How virtual reality is going to change the world

Documentary Editor Miriama Toms try's out the Samsung VR set-up during the virtual reality conference held at MOTAT. Photo / Dean Purcell
Documentary Editor Miriama Toms try's out the Samsung VR set-up during the virtual reality conference held at MOTAT. Photo / Dean Purcell

Virtual reality (VR) is here. It's on the market and freely available to consumers, but most people haven't tried it.

Last week's Magnify VR/AR conference at MOTAT aimed to highlight the practical industry uses of the technology, along with the fun and entertainment VR can offer.

Minister of Science and Innovation Steven Joyce opened the conference on Friday morning, and said recently he was using a VR headset every week.

Joyce talked about one of the most practical and interesting uses of VR yet; 360-degree cameras on board fishing vessels that livestream footage allowing the ships to be remotely monitored in real-time.

NASA has adopted the technology for training astronaut. Joyce said with VR he has experienced a demonstration of life in the International Space Station - living out his "boyhood dream."

Joyce, a believer and adopter of VR, half-jokingly said New Zealand was not far away from lounges devoid of furniture where people will roam in VR.

Currently the most accessible headset on market is the Google Cardboard, which retails for around $25.

The Cardboard is designed for short experiences and is less immersive than other headsets because a video or experience needs to be loaded up prior to putting the headset on. The headset also needs to be held in place.

Stunt director Guy Norris playing a game using HTC Vive. Photo / Dean Purcell
Stunt director Guy Norris playing a game using HTC Vive. Photo / Dean Purcell

YouTube has a huge number of videos available for use with Cardboard - and news agencies such as the New York Times are now producing VR stories for it.

Samsung Gear VR, designed for use with the Galaxy S7 and S6, is powered by the phone, which is clipped into the front of the headset and projects the images.

Gear VR is a comfortable headset which sits on the head and has a focus wheel and touchpad. It delivers an immersive VR experience at a very reasonable price, but is still a far cry away from the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Rift and Vive both require powerful PCs in order to run a good experience. The price point of the headsets - and PC required to use it - are prohibitively expensive.

Industry experts are naming the final quarter of 2016 as the moment VR begins to permeate the mass market. Samsung is likely to lead the vanguard of the first VR wave, having already positioned themselves as market leaders. Sony will be releasing their gaming-focused Playstation VR in October, for exclusive use with PS4.

Gaming has very much led the charge with VR. Early reviews of the Rift and Vive headsets talked of spending up to eight hours immersed in games, and games are certainly an easier experience than narrative driven stories and other showcases.

Gaming in VR allows the user some control over their experience and reduces the cognitive dissonance of uncontrolled movement in a static space.

Filmmakers and producers have acknowledged this problem, and believe we need to begin with short "experiences" which, at this stage, are mostly promotional.

Stunt actor Guy Norris used HTC Vive to play a game during the virtual reality conference. Photo / Dean Purcell
Stunt actor Guy Norris used HTC Vive to play a game during the virtual reality conference. Photo / Dean Purcell

Guy Norris, the stunt director behind Mad Max: Fury Road, said in his talk that he has filmed parts of the upcoming Suicide Squad in VR - and he and his son Harrison Norris have made a short film experience about a heist gone wrong.

Harrison Norris said in this early life-cycle of VR, filmmakers are required to "hold people's hands" through these short experiences until they become accustomed and acclimatised to VR.

Building audience tolerance to storytelling in VR is important, says Paul Leonis of media investment firm Clearfiction, and it needs to be delivered with excellent catered content.

"As long as you have a narrative with fight, flight, fornication, and food, you're going to have something people will engage with."

Promotional branding for events and sales has been a proven success with VR. Leon Kirkbeck, of Augusto has developed campaigns such as Haka 360 - which puts the viewer directly in front of a fierce All Blacks haka and allows them to freely look around. He also ran a popular campaign with Samsung at music festival Auckland City Limits, where people at the festival could experience being on stage next to the band.

SkyCity are also experimenting with VR branding - offering people a look through a virtually complete Convention Centre and using VR experiences for people across the group to promote SkyCity for event booking and stays.

Chief Innovation Officer at SkyCity, Sonya Crosby, said they are also going to put Oculus Rift headsets in their hotels to offer their guests an "escape".

VR is still gestating and is more talked about than used but it's poised to become a massively disruptive force across real estate, branding, entertainment, industry and gaming. Once we get used to it, that is.

- NZ Herald

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