Opinion: The future of VR and the challenges which need to be overcome
Virtual reality is not a new medium in itself, it’s actually been around for decades with one of the first uses being the Sensorama by Morten Heilig. This crazy machine not only showed visuals and sound but also scent, a real trailblazer. VR went on to be used by NASA, the US army, in gaming arcades and all over popular culture through the 70s, 80s and 90s, apparently falling into obscurity in early 2000s.
Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, kick started (literally with Kickstarter) what is now known as the second coming of VR. Starting in his parents’ garage he made the first crude headset based on mobile phone components. It’s from this humble start that Oculus was founded and Facebook spotted the golden opportunity to move in 2014.
VR seems to have had the longest beta test in history, with all the big players launching development kits years before a customer could get their hands on a consumer version. There has never been a product in history that has had more build-up and testing before launch, and with good reason. VR is a very powerful experience, you are plugged straight into people’s physical feelings and therefore bad content or slow/glitchy hardware can be very uncomfortable and ultimately off putting to a new market - hence the delay and continuous refinement of the products.
According to new data by research group Ipsos Mori, 59% of men and 46% of women surveyed boast a strong understanding of VR. And now Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have launched, the consumer market is well underway and VR has cemented its place firmly in technology history. Personally, I’m most excited by the HTC Vive. This incredible device allows you to don a headset and not just look around a space but actually get up, walk around and explore it. This allows you to experience virtual worlds in a completely interactive and natural way, true virtual reality, and has the knack of turning grown adults into giddy children every time.
Despite the incredible leaps the world of VR has taken this year, there’s still a long way to go in terms of developments, mainly in terms of the current limitations the technology itself presents. The Ipsos Mori research showed that 34% of the total sample admitted they do not care about VR, which Ipsos Mori research manager Neil Stevenson sees as an opportunity for marketers. He says marketers can use VR to create engaging, high quality content, but they have to be bold. “Virtual reality is the perfect storytelling application and if you’re creating a captivating experience, consumers don’t mind if the content is brand-led,” he says.
To highlight a few limitations - the screen resolution needs to be higher, the headsets need to get lighter and more comfortable and producers need to continue to make content in VR in a way that flows and is comfortable. The next few years are going to be a huge, and ongoing, learning curve for producers to learn just what works in VR.
Currently, content is being created which is truly the first of its kind, and people are engaging with it in a way that has never been done before. Storytelling, as a standalone aspect of any content creation, presents challenges in itself. When a lot of action is taking place at once, the viewer can become extremely confused and disorientated. To combat this, we can capture sound in 3D with audio cues guiding the viewer’s direction, minimising the chance that a vital part of the story will be missed because the viewer’s attention is placed elsewhere. There’s also a lot of debate amongst developers about breaking the fourth wall, and whether the user should be looked at or referred to within any scene. There may be a time when viewers are able to influence the scene or outcome, but that’s further down the development line at this stage.
Content production issues are a huge challenge to overcome – if you don’t get it right, it can go very wrong and create extremely uncomfortable footage. Content therefore needs to be kept simple and producers shouldn’t put too much action in the scene, keeping it in front of the viewer with smooth movements. Failure to do this results in a failed production. This could influence everything from scriptwriting to design - using clever production techniques can ensure that the final content is both engaging and mind blowing for the viewer.
Alongside all of the challenges in creating content, many have criticised VR as isolating. On the contrary, we believe it will be one of the biggest social enablers and mean that people will start interacting and meeting people in both a different way and world. Once consumers have got over the fact they’re wearing a headset, they will find that VR introduces a whole new concept to entertainment and communication – and I believe that TV will be integral to virtual reality’s development in the next few years.
The landscape for VR content creators has never looked more promising and although there’s no denying that this year has been a leap forward for VR, there’s far more potential to explore in the next few years that makes 2016 only a catalyst for bigger and better things to come.
Visualise has recently collaborated with The Economist and Rekrei, a non-profit group formerly known as Project Mosul, to deliver their latest VR experience. You can find out more about it here.
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