NAB 2016 – some thoughts on the VR hype-stream and the reality of PRESENCE

360º immersive reporting is coming to PVC

With less than two weeks to go before NAB 2016 and my inbox regularly inundated with a multitude of VR related press releases, I can’t help but feel a slight concern that VR has joined the hype-stream and is destined to ‘crash and burn’ before it’s had a chance to unfurl its fragile wings and take to the air.

VR as typically shown in mainstream media

As I discussed in my previous article, the adoption of next-gen VR (ie VR 2016) is being led by the video-gaming community, and as such, has a good chance of becoming widely accepted in the vibrant and prosperous gaming industry. On the shirttails of widespread VR gaming adoption, other nascent use-cases are clinging on for dear life in the hope of riding the wave to fame and fortune – education, journalism, advertising, narrative and of course porn, to name but a few. But in the haste to label all things as part of the VR ‘brand’ we’re in great danger of diluting the message and trying to make it appear to be ‘all things to all people’. Doing so will end up reducing the potential awesomeness of PRESENCE to the lowest common denominator of ‘immersive’ and hence alienating the public who are expecting a lot more.

There are numerous HMDs (head mounted displays) in our VR Lab – Oculus, Vive, Samsung, Zeiss and Google Cardboard. All offer a fun VR experience in their own way but none of them are perfect yet. They all offer a glimpse of the future, and assuming Moore’s Law continues to drive technical innovation and bring down unit prices, Jill and Joe Consumer will at some time try out the latest VR gadgets and perceive them as viable and enjoyable ‘platforms of experience’ for a variety of entertainment genres. The danger is that if Joe and Jill try on the current iteration of VR ‘platforms of experience’ with unrealistic expectations they will be sorely disappointed. Movies, TV, and Mobile all took years to mature into a satisfying and affordable experience for the majority of consumers and in many ways, with this current generation of VR technology (NAB 2016) we are still at Ground Zero, Year One. The current crop of VR headsets and cameras are miles ahead of anything we’ve had before but we still have a long way to go before the technology is going to deliver on the full potential.

Home entertainment in the good old days
Home entertainment in the good old days

In the meantime, ‘experience platforms’ like HTC Vive with their concept of room-scale VR and interactivity, clearly show that the technology is already quite sophisticated and consumer friendly. And what room-scale VR also proves is the importance and power of PRESENCE – the ability to trick your brain into really believing that you are in that environment interacting with virtual objects. It doesn’t take long to get carried away in your Vive virtual world only to bang your body into some inanimate object you forgot was there. And with room-scale VR there is another pending battle looming large – which room do you sequester to make a safe environment for the total immersive virtual experience?

Inside the virtual room of the future
Inside the virtual game-room of the future

PRESENCE is the key to unlocking the power of VR. Without that neurological effect, the experience maybe amazing but it’s not VR. Transporting players and viewers into a make-believe world where the brain literally thinks it’s actually in that world is the real potential of VR. So the key to keeping VR real, is to not let the VR hype-stream currently swirling around the blogosphere detract us from the enormity of the task ahead and blow us off course as we journey into the unknown. As a certain Cristoforo Colombo was once heard to remark, “It’s just over the horizon isn’t it?”

In the spirit of the many intrepid explorers who have gone before me, I too shall be embarking on a journey of discovery this year. Armed only with my trusty 360-degree camera rig and a stereo mike, I shall set sail for NAB 2016 to interview the movers and shakers in the world of VR technology and content creation. My 360º reports from around NAB will be posted on ProVideo Coalition during NAB, so stay tuned and connect with us to see if this experiment in ‘immersive journalism’ will transport you to the amazing land of Las Vegas, where all your dreams come true – whether they’re real or not.

Don't shoot ... I'm only the 360º reporter reporting from NAB!
Don’t shoot … I’m only the 360º reporter reporting from NAB!

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Neil Smith is CEO of Rift Valley Studios based in Los Angeles, California. Neil is a FAA Certified drone pilot and VR expert with over twenty five years in the IT and filmmaking industries. Neil…

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