June 2016. What an amazing time it was for the world of Virtual Reality in Toronto. I was lucky enough to make my way to both the Tiff POP 01 exhibit and the #VRTO conference. Between these two events I had the chance to try different VR technologies, speak with numerous VR content creators and hear inspiring keynotes highlighting the ways this medium will be, yet another, major disruptor of the content industry. Side note, last weekend I also had my Schulich MBA grad party which involved its own tequila induced augmented reality, but that’s a different story, and fortunately not available for replay on a VR device.
Holy Shit This is Awesome!
VR is not something new, it's been around for many years, but hasn't really been able to live up to its expectations, until now. Thanks to new advances with non-nausea-inducing devices and amazing immersive software being developed, it looks like mainstream VR's time has finally arrived, and it is bloody awesome. For someone who has always loved any form of story telling , VR takes this experience to an entirely different level. By simply putting on a headset and earphones you are completely transported to another world. Not only is the experience unique, but it also provides the audience with a new found control that they've never had before. I was completely blown away and inspired by these experiences. I feel like the options for the use of VR technology in the world of content creation and marketing are endless. With being both a content creator and an audience member, I really hope to see more accessible and affordable VR options for content consumption, because simply put, its bloody amazing.
Who Will Use It?
Deloitte recently published a report on the sector titled "Virtual Reality: A Billion Dollar Niche", you can read the entire thing here. Deloitte Global predicts that VR will have its first billion dollar year in 2016, with about $700 million in hardware sales, and the remainder from content. They estimate sales of about 2.5 million VR headsets and 10 million game copies sold. But what type of content will make up this billion dollar industry? Although the majority of commercial entertainment activity will focus on video games there will be a steady rise in VR content within the verticals of pornography, travel, education, with only a minimal impact on standard film and television. This is because little VR content exists for television shows and movies due to a lack of broadcast grade cameras capable of capturing VR content.
In terms of enterprise use, it is predicted that for VR 2016/2017 will be a time of experimentation, with companies testing out VR for sales and marketing purposes. As brands compete and the global marketplace continues to expand, being able to provide a unique experience to the consumer will only continue to grow in importance, providing a growing enterprise demand for VR. To give an example of how brands are utilizing this new technology for increased awareness and consumer engagement, check out the work of "Secret Location" to see a Canadian leader in the VR content creation world including projects with the LA Philharmonic and FOX's Sleepy Hollow.
What Are the Challenges?
The same aspects of VR that deliver amazement and wonder also present new challenges for content creators in this groundbreaking medium. When your audience is able to look and explore in a virtual world, how do you make sure they see a pivotal moment in your story? How do you keep their focus when they aren't constrained by a conventional tv or mobile screen? Issues like this present some of the major story telling challenges that arise when your audience is able to look wherever they want.
While attending the VRTO conference I found it really interesting to learn that film makers (not only computer programmers and software designers) are working to address these challenges. After I had some time to think about it, it made a lot of sense to me. Who better to help overcome the cinematic obstacles of this new medium than content creators themselves? An example of this can be seen in Thomas Wallner who is the CEO and founder of DEEP. Inc and an award winning German/Canadian filmmaker. He stated even with all these new entertainment technologies, the ultimate escape from reality is still narrative, it's still the story. Now more than ever is it integral for story to be maintained, no matter the medium. In order to meet this technical challenge, Wallner's company DEEP has developed Liquid Cinema, a software platform and toolset that allows filmmakers, producers and broadcasters to create and distribute story based 360 and VR content across the web, mobile and VR devices. Including software tools allowing you to “force perspective” so your viewer doesn’t miss out on key moments within the story.
Over time I think it will be interesting to see how VR is manipulated through software to, as liquid cinema puts it, force perspective of the audience and alter the viewing experience. How much "control" will the viewer be left with in an experience which is celebrated for it's user freedom?
Who are the Major Players?
Right now it seems the world of Virtual Reality is controlled by a small handful of major forces (primarily Facebook & Google...come on, as if that surprises you?).
Here is a brief overview of what VR business each company has going on....
Facebook owns Oculus which offers both the Oculus Rift in addition to the Gear VR (which is basically an android smartphone accessory). Gear VR can be used with Samsung Galaxy smartphone
OCULUS RIFT $599 USD
OCULUS GEAR VR: $99 USD
A reasonably priced VR alternative is the Google Cardboard, owned, obviously, by Google. Google Jump is an entire ecosystem for virtual reality film making, aiming to make VR more accessible to both create and consume.
GOOGLE CARDBOARD: $15 USD
The Playstation VR headset will launch October 13, 2016. This will be the first VR headset directly targeted at gaming console users. Very user friendly, just plug into your Playstation 4 and you're ready to go. This will likely be on many Christmas gift wish lists.
PLAYSTATION VR: $399 USD
The HTC Vive is developed by HTC and Valve corporation. It was released in April 2016. This headset is designed to utilize "room scale" technology to turn a room into 3D space via sensors. Allowing users to walk around and use motion tracked handheld controllers.
HTC VIVE: $799 USD
Wanna Check it Out?
If you work in the media world I highly encourage you to start familiarizing yourself with VR. It’s an incredible immersive experience, truly unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. Below are a few upcoming events if you’re in the Toronto area and want to check out VR first hand.
Tiff Pop 02 – VR + Empathy+ Real World Storytelling
Dates: July 15-17, 2016
More Info Here
Tiff Pop 03 - VR + Experimental Film
Dates: August 19-21, 2016
More Info Here
FIVARS - Festival of International Virtual and Augmented Reality Stories
Dates: September 16-18, 2016
More Info Here