10 THINGS THAT VIRTUAL REALITY MAKERS WON’T TELL YOU IN 2016
February 4, 2016 — It seems that everywhere you look at the moment there’s someone talking about virtual reality. It’s the Kardashian of media consumption devices. From frothy predictions about the death of cinema to it being the future of medicine, every man, woman and child is going to benefit from the “revolution” that is coming “soon” whether powered by Oculus, Sony or the many others who are exploring the space. With so many companies spending so much money on content marketing to create this relentless barrage of noise it’s very hard to get any real concrete information on whether it’s applicable to your industry. Let alone which VR headset does what and how.
Below are some thoughts on the real state of the technology and some pointers what it does and more importantly what it doesn’t.
There are two vastly different types of VR headset
Given Facebook’s purchase of Oculus last year you’d be forgiven for thinking that Oculus IS virtual reality. As we stand in 2016 there are two types of virtual reality consumption device: PC powered and Mobile Powered. PC powered devices are those such as Oculus, Sony Morpheus, Valve et al. They are, on average, larger devices that are effectively VR display devices which work ONLY when connected to a PC. They require the experience to be downloaded onto the computer, opened on the desktop, and then you strap on the headset.
While similar looking, Mobile Powered devices operate on a very different principle. Users can download an app to their device, then “slide” the device into the headset to create the VR experience. Your phone is the screen, processor and battery all in one. The mobile headset is simply lenses and possibly speakers.
VR is video and 3D or maybe a mix of both
While technically speaking virtual reality should be created in 3D, the lines have blurred hugely in the past 12 months. VR devices can display two forms of content and it’s important to understand which best fits your requirements: 360 Video or Live Rendered 3D. 360 video is currently at the forefront of most people’s experience because it is relatively easy to produce given the proliferation of camera rigs. 360 video is made with a rig of cameras that have recorded shots simultaneously then been stitched together to form a panoramic video landscape. You cannot “navigate” a video landscape because you can only explore where the camera rig was positioned when it originally shot is footage - think of yourself as a passenger on a camera.
Live Rendered 3D is an environment that has been completely created artificially in 3D software. Because it is artificial you can of course create any environment. You can also allow users to navigate anywhere in the environment. Live Rendered 3D is more akin to being inside a live computer game and ultimately the future of VR.
PC powered VR is EXPENSIVE
While the recent public launch of Oculus’s first HMD was a success, their marketing was very misleading for those without knowledge of how it works. Oculus, Sony and Valve’s headsets will require incredibly powerful PCs with huge graphic processing power to work effectively. It’s estimated that only 10% of computers currently in the market are capable of running a full-on VR experience. So as you cost up the $599 headset remember to add $2000 to the total in order to power it all.
Mobile VR loves battery
While mobile phone batteries continue to astound given what they have to do everyday in terms of mail, browsing, apps and videos, be prepared to lose battery quick when in “VR mode”. Live 3D rendering or live video is energy intensive and will very quickly eat your Samsung S6 battery for lunch. Deploying 25 devices in your museum will require real thought on battery usage and charging.
VR is a bit disappointing but that’s okay
The hype cycle is everything in a tech bubble. It is self-obsessed, completely unaware of irony or hypocrisy. VR is currently at the absolute peak of that cycle. The truth is, after the initial shock of first use, the actual experience is quite poor. Lenses aren’t that great, graphics are mediocre (especially on Mobile VR) and there is still a feeling that once inside it’s really not that convincing. Give it time.
VR is detached from reality
A common misconception, partly down to misleading imagery and advertising, is that VR opens up the world. VR headsets whether mobile or PC powered will completely enclose you in the headset itself. You cannot see the world around you or often even hear the world around you. You lose any sense of place and will almost certainly fall over any people or furniture that are unfortunate enough to be near you.
Expect the advertising industry to ruin VR’s reputation in 2016
2016 will see a slew of dumb, “why does it exist” experiences using VR. This will give VR a terrible reputation towards the back end of 2016 as this emerging tech gets bastardised in the name of promotion. Plus ca change.
Google Cardboard was built to annoy Facebook
Facebook announced that they had bought Oculus for over 2 billion dollars. Google created a cardboard box with two small lenses in it to ensure that everyone understood just how simple VR hardware actually is to produce. While Cardboard is and remains an interesting exercise it is in truth purely a cardboard box for a 600 dollar phone. No expensive phone? No VR experience.
Industry will take years to adapt
VR promises to change lots of industries over a long period time. Initially gaming will benefit from allowing players to be even deeper inside the action. Companies such as Fox et al are exploring its use within sports, cinema and entertainment overall. Educators and museums are discussing its usage both inside and outside of the classroom. Yet the truth is much more mundane in the sense that while there will be some success stories in 2016, the real success will arrive much later as people and industries begin to separate the wheat from the chaff and develop viable longer term products