Virtual reality, abbreviated VR, is a hot topic. Not a day goes by without an article in the press about a new VR headset being launched, a startup company experimenting with the technology or new VR content being developed.
What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment.
The rapidly advancing display- and sensor technology ensures that this user experience is becoming more and more realistic. Today, a VR-Headset (a head-mounted display), is the most common medium to give a user the best VR experience. These stereoscopic goggles always show part of the 360 degree content (a photo on a beach for example). When you move your head, the image follows and you see another part of the content. When you look up, you see the sky and when looking down, the beach. Because the picture is instantly changed depending on the position of your head, you actually get immersed in the environment and imagine yourself a different location. When the content is a movie with sound, the experience becomes amazingly realistic. Optionally, additional equipment can be added which allows, for example, to move around in the virtual world.
In the previous century, virtual reality was only reserved for science fiction movies. Some companies attempted to launch VR for the masses, like Sega in the ninetees, with their Sega VR. These initiatives were however short-lived.
The developments of the past months, prove that chances are growing that VR is actually going to happen now. Until recently, VR was only known in technology circles and among gaming enthusiasts, but it is rapidly becoming mainstream. We could even call it a VR hype. Oculus VR, acquired for a staggering 2 billion USD by Facebook in March 2014, has been active since 2012 and has already launched two developer kits. More recently, other industry heavyweights have launched their on VR goggles: Samsung announced the Gear VR in September 2014 (in collaboration with Oculus VR), HTC and gaming platform Valve HTC launched the Vive, Sony launched Project Morpheus, Vuzix renewed their Vuzix glasses (iWear 720) and Microsoft came up with the HoloLens, which is special because it adds augmented reality to virtual reality. Even Apple already filed patents for a VR solution. It is clear that many technology companies believe in the (commercial) possibilities of this new medium.
Google proved that virtual reality doesn’t have to be expensive. They developed the “Google Cardboard”. This is nothing more than a piece of cardboard with two lenses that you can fold up to form a goggle, in which you can place your mobile phone. Google posted the specifications of Cardboard on their website, so every enthusiast can now create and distribute his own cardboards. With the right apps on your smartphone this solution makes sure that VR is accessible to anyone, without having to put down hundreds of euros.
Does this mean that the more expensive VR goggles have been rendered useless by the Google Cardboard? Not really, because they offer a better navigation system than the magnet of the cardboard, they are more comfortable and they have more and better sensors on board. This makes the VR experience of the “premium” headsets a lot more realistic and less nauseating.
New experiences and opportunities
The first VR experience is something you will not forget. Because this is a completely new medium where you can be closed off from the real world, there are a lot of new opportunities. Imagine that you go on vacation and you can take 360 photos and videos with the same simplicity as shooting a regular photo today. Later, when you’re home, you can watch the results in your VR goggles and be immersed once again your holiday location. Shooting a 360 degree clip on the mountainbike? You can relive the moment as many times as you want! And when looking at the 360 degree underwater pictures you might see fish you had not even noticed when you were there! In VR, just like in the real world, the user chooses which part of the reality he looks at. For filmmakers, this will certainly be an interesting medium because the experience places the viewer in the center of the action.
Volvo chose this new medium to present their XC90. With your smartphone and a customized Google Cardboard, potential customers were able to experience how it is to drive the new Volvo. They could look through the windows, at the dashboard or the back seats … and in this way get a very realistic impression of the dimensions and atmosphere in the interior.
As more people get familiar with VR, more campaigns will follow. Consumers will also start taking more and pictures and videos in 360 degrees as cheaper and more powerful camera’s emerge – such as the Ricoh Theta M15 – who uses 2 lenses and automatically stiches the images together, so the user experience is just as easy as with any point-and-shoot camera.
2015 will be an exciting year for VR and that’s why we follow these developments closely at Endare. We are even working on a proof of concept. Curious? Come along to talk about the possibilities.