Beyond VR Gaming: VR’s Evolution to Immersive Cinema
Written by Adam Li, CEO/CTO of Immerex
Virtual Reality (VR) has been the rising star of the technology landscape for the last few years. Just like any new tech trend, the entire industry has been trying hard to answer the billion dollar question: where and how will VR impact our lives the most? VR has the potential to have a lasting influence on our society and transform a multitude of industry segments such as lifestyle, science and workplace sectors.
It helps to look back and see how the development and application of VR has progressed. Since its inception, VR has always been closely associated with gaming. After all, the video game industry has consistently created “virtual” characters that live within virtual worlds. Because 3D models of the virtual environment are already constructed in video games, creating virtual reality content in this environment is a natural fit and relatively easy to achieve.
In recent years, we have also started to see accelerating demand for VR in many other industries, particularly as it is relates to creating immersive experiences, such as movies, entertainment and other types of cinema. As with gaming, the movie industry is another field that thrives on transporting audiences into a different cinematic world, from ancient prehistoric kingdoms dominated by dinosaurs to terrifying future dimensions where zombies hunts the dwindling human race. These are perfect examples of the future VR experiences we can expect to come. Despite many challenges that could arise on the way, VR is well positioned to be the next big thing in immersive cinema, showing great promise for a bright future in the entertainment industry.
In discussions focused on the future of VR beyond gaming, industry thought leaders are citing the application of VR technologies to cinematic experiences, and development of VR applications in various other areas as the most promising opportunities. Whether VR can move from a curious niche to enter the mainstream and become a staple technology of the modern household depends very much on how and when VR finds its killer application.
Entertainment, Movies, and VR
Due to the recent buzz around VR, it has gained tremendous attention from the entertainment and movie industries. The amazing ability of VR to transport audiences into a completely different world has sparked the imagination of movie makers, with many directors, including heavy weights like Steven Spielberg, looking at how to merge VR and movie production. Some have even started to work on creating VR movies. Leading festivals, such as Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival, have showcased VR films. Further underscoring the appetite for this medium, IMAX has started building multiple VR theaters and Qantas airline has begun offering VR in-flight entertainment experiences. VR creates an experience that is unattainable through traditional film making techniques, and has begun to show its potential in the entertainment industry.
This growing trend in entertainment signifies a seismic shift in the VR paradigm. This movement indicates that VR is graduating from a niche market toward mass adoption. VR application in the gaming industry has thus far been confined to a relatively small segment of high-end gaming, where top-of-the-line computer hardware, graphics cards and specially designed software are required, limiting the addressable market to a comparatively small size. Adversely, the home entertainment market is a vast with audiences encompassing almost all demographics.
There are a few important challenges the industry needs to pay attention to in order for VR to become successful within cinematic and home entertainment. The first issue is the content. Just like any new technology in the consumer market, the novelty typically wears off quickly for early adopters, so content must remain top of mind as it is considered the real driving force behind the wide adoption of a technology. Producing 360-degree immersive content is much more technically challenging than creating traditional content. On top of this, the art of storytelling must be completely reinvented for this new medium. Having a large volume of unique new content is critical, but will take time to hone. At the same time, VR platform technology must be backward compatible to remain usable with existing content.
The second important factor for VR products to enter mainstream entertainment systems is product design of the hardware that the consumer will buy. With the rise of aesthetic pros like Apple, consumers have become demanding in terms of the design of their technology products. Fashion compatibility might ultimately be the deciding factor in determining the popularity of a product, as consumers increasingly view personal technology products less as an accessory and more as an extension of their personality and in some cases, self. Any product for mainstream adoption must also be comfortable and safe to wear.
Third, the product will also need to be designed for the lifestyle of the user. The established VR product will likely need to be portable for easy accessibility. Modern lifestyle dictates that many devices used for media consumption be compatible with an on-the-go consumer. Entertainment content should be accessible from anywhere at any time, such as on the subway to and from work, or during lunch breaks. All of these use cases essentially point to a non-tethered solution as a highly desired configuration for consumer-facing VR systems.
In addition to everyday use, an entertainment-focused VR system could have a great impact on the film industry. In the last ten years, network bandwidth improvements and content streaming technology have brought aspects of cinematic movie experience all the way into the consumer’s living room. While this has made some impact, it still has not truly been able to replace the experience that comes with going to the movie theater. One of the main reasons for this is that the audio/visual experiences of a home theater system have not yet reached parity with those of a real movie theater. The VR movie-entertainment system will completely close that gap. A VR system in its virtual world can mimic a movie theater or even create viewing experiences that is way beyond what a large screen can offer. VR may well create an entirely new business model for film and entertainment distribution, such as a new generation of virtual movie theater lines without expensive real estate and parking lot.
As a new family of technologies, VR has the potential to enable new applications in many different industries. Besides the obvious areas that have previously been a focus, such as gaming and entertainment, there are many other areas that VR will meet with significant demand and popularity, such as sports, travel, training, medicine, and real estate, to name a few.
In light of current status of the technology and market development, the primary focus remains on movie and cinematic entertainment, which present the greatest near-term opportunity for the VR industry to truly excel as it graduates from the confines of niche gaming. Consumer expectations point to accelerating demand for VR, which indicates significant opportunities for market growth. The cinema entertainment industry just might be the killer app that VR needs to gain widespread adoption in the consumer market.
The movie industry is constantly evolving. With the ever-increasing digital bandwidth and ubiquitous wireless connectivity, the entertainment industry faces a pressing need to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant in the new archetype. The traditional movie needs new forms of media as well as new distribution channels. Consumers expect film to move from the traditional “sit back and watch” format to introduce interaction between the audience and the content for a two-way viewing experience. VR has the potential to make a significant impact on all of these weaknesses, and just might revolutionize the movie industry altogether.
Reinvention in any field always brings questions with new territory and market share…but we believe the answer lies in the new world that is cinematic entertainment VR.