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Seeing is Believing: What is Your (Virtual) Reality?

Seeing is Believing: What is Your (Virtual) Reality?

I’m a big fan of the latest HBO hit show ‘Westworld’.  The premise is that Westworld is a massive theme park (think Walt Disney World on some serious performance enhancement substances) where visitors interact with some very realistic artificial beings (robots).  This is perhaps the most ambitious idea for virtual or augmented reality I’ve ever seen.  Could we have a ‘Westworld’ type of experience available to us within 10 years?  It’s certainly possible, but not in the realm of reality right now.    

Today, in our present reality, I see more new information and interest in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology, devices and experiences.  One member of our leadership team even spotted a pop-up kiosk in an airport this week, staffed by blue shirted technologists fired up and ready to strap VR goggles on anyone who was keen to see and learn more about VR.  

VR, AR and 360° - What’s What

For the uninitiated, VR enables the viewer to immerse themselves in an experience where they ‘see’ things all around them in a full 360° experience.  Conversely, AR overlays elements in your field of vision that you can interact with (think Pokemon Go, if you were part of that craze).  There are some excellent primers to learn more about these experiences here (for the techie) and here (for the non-techie).  Lastly, 360° video experiences are shot with multi-camera devices, some the size of an old iPod Shuffle, that record the experience in different fields (angles), where the video is stitched together so that the viewer can ‘move’ around within the video experience.  Here’s a good example of 360° featuring the US Navy’s Blue Angels precision flying team.  

All three experiences have their benefits and challenges.  It seems some younger audiences are embracing VR, where older audiences are aligned with AR and 360°.  Most modern smartphones are capable of displaying 360° video and VR, using add-on devices like Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR.  More complex devices like the Oculus Rift and Google Daydream are a bit more complex, but the net result is that you are immersed in a computer-generated experience.  Even Apple is in the mix, reportedly building AR into next iterations of the iPhone with glasses on the way afterward.  This is the foundation of AR, where you put on glasses to display things in your field of real vision.  Like Snapchat?  Even parent company Snap’s new glasses are part of this trend - kinda.   

Enhancing Experiences, New and Old

Remember Google Earth?  When it launched, it was a barrier-breaking way to use new graphics rendering technology to ‘fly around’ the Earth and see landmarks up close.  Now, you can view Google Earth in VR.    Google’s clearly betting on AR and VR too and, with the massive Android smartphone install base, early AR experiences are abundant on Android.  Smartphones are a natural platform for our new experiences in augmented and virtual reality.  Some are also paving a path to the desktop computer, for now.  I’m not sure the desktop, laptop or even a device like a Roku are well suited for immersive experiences, but time will tell.  

There is little doubt though that we are at the dawn of content created specifically for these new experiences.  In the months ahead, expect to see experiences where you can be taken to a concert in real time.  Want to see the Smashing Pumpkins play live in Chicago next Tuesday night at 8pm?  You can be there as the tunes are played.  How about a front row seat at Macy’s in Herald Square for the Thanksgiving Day Parade in VR or AR?  Get ready - it’s all coming soon.  

Right Tools, Right Job

As with any rewarding media & entertainment offerings, preparation, planning and execution are key.  With these new types of immersive video experiences, there will be best practices and caveats that will drive success.  For 360° video experiences, the visuals must be compelling.  LIke the F-18 fighters in the Blue Angels example above, a walk through the engine room of a submarine, or a like scene where the viewer has a reason to move their device or scroll within the player are paramount.  A talking head interview in a static room will likely not be a compelling video that drives many views.  

It is still very early days in this new corner of the always evolving video space.  At Brightcove, we’re excited to engage with our customers and have thoughtful dialog about how to create these experiences to delight their audiences and enhance their video business.  And while we don’t have any plans for ‘Westworld’-like robots on the product roadmap, we’re motivated every day to help shape today’s (and tomorrow’s) realities - virtual, augmented, and otherwise.