Archives For Virtual Reality

NYT: The Virtual Reality Content Race

ces 2015 Ah, the Consumer Electronics Show: the annual international destination for the most forward-looking technology each year, matched with a frenetic navel-gazing from industry insiders that pales only to the self-aggrandizing swagger of the tech world’s brand behemoths, and big promises from baby hardware start-ups hoping to make it big on a non-working plastic prototype and a semi-polished sales pitch.

Oh, and there are always more than a few gems that make it all worthwhile.

It’s a huge show. I logged 40,000 steps walking every aisle of the show floor over 48 hours, and I’m sure I still missed something.

It’s my third trip to Vegas for the annual tech toy fest. The first was seven years ago (2008 recap); then last year (2014 recap).

For 2015, I can tell you I was inspired, underwhelmed and energized at what I found at this year’s show. This was a year of paradox for a culture in the age of technology transition.

There were more booths with Oculus Rift virtual reality demos than companies selling the 360 degree cameras and software needed to create content for it. However, there were many companies exploring new ways to maneuver in 3D and IRL realms, including via feet, ears, wrist and shoes. And NFC tattoos.

There was more talk about autonomous cars as a guaranteed reality than the infrastructure and near-term, baby-step innovations required to support a more realistic evolution.

The TVs this year were truly more picturesque than real life. Except the majority of programming is just finally starting to catch up to 4k, so buying an 8k TV would be lots of wasted pixels.

I witnessed people walking up to strangers and letting them plop a brain scanner on their noggin without a semblance of acknowledgement there could be side effects — or who owned the data from the experience.

There were drones galore. Talk about smart watches, smart homes and smart wallets. But none of it actually plays very well together, and not a lot of it solves immediate problems.

It seems to be common knowledge that if a device can send a notification to your phone, then it’s awesome. I struggle to disagree with this assessment, myself. And enchanted objects — regardless of how life-improving they may be — make non-smart objects look all the more dumb.

There were an increased number of 3D printers this year, and an encouraging base of 3D handheld scanners and material providers growing up to bolster the category.

Last year, the threat of an Apple Watch loomed over the wrist wearable and smart watch vendors. This year Apple stole some mindshare by announcing a March launch date on the first day of the show.

Meanwhile, the rise in haptic technology is truly amazing, and I look forward to that category growing into our computers, wearables and autos. Although, someone will surely get burned (literally), and I fear miseducation will impede its adoption. I guess we’ll see.

Here are some of the advancements I saw this year that caught my eye, separated into the following categories:

  • Virtual Reality
  • The Future of Hands Free
  • Technology to Impact Your Daily Life
  • The Future of Personal Transportation
  • Television
  • The Drones are Coming!
  • Internet of Things
  • Robots, because CES
  • Music
  • The Ridiculous Side of CES

Here we go!
Continue Reading…

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The Verge: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Virtual Reality

SnowcrashPer my ongoing fascination and excitement for Virtual Reality: Science Fiction Realized, Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and the new Photo Sphere 360 photo app (that looks poised to help consumers create VR content), this quote from Dan Hon’s eNewsletter was worth sharing today.

Hon has been going back through Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyber punk novel, Snowcrash (it’s a must-read!!), and often makes references of how the Metaverse could come to fruition in real life through VR (or often, how our offline and online lives are continuing to blur as only the science fiction greats could have predicted!)….

“I mean, I’m really interested to see if, post-public-Oculus and its backing from a multinational, billion-user social network, we actually end up with something like what Stephenson suggests with The Black Sun [ed. note: an exclusive online Metaverse club].

I mean, we kind of had it with Habbo Hotel, we didn’t really have it with Second Life (because the deal with Second Life wasn’t so much social as it was Hey! Build stuff in 3D! and the deal with Habbo Hotel and Virtual Magic Kingdom and all the other stuff was “chat software rocks”). No, I mean the whole thing about movie stars using it to “visit with their friends” and “strut their stuff”. I mean, seriously.

We’re about 12 months out from seeing if this is *actually going to happen*, and that’s pretty phenomenal.

Put it this way: you think single-camera amateur YouTube shows are a big thing? Imagine live streaming from an Oculus Rift instance, and allowing people to drop by.

This is like some weird virtual talk-show shit.

Dan Hon’s Things That Have Caught My Attention eNewsletter, #141

So if he’s right and we have <12 months to see if this VR stuff really pops, what brands and publishers will be leaders in the space? What will we do to help make this a reality?

And if he’s wrong, that’s fine, too. But I can't imagine some semblance of VR/Metaverse not becoming popular as hardware matures, prices improve, video games moving into immersive environments… and the fact that we're exporting more human connectivity to digital experiences than any generation before. It’s definitely worth exploring.

If you haven't yet had a Rift or Google Cardboard demonstration, you have to make it a priority. Heck, Cardboard costs <$20 put together! And some apps work on iPhone, as well as the standard Android app.

We live in an exciting time, and on this timeline, it may get more exciting quickly!

Google Cardboard works on the iPhone, too

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This week we’re testing Google Cardboard, a Viewmaster-like visor made of cardboard and magnets that turns your cell phone into a virtual reality headset.

Google launched Cardboard at their annual tech summit in June, handing out kits to attendees and helping kickstart the dialog about (and coding for) virtual reality software before the hardware becomes more mainstream and affordable.

You may recall Facebook made news earlier this year in acquiring Kickstarter-darling Oculus Rift, a ~$350 virtual reality headset that will be shipping it’s second iteration to developers later this month. Speaking about that acquisition, a respected industry investor said, “The way to understand this purchase is to think of Google buying Android in 2005. That confused a lot of people at the time. Facebook believes that virtual reality will become the next major platform, the same way mobile computing did, and they want to make sure they have a big stake in that.”

So with both Google and Facebook gearing up for VR adoption, we had to get our hands on Cardboard and see what this is all about.
Building Cardboard is as simple as collecting the pieces needed, cutting out some cardboard and slipping your Android device inside. Except the lenses are hard to come by, so we ordered our kit pre-assembled.

Once the Cardboard structure is set and your phone is rubber-banded into place, launch the Cardboard app and you’re ready to immerse yourself into some next-generation 3D and virtual apps.

Hands On with Cardboard
The official Cardboard demo app features seven different experiences meant to show the breadth of VR beyond first person shooting games:

  • Earth: A fly-over experiencing featuring different landscapes using Google Earth.
  • Tour Guide: A tour of Versailles 360 views and a local guide narrating.
  • YouTube: Stream popular YouTube videos on what looks like a massive movie screen.
  • Exhibit: A number of cultural artifacts that can be viewed from various angles.
  • Photo Sphere: Finally a way to enjoy those panorama pictures you’ve taken over the years.
  • Street Vue: A radiator-eye’s view of a drive through busy Paris streets.
  • Windy Day: A Pixar-like animated short story that follows a hat blowing through a forest.

Google Cardboard

There are also a number of Chrome Experiments for Cardboard (roller coasters and helicopter rides!), although those are browser-based and can be buggy depending on your device.

Another must-test app is VR Cinema for Cardboard, which renders any MP4 video into a split-screen, 3D movie. Prepare your stomach, because it’s going to get queasy! The app also allows you to turn on your phone’s camera and see the world through 3D (for the very first time?!?). All kidding aside, this app could be great for mock-ups and proof of concepts.

And Cardboard Works with Existing VR Apps
Beyond Google’s apps and those web experiences designed specifically for Cardboard, a handful of developers already have VR apps that can be used with Cardboard, although may experience slow frame rates or require a bluetooth controller to move around:

  • Shadowgun VR: A first-person shooter example of how VR can be used in immersive gaming.
  • Tuscany Dive: A picturesque walk through an Italian villa where you control the path.
  • SpaceTerrorVR: A 3D horror game where your spaceship is forced to land on an unexplored planet and you’re tasked with missions.
  • Flight VR Demo: A two minute demonstration video of flying a realistic plane over snowy mountains.

In doing demonstrations, we found it was easiest to start with Windy Day to let them get acclimated, then move onto the others. We’ve had jaws drop, people squeal in delight and many exclaim they are fearful this could become popular (and understand why it may!). The consensus is that once you’ve watched YouTube on an Imax screen that fits in your pocket, it’s fairly difficult to go back to a 2D browser window viewing.

The Consensus?
Overall, Cardboard is cardboard. And after just a couple days, it’s getting pretty beat up and greasy, to be honest. But the immersive feeling you get putting on the VR goggles is immediate. Although almost everyone has felt a bit of disorientation when removing Cardboard, but they also wanted to try them on again.

Forward thinking marketers know VR is an emerging platform worth exploring as we think about creating next-generation immersive experiences on behalf of brands (see our post on that, Virtual Reality: Science Fiction Realized).

Cardboard is a good step forward into helping us explore where things are headed and how we can help shape those experiences.

Additional Resources:

Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Creative Commons

Yesterday’s virtual word experiments, like The Sims and Second Life, taught us that consumers will interact with brands in simulated environments if the value proposition or unique experience is compelling enough.

The Google Glass Explorer program launch taught us that consumers are attracted to the proposition of augmented reality, but only if privacy and fashion concerns are addressed.

Meanwhile, social networking has reached the mainstream, and consumers expect brands to leverage this rising connected culture. But in a world where every brand wishes you a Happy National Doughnut Day, brands are struggling for ways to connect with consumers on a level that’s genuine, offers real value and rises above the noise.

That’s why we’re excited about recent strides in blending immersive technology with the real world.

Simply put, Virtual Reality (VR) is no longer the stuff of science fiction.
After a lull in consumer-facing VR products thanks to the flop of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy in the 1990’s, a handful of companies are working to make virtual experiences accessible to the masses. Although we may be far off from the Star Trek holodeck in every living room, we believe forward-thinking brand managers should be thinking about VR today.

For example:

  • Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head-mounted display, launched via Kickstarter with a focus on gaming, that was recently purchased by Facebook for two billion dollars. With Rift, the field of view is more than 90 degrees horizontal, 110 degrees diagonal, and the real world is completely blocked out, which creates a strong sense of immersion. Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to keep the consumer price of Rift as low as possible.
  • Google released an app called Cardboard that lets users slot their Android device into a do-it-yourself cardboard viewer. When looked through using special lenses, consumers can interact with various Google services like a VR headset. Supported apps include Google Earth flyovers, tour guides, and immersive photo and video experiences.
  • AdAge: Virtual Reality: Advertising’s Next Big Thing?

Where do we go from here?
Like Google Glass, today’s brand opportunity for these exciting hardware advances in VR is in building first-ever pilots and proof of concepts that demonstrate thought leadership and spark interest among stakeholders.

Existing software for these platforms have a strong focus on gaming, which leaves the opportunity to build creative and practical applications that inspire, educate and amaze across all categories — consumer marketing, education, science, healthcare and more.

Also like Google Glass, we expect that technology will continue to advance the general public will not all be wearing giant black VR helmets with an Oculus logo (or Cardboard cutouts with Google logos!) anytime soon. However, as part of our role in pursuing innovation, exploring consumer behavior and sharing helping brands really stand out, we know investing in emerging technology has proven to pay dividends in the short- and long-term.

Time to “jack in” and see what this is all about.