Originally published at TDG Research on August 6, 2015
‘Virtual Reality’ (or ‘VR’) is a term bandied about a lot these days, particularly in the entertainment industry. It’s supposed to be the ‘next big thing,’ a medium that changes the entire notion of storytelling by making it more immersive, more realistic, and (you guessed it) more reliant on technology.
At the same time, many observers hear the words ‘Virtual Reality’ and immediately roll their eyes, recalling 3D, Second Life, and other technologies widely touted as the ‘next big thing’ only to flop.
So is VR just another overhyped technology, or will it truly matter to the future of TV and video?
TDG believes that VR has a strong shot at becoming a defining element in the future of video entertainment. While ‘nice to have,’ 3D added little to the viewing experience of most films (and even less for TV programs). VR, on the other hand, offers a truly immersive experience; an experience so exquisite and unique a Wall Street Journal reporter noted that “writing about VR is like fiction about sex—seldom believable and never up to the task.”
VR Goes To Work
While VR is most often mentioned in relation to entertainment, it has multiple use cases for business and beyond, which will help it gain traction and diffuse more widely. Among the most obvious applications for VR is real-time conference calls, and several startups are already working to apply VR to this use case. Unlike video conferences, which can feel like watching TV, participants in a VR conference call are all in the same three-dimensional ‘space,’ and the speaker is able to make eye contract with everyone in the ‘room,’ while unintentional or inappropriate gestures simply don’t register. In many ways, VR conference calls are an improvement over in-person meetings, only without the attendant travel costs.
Real estate is another industry where VR apps should prove to be a plus. Such apps already been developed for high-end properties so that overseas buyers can get a more realistic view of the property and what it would feel like to actually ‘live there.’ This is but one example of the many business applications of VR and another reason why the technology will have staying power.
While video games remain the main attraction for VR developers, the real opportunity in entertainment is in creating movies and other story-based content. There’s a steep learning curve here, as filmmakers need to think through all aspects of a story — what’s happening throughout that story world, and to navigate the user through it.
Filming VR is a unique experience as well, with special devices containing as many as 36 camera lenses deployed to capture every aspect of a scene so that post-production can bring everything together to create a VR world.
Working the viewer into the VR experience is another dimension of the story, and no doubt requires genuinely creative thought. Are you are in the same world with the characters and, if so, are you an active part of the story line at that moment in time? Writers and filmmakers will make those determinations based on the story they want to tell, and the role a viewer plays in its unfolding.
As with 3D, VR manufacturers are struggling with viewer hardware. The current crop of headgear has great functionality but feels clunky, and is extremely uncomfortable to wear for periods beyond 10-15 minutes. Many observers see smartphones being turned into VR devices, via headsets like Google Cardboard, an inexpensive lightweight headset that feels more comfortable over long periods.
The VR revolution will be televised, and in order to take advantage of it, TDG has a few recommendations on how to prepare for the changes ahead.
Learn. Everyone in the television and video industries should be educating themselves about VR. That means actually playing with it, experiencing it firsthand, not just reading about it. Hands-on use will change the way you and your company view the possibilities (and limitations) of VR.
Observe. Watch what others are doing in the space, how they’re using VR, how they’re going to be using it. Send someone on your team to VR conferences to learn where the ‘cutting edge’ lies. The more you’re on top of VR innovation, the less likely you are to be caught unaware.
Plan. Have a plan in place as to when you wish to begin experimenting with VR and the properties with which you wish to experiment. Be prepared to alter that plan as industry dynamics change, and as new devices and functionalities are conceived (not implemented, but genuinely envisaged).
When it comes to VR and the future of video entertainment, passivity is unwise. Our suggestions are spot on, and create genuine opportunities will emerge.