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Facebook to support 'spherical' videos in News Feed, Oculus Rift headset

The social network is bringing a new type of video to users of its website and its platform for virtual reality.

The Oculus Rift, still only sold to developers as a work-in-progress, will be home to Facebook's new interactive 360-degree videos. Nick Statt/CNET

When Facebook accidentally dumped details of its F8 developer's conference through a mobile notification yesterday, it cryptically mentioned its new so-called "teleportation station."

Now, we know what the social-networking company was talking about: spherical videos. These interactive short films can best be described as an eagle-eye version of Google Street View that gives users 360-degree explorations of cities, landmarks and other places. Facebook says these videos are shot with 24 high-resolution cameras. The company is also experimenting with live spherical videos.

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Facebook says it's bringing these interactive films not just to its News Feed, but to its Oculus Rift headset. Made by virtual reality poster child Oculus VR, which Facebook acquired last year, the goggles simulate 3D worlds. Users who don the Rift will be able to "teleport" to another location in a fully immersive VR environment.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is planning for the future of how his site's users will interact with one another. Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET

Oculus VR has always represented a bold and unusual acquisition for Facebook. While the social network has mostly bought companies that complement or directly compete with its business, Facebook said Oculus embodies its vision of the future of computing. The company, which Facebook paid $2 billion for last year, still only makes virtual reality goggles for developers that sell for $350. Though the focus of Oculus was originally video games, the company has since broadened its scope much further to include live-action scenes, animated films and other experiments.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the types of things Facebook's 1.4 billion users share on the site are shifting, from text and photos onward to videos. Beyond video, he sees virtual reality and so-called augmented reality, or the overlaying of 3D images on everyday scenes, as the next frontier.

With spherical videos, Facebook has outlined one of the first concrete use cases of its VR platform beyond gaming and given developers a sense of how those types of videos can live on and be shared through the social network.