A Word on Virtual Reality

Its high time that I did a little post on VR, if only to help gather my own thoughts on the tech in one spot!

I've always been an early adopter of tools for making TV. In late 2011 I was producing and shooting 3D content for a San Diego based company called Herring Broadcasting and I immediately dove into the potential of 3D. That year, I had the strange distinction of being the first to produce both a documentary on Chernobyl (shot on location at reactor 4 in Ukraine) and film New York Fashion Week in 3D.

Of course 3D had been around for decades, but the technology from a content creator and consumer standpoint was finally catching up to the point where we could make hour long historical shows in 3D in a somewhat cost effective manner. For me, what made documentary shooting possible in 3D was the introduction of integrated lens 3D cameras (as opposed to the
"split beam style" from first, Panasonic, and then Sony.

Despite the explosion of 3D equipped televisions at NAB that year, 3D eventually lost some of its luster in the TV world, but from a film perspective, 3D is still puttering along.

Now we have Virtual Reality. Again, we've had VR (at least conceptually) for a while, but now we have the tools to actually make the content and the consumers have to tools to view it.

Recently, I had the good fortune of sitting down with a good friend of mine, Geoffrey Zatkin, and opening one of the Occulus Rift development kits. Geoff was responsible for a good deal of the design on a much beloved video game MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online World) called Everquest, created by Sony Online Entertainment. He is now working on a series of strategy games that use the Occulus VR platform.

Sidebar: Geoff and I also did a little un-boxing video of the Occulus Rift DK2 system that I will post at a later date here.

After my conversation with Geoff, I thought I would write a quick state of the VR market from the content creator perspective broken down in the three most important categories: making VR, who is making VR and how to watch VR.

Making VR:

Most current VR camera rigs are a very much DIY effort, but the Jump and Spherical look poised to change that.

1) Google Jump (LINK) - A 16 camera rig created by Google that allows VR shooting with the proprietary Google Jump software.

 

2) GoPro Spherical Rig (LINK) - This seems like the VR shooting rig for a mass market. Although not currently available for sale, I'm expecting an announcement from GoPro anytime now about where to pick up one of these little guys.

 

3) Freedom360 (LINK) - This New York based company uses rigs built around their own camera system called the Elmo, but they also sell rigs designed for use with the GoPro. 

Freedom360_wo_caps_v508.jpg

 

Who is making VR:

Felix & Paul Studios (LINK) - This team is responsible for an interesting marketing effort called Wild that was shot to promote the Reese Witherspoon film by the same name. They are based out of Canada.

Vrse.works (LINK) - Vrse.works seems to be ahead of the game with a stable of award winning filmmakers already signed up as creators of their VR content. They also have an app that allows for easy viewing of their VR projects.

Koncept VR (LINK) - This is the production group that works in tandem with the team behind the freedom 360 camera rig. With Vrse. works we see a synergy between the software and content side and here it looks like a hardware/content team. 

Watching VR:

Google Cardboard (LINK) - Leave it to Google to take a for-the-masses approach to VR. Yeah, these headsets are made from, you guessed it, cardboard and allow your phone to be placed at eye view to use apps like Vrse.  There is also an official Cardboard App available on both android and iOS.

Oculus RIft (LINK) - Currently in its second development generation; no phone is required with this stylish headset. The Oculus Rift (DK2) doesn't allow you to use wirelesslessly and demands a tethered USB 3.0 connection with your desktop, but it is one of the best and truest VR experiences out there. This device has been built from the ground up for the VR experience with from both a hardware and software perspective. 

"Toekomstfestival 20151" by Rebke Klokke (Partij van de Arbeid) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/pvdanl/16293865630/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toekomstfestival_20151.jpg#/media/File:Toekomstfestival_20151.jpg

"Toekomstfestival 20151" by Rebke Klokke (Partij van de Arbeid) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/pvdanl/16293865630/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toekomstfestival_20151.jpg#/media/File:Toekomstfestival_20151.jpg


Vrse App (LINK) - Mentioned above, the app is now available on the apple store (iOS) as well as android (Google Play) and provides a VR experience with or without Google cardboard.

Youtube - Kind of. No you can't watch VR on YouTube yet, but YouTube recently integrated 360 degree video. To me, this seems like a precursor to full motion tracked VR, but we'll see in the coming months.