The concept of VR isn’t new. In fact, you could say it dates all the way back to the invention of the stereoscope in 1838 when Charles Wheatstone first discovered through his research that the brain processes two different images from each eye that create a 3D view of the scene in front of us. Viewing two slightly different images through the stereoscope simulated a sense of depth and immersion. While virtual reality technology has come a long way since 1838, the world of virtual reality could still be described as being in its infancy.
It’s still an experimental medium, but it’s poised to fundamentally change the way we consume media.
The Virtual and Augmented Reality Expo and Conference 2016 (VRTO) was an eye-opener for the latest trends in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) content, hardware, and software. VRTO’s Executive Director Keram Malicki-Sanchez says: “We are at a historically significant turning point for a rapidly emerging industry that will affect, disrupt, and transform virtually every aspect of our lives within the next ten years.” That’s why content creators, marketers, and everyone in between should be paying attention to the new medium.
The fundamental difference between VR/AR and more traditional mediums comes down to how our brains process our external environments. The most striking distinction in a VR/AR experience is a psychological sense of “presence”. Our brains are essentially tricked into believing (depending on how sophisticated the experience) we are actually in that virtual environment. There’s already a good deal of work being done to study this phenomenon at the International Society for Presence Research. Virtual environments also engender a heightened feeling of empathy and sense of agency.
Because VR/AR has such psychological power, the way we use it demands an increased level of responsibility. Accordingly, a huge focus of VRTO 2016 was around trying to start a dialogue to develop a code of ethics around VR/AR content development. If we have the power to trick the mind, we better use it wisely. Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger offer a good starting point on a code of ethics for VR that all content creators and consumers should read.
It’s definitely still the Wild West when it comes to VR/AR experiences. There are a growing number of hardware and software companies clamoring to get a piece of the pie. The biggest headsets on the scene right now are Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR (built-in VR), Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard (phone-based VR) and Microsoft Hololens (AR). But these are just the ones you’ve likely already heard of. There’s also Razer OSVR, Fove VR, Vrvana, Zeiss VR One, Avegant Glyph, and Freefly VR. It’s already too hard to keep up.
The same explosion of innovation is happening in the camera world, with everything from the consumer-level Ricoh Theta S (two 180-degree lenses for 360-degree capture in a neat hand-held design) to the extremely high-end Jaunt (24 lenses for 360-degree, 3D stereoscopic capture, which you can’t even buy). Software developers are scrambling to keep up with the capabilities of new virtual reality technology. Right now Mettle and Dashwood Cinema Solutions offer the best (and continually expanding) sets of plugins for video editing.
For those who are looking for a financially feasible way to start dabbling in VR content creation, expect to see an influx in consumer-level cameras around September 2016, and a move to form end-to-end software solutions for editing through to delivery and distribution.
Companies are proving that the applications of VR/AR content are almost limitless. While entertainment is the most obvious foray, the medium is creeping into a huge range of industries including travel, real estate, financial technology, automotive, HR and training, medical and pharmaceutical, military and education. Unlike the emergence of traditional media like the television, VR seems to be coming from the bottom up, with consumers having more influence than ever on how the technology and its content evolve. Content creators would do well to pay attention to consumer research on VR.
Philip Lelyveld, Program Manager at the USC Entertainment Technology Center, and a keynote speaker at VRTO 2016, reminds us that “consumers don’t buy technologies, they buy the experiences that the technologies deliver.” That means consumer-focused content development will be key to shaping the future of VR/AR technology.
If you want to find out what the state of the art in VR/AR experiences looks like, be sure to look into these:
The Void, a virtual reality theme park, is opening a new attraction in partnership with Sony Pictures in Times Square on July 1, 2016, based around the new Ghostbusters film: a 15-minute VR experience where you can feel as if you’re in the movie world. With fog machines, moving podiums and heat lamps in addition to VR headsets, the experience is designed to be a state-of-the-art immersive experience.
eBay, in partnership with Australian company Myer, has launched a virtual reality department store for browsing Myer’s products. You can download the app for iPhone and Android to view the store (you’ll need a Samung Gear VR or Google Cardboard). One hundred products are viewable in 3D so you can check them out as if you were actually in the store. They use “Sight Search” so you can select items just by holding your gaze on them.
The most exciting marketing applications of VR first came from the travel and tourism sector. Destination BC created a VR experience called The Wild Within that lets viewers soar over British Columbia’s beautiful natural landscape, with a “choose your own adventure” style interactivity.
Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated areas of development in VR has to do with social applications. While we wait for Facebook to figure out what it’s going to debut with Oculus Rift in the near future, AltspaceVR already offers a virtual “space” in which to interact with friends and family. From sharing wedding photos in a space that feels like you’re all sitting in one living room to witnessing live concerts with other VR attendees, AltspaceVR is definitely one to watch for future social applications.
EnvelopVR aims to change the way we work by offering a number of VR software solutions for companies and workplaces. Tour new commercial facilities and job sites in VR, get greater insights with 3D data visualization and manipulation, or simply work inside a VR environment that would allow you any number of monitors and desktop configurations. Developers can even develop VR applications in VR. Whoa.
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