutions, it’s really more or less between FRAME and Mozilla Hubs. Importing and generally creating assets and modifying the room is much easier in FRAMES, which also puts more of its affordances in the menu than Hubs, making navigating the platform a lot more user-friendly.

If avatars are important to you, there’s a bit of a toss-up here. Hubs has a notoriously obnoxious avatar system to compare to FRAME’s easy-to-use if limited customization interface. However, Hubs does have integration with Ready Player Me, which is definitely worth considering, particularly if you have an avatar on that platform already.

Check It Out for Yourself

This article has only explored the nuts and bolts of FRAME. The platform has a lot more to offer in terms of rooms to use, asset options, and more. But, you’ll just have to open a room yourself. After all, it’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s free.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.