5 Online Experiences VR is bound to Change Forever
Virtual reality is one of the most innovative and provocative technologies changing the way we interact with the world. It promises to be to this decade what the Internet was to the ‘90s, and while the technology hasn’t been perfected yet, 2016 has been full of encouraging developments.
With Sony’s upcoming PlayStation VR soon to be released, there will be 6 options for consumer VR headsets, all ranging in price and quality to provide everyone the opportunity to experience VR. Currently, the HTC Vive is considered the most complete VR experience out there, but its price of $799 still keeps it out of the hands of most ordinary mortals.
Right behind it and $200 cheaper is the Oculus Rift, for which we are still awaiting the release of the motion controllers. The Samsung Gear VR, Carl Zeiss VR One Plus and the almost silly but perhaps genius Google Cardboard offer VR at a much-reduced price, and you get what you pay for.
Regardless, media companies, content creators, VR Start ups and venture capitalists are virtually throwing money at the industry to come out on top with a full immersion experience. Meanwhile, many companies are using current technology to create and improve simpler applications that are already popular. But VR is already changing a lot in entertainment. These 5 mainstream online experiences are bound to reap the rewards of enhanced reality sooner than later.
Currently, YouTube has over a billion viewers, almost one-third of all the people on the Internet. It’s available in 88 countries and in 76 languages, which covers 95% of the Internet population. Twitch, which primarily streams video and other games as well as live player feeds has grown to over 8.5 million unique daily users in the 5 years since its launch. There are over 2.4 million broadcasters who are watched by over half the users for more than 20 hours a week.
As VR began taking the spotlight, YouTube added support for 360° videos and VR videos on both Android and iOS. This year Google finally added Cardboard support for iOS so iPhone users can join in the YouTube VR fun with the inexpensive Google Cardboard headset. YouTube even streamed the RNC and DNC in 360° this year so viewers could catch up live, as if they were there.
While Twitch is working on improving their VR livestreaming, Seattle-based VREAL is developing a system to allow viewers to be part of the VR world with or without headsets. If it works out, soon everyone will be able to be part of the game, even with a simple 2D television set.
Video gaming was quite obviously the first intended arena for VR. Even a non-techy online magazine like Maxim is highlighting the best VR games of 2016 already. Given the global nature of the eSports industry with over 150 million worldwide frequent viewers, the union between VR and eSports is crucial to the growth of that industry. The recent completion of The International 6 (TI6), the most prestigious DoTA 2 tournament in the world was a notable milestone for VR in sports.
For this tournament, where the prize was valued at over $20 million, Valve introduced the DoTA VR Hub, allowing fans to watch every game in three unique VR modes: from the arena with thousands of other fans, from a birds eye view as if you were flying above the tournament, or from the middle of the combat arena at true scale. This sets precedence for every other eSports tournament in the future.
It’s not just eSports video games are using current VR technology to enhance playing and viewership; online casino and poker games can also benefit from the social aspect VR can add to gaming. Currently the largest online poker organization, PokerStars offers livestreamed games, where a player has the ability to join a live game with real-life croupiers and dealers from the comfort of their living room. With over 60 million users and over 168,000 online playing live at any given time, the addition of virtual reality could transport a player to the poker rooms of Vegas or Monte Carlo in an even more realistic experience. The possibilities are endless.
Social media has been around for quite a few years and really exploded over the last five. Facebook has over 1.7 billion monthly users, Twitter averages 313 million monthly users and LinkedIn has over 450 million. Each is constantly shifting to handle changes in user interests and trends; however, it will have to make some major developments to adequately support a transition to VR beyond how it is incorporated into their platforms today.
This is obviously in the works as noted by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg purchasing Oculus in March of 2014. More recently, Zuckerberg dropped a bombshell by launching its own PC gaming platform described as a “dedicated, immersive experience.” Facebook already offers FaceBook360° with interactive and immersive videos. It is only a matter of time before chatting with friends will become an immersive VR experience as well.
Twitter is also diving into the realm of VR and AR with their recent hire of Alessandro Sabatelli, a former designer at Apple, to be their Director of VR and AR. The also recently acquired Magic Pony Technologies, a machine learning company with technological applications for VR and AR. Twitter’s Senior VP of Product, Kevin Weil, stated, “VR will be a fantastic world and Twitter’s platform can work great in a VR device.” We look forward to it.
Movies and TV
Global box office revenues for all films released in 2015 worldwide reached $38.3 billion, up 5% from the previous year. Worldwide tickets sold in 2015 reached 1.32 billion, also up 4% from 2014. With major blockbuster effects mostly computer generated, it will be no surprise to find their rendered worlds becoming virtual reality playgrounds.
Television is also bound to be changed forever. In 2014, 83,000 people from around the world experienced a VR ride up Game of Thrones’ wall of ice. More recently, HBO worked with Oculus, Facebook and Elastic to design a VR 360° promo for the upcoming new season of the program. The video received more than 1.7 million views in the first three hours.
While viewers are enthralled and excited for the new technology, directors and others from the film industry are not so sure. Steven Spielberg spoke out at this year’s Cannes film festival warning against the integration of VR technology with traditional filmmaking. He stated this new format would undermine the director’s creative control by allowing the viewer to look any direction they want, not necessarily the direction the storyteller is guiding them.
Travel and Events
The implementation of VR technology into travel and events is limitless and major launches of new VR experiences are announced almost daily. Roughly 1 in every 5 adults attend a concert at least once a year, making concert going very much alive. iHeart Radio and Universal Music group recently announced a plan to bring “immersive VR experiences” to concerts sometime this year. LiveNation and NextVR also struck a deal to broadcast hundreds of concerts in VR, allowing people worldwide to attend a concert they wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
VR innovators are creating ways for fans to not only be in the stands at a live sporting event, but be on the actual field. Coaches are already using VR technology to assist in teaching plays and practicing game scenarios. NBA, NFL and NHL teams are all delving into VR technology. It wont be long before ESPN has its own VR sports channel.
VR has already changed the face of travel. The technology to use the Oculus Rift to “visit” international destinations already exists. Travelers can try out cities all over the world to see if they want to make the actual trip before spending a dime. Even more exciting are the news that NASA and other space corporations are investing in VR. It is expected that by 2018, SpaceX will send a spacecraft to Mars. Using this footage, VR enthusiast will be able to extend their virtual travel off this planet.
There is no end to the implications of advanced VR technology, and as VR becomes more acceptable in public places, we will see the rise of VR cafes and theatres. With this infiltration of VR, boundaries and etiquette must be created alongside the major advances. It wont be long before technology takes VR to tiny devices that fit in a contact lens, and then reality will be altogether something else.