In 2015, CES headlines were all about ‘The Year of Virtual Reality’ with many of the big (and small) names turning up to the annual Vegas tech pilgrimage touting consumer-ready VR headsets. Only Samsung delivered on the promise, so what happened to the rest?
Oculus held a press conference just before G3 to reveal their final Rift, Sony changed the name of their Morpheus headset to Playstation VR (or PSVR) and HTC postponed their 2015 Vive launch because they’d made a ‘major’ breakthrough. Good on HTC for holding on for a better product, because it’s well worth the wait, the Vive Pre is stunning. The Void broke ground on their first VR theme park in Utah and it’s mightily impressive, but won’t open until later this year.
I’ll also have my hands and eyes on the latest Sulon Cortex this week – but more on that when I’m allowed to tell you…
So here we are again with the usual question being asked “what’s big at CES?” Thanks to the Rift pre-order floodgates opening today, Oculus has ensured It’s VR. Again.
CES has also brought us a raft of 360º cameras (although not all ‘proper’ stereoscopic VR) including the Vuse, the Allie, Nikon’s new KeyMission 360 and Samsung’s Project Beyond. Again.
If we ever have a conversation about Virtual Reality, you’ll soon discover my views cover the extremes and there’s no fence-sitting. I love and will enthuse about the platform’s incredible potential yet have a rather negative view of some of the industry leaders, because some aren’t leading in the right direction and many aren’t pushing hard enough.
Having produced 360º videos for years doesn’t make you a marketing expert. Building great games doesn’t mean you’ll produce stunning VR experiences. The new frontier of VR studio production requires a diverse skill set and a unique understanding of how your audience will view and react to your content, not just how they’ll discover it.
If you stumble upon anyone carving themselves out a career as a VR movie mogul and they’re telling you THE future of film is VR, they’re doing more harm than good. It’s A future and a damn exciting one but claiming all films will one day be viewed in a VR headset with full 360º immersion is naive at best, chronically damaging at worst.
Think of all the movie classics that just don’t need enhancement. They’ve been brilliantly acted, superbly scripted and skilfully edited and that requirement should never go away because the film industry is a wonderful machine. Full VR would not only be cost-prohibitive but damaging to the backbone of the industry – focused storytelling.
No, I haven’t gone all retro on you, I’m not rebelling against the new Virtual world. We need to add value to really make the good stuff great. If everything is VR then it becomes white noise and loses its impact, much the same as the misplaced marketing prerogative of turning every website into an app – that just gives fuel to those that still think the app is dead.
VR is at its most powerful when pushing boundaries, offering the chance to experience the unexperienceable (that’s a word, right?)
Take the storming of Omaha beach in Saving Private Ryan, the Jakku Millennium Falcon chase from The Force Awakens or the thick of the boxing action in Southpaw, Raging Bull or Rocky 27. VR will live or die on its financial relevance to studios. It’s unrealistic to shoot an entire blockbuster but a D-Day beach scene or a single round of boxing become invaluable marketing tools for a cinematic release and an essential added extra for the digital home download. Add episodic storytelling then suddenly you’ve tapped into the micro-payment and subscription models contemporary audiences are comfortable with.
In the same way that we went through a phase with visionary publishers claiming all future books would be interactive, we’re already facing the same issue with VR. Yes, some books obviously benefit from the bells and whistles (Brandwidth’s Doctor Who Encyclopaedia and The Doors apps or our Maleficent and Saving Mr Banks iBooks are perfect examples) but for many, the reading experience needs to be just that – words and images, digested in much the same way they always were, for the same cost. But certain properties deserve more. I received an email last week via the CES Press Portal claiming the ‘real’ sex industry will always be better than ‘holographic 3D porn and teledildonics’. That may well be true, but the VR porn industry will still be huge!
To say VR is the headline act at CES is a little misleading, there’s AR too. Augmented Reality has the potential to hit an even larger demographic than the Virtual variety, simply because the audience doesn’t need to shut itself off from the outside world. The main reason I’m more excited about VR is we’ve had AR on our phones and tablets for years – even desktop PCs and laptops equipped with a camera have been able to display augmented content.
New headsets such as Microsoft’s Hololens have reignited the augmented conversation (and investment frenzy) and Google’s second attempt at Glass appears to be just around the corner, even though this isn’t actually AR but an info overlay within a single screen. Impressive tech nonetheless, but not what we’re talking about here.
If you’re losing patience waiting for the new hardware to turn up and you want to see AR 2.0 in action, grab an ODG headset – it works and has had years of development time and budget. If it’s good enough for NASA and the US ‘three letter agencies’, then it’s certainly robust enough for consumers.
2015 may not have delivered VR and AR as promised, but the potential for 2016 has never looked more real.