Google Jump and its potential for publishers
Not any more though as it appears that VR as a concept is on the verge of finally fulfilling its potential.
There is serious money backing the format too with Michelle Reis reporting in Forbes that analysts MarketsAndMarkets.com predict that the VR market will grow to US$407.51m and reach more than 25 million users by 2018.
The catalyst for the renewed enthusiasm for VR is the introduction of cheap (ish) virtual reality headsets. A consumer version of the market leading Oculus Rift may soon be available for as little as $200, while it is likely that consumer electronics companies like Samsung and Sony may also offer their own VR systems.
And then there’s Google’s ace card in the unlikely form of the Cardboard. Unveiled at the I/O conference in 2014 the Cardboard is a way of creating miniature VR glasses, that work with Android smartphones, for virtually nothing. Users assemble the cardboard package, download the app and can then view the VR content.
Producing VR content
The publishing industry has also been eyeing VR for some time now, and shooting video that enables people to actually feel like that they were at, say, a sports event, clearly has huge potential.
Yet creating high quality VR video has been prohibitively expensive – well up until now.
At its recent 2015 I/O conference Google followed up last year’s Cardboard innovation with a series of technologies it calls Jump which is designed to help publishers, broadcasters and advertisers create VR content cheaply and easily. At its heart is a physical platform (or rig) on which no fewer than 16 cameras are sited. So far the only brand unveil a rig is GoPro, but Google is adamant that other makers will follow shortly. The cameras shoot the footage which is then run through the Jump software that seamlessly knits it all together and creates the virtual reality effect. Then viewers can see the content on their smartphone provided they have the Cardboard DIY glasses package delivered by players that is integrated into the Google owned YouTube platform.
It is not a perfect solution, but it is significantly cheaper than existing systems.
All of which begs the question – what type of content will be created and how will publishers use it?
One brand that has already big plans for VR is Elle. It recently experimented with the format by producing a live VR stream from a fashion show.
‘It’s going into environments that the consumer heretofore never had access,’ says Kevin O’Malley, svp and publisher of Elle. ‘That could be a tiki hut jutting over gentle waters in Polynesia, or it could be front row at a fashion show that they normally only see on TV, where they can see the celebrities who are there. It’s quite another thing to be front row, and when you turn to your left you are sitting next to celebrity X, Y or Z.’
In the UK Sky TV has also invested heavily in VR presumably with its high profile sports coverage like Premiership football in mind. Then there are also companies hoping to build the Netflix of VR by incentivising film makers to experiment with the format.
However for news publishers the key opportunity could be live streaming – Periscope type – of events as they actually happen with the viewer transported from their living room into maybe the chamber of a political debating house or right in the thick 0f the action at a demonstration or an arts event.
Publishers like Vice have been hugely successful in shooting video in inaccessible parts of the world. The Virtual Reality offering will take this footage to another dimension.
While publishers and advertisers sort out their VR strategies it is worth remembering that many of the things that tech pundits say about VR were also said about another futuristic format. It wasn’t all that long ago that 3D was the future not just of films, but also of home cinema. yet in June in the UK one of its biggest champions, Sky, folded its 3D channel. This followed a lack of ongoing commitment to the format from several of its key pioneers the BBC and ESPN.
Ultimately whether VR is as successful as the pundits predict it might be will be down to the quality of the experience. From a commercial perspective that will be the ability for say engineers to work remotely on projects the other side of the globe. For consumers though it is all about being transported to the heart of the action. So just maybe after years of being a contender VR technology will finally go mainstream.
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