Virtual Reality

BBC research on consumer attitudes to VR

Virtual Reality has been a hot topic for the last couple of years, but for many general consumers the jury is still very much out on how useful the platform is on a day-to-day basis outside the sphere of gaming. That’s why it’s interesting to dive into the BBC’s latest research on how the average consumer feels about VR.

The general consensus is that for VR to be successful it needs simple, intuitive and consistent interfaces, better curation and content discovery, and a higher supply of quality content which is ‘worth the effort’, i.e. not something that they can simply watch on TV instead. Below is a very broad recap:

  1. What did audiences think about VR before they’d actually tried it?
    • Most participants were broadly excited about the prospect, but mainly associated VR with gaming.
    • Some were worried about getting nauseous or looking silly in front of friends and family.
  2. How did participants react to their first experience?
    • Participants were ‘equally enthralled and delighted’.
    • Their initial – fairly low – expectations were far outstripped in terms of the quality of the experience.
  3. What content resonated?
    • Generally participants wanted to get straight to experiences designed to get your blood pumping, things like horror, rollercoasters and other extreme experiences that they wouldn’t normally do and which had some novelty value.
    • Leading the audience on a journey is crucial; experiences without a narrative or goal tended to fall flat – experiences with good story-telling or clear objectives worked well.
    • Presence and embodiment were also important as the viewer must feel ‘there’ to be immersed (e.g. a Cirque du Soleil experience where the characters made plenty of eye contact with the viewer).
    • Audiences need time to process and understand what is happening around them before being able to follow a narrative. When and where to draw their attention is also fundamentally important.
  4. What are the key challenges to overcome for VR to become mainstream?
    1. Many of the participants found the user interface to be tricky.
    2. Often the way to navigate around various VR environments differs from app to app.
    3. Difficulty discovering new content was a huge issue.
    4. Some users were concerned about being shut-off from what’s happening around them.
    5. Social norming – some were anxious about feeling stupid in front of friends.
    6. Physical space – often audiences weren’t in the right physical situation – sitting down on a sofa after a long day or lying in bed is not conducive to an experience which necessitates turning around and looking behind you.
    7. Proximity of headset – the headset needs to be conveniently available.
    8. Social interaction – for some audiences the insular / individual nature of the experience was off-putting.
    9. Often the headsets or the screens of the phone will be dirty, blurring or obscuring the images.
    10. The phone must be charged.
    11. If you haven’t used your headset for a while, you might forget how to use it.
    12. Many handsets overheated after 30 or so minutes of usage.
    13. Variable Wi-Fi quality leading to poor content resolutions and slow download speeds.

Check it out for yourself here.

Posted by Rob in Virtual Reality

I love this Samsung Gear VR Ad

This post originally appeared on the Serviceplan Blog

VR seems to be in that awkward phase of being just about to hit the mainstream, but not quite being able to take that final step. The technology is very much out there in the wild but most people don’t seem to be wowed by, or are not aware of, most of the use cases just yet.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see this ad for the Samsung Gear VR that focuses on VR’s ability to let the viewer experience something rather than just watch a piece of content. It’s an almost John Lewis-like emotional branding concept that pitches the product as an enabler to see things from a different point of view. To immerse yourself in something deeper than is otherwise possible.

With this latest TV campaign, Samsung is continuing to do it’s fair share in dragging the concept of VR kicking and screaming into the mainstream. With 360 degree video available on multiple platforms now, many people have already experienced it, although there is a danger here of viewers associating basic 360 degree video with true VR, and being underwhelmed by the prospect. Samsung are trying to push the envelope here. The Korean giants have just announced a new controller for the Gear VR which will make it much more intuitive to use, and might even let them muscle in on the turf of the HTC Vive / Oculus Rift.

With over 5 million Gear VR headsets having been sold (or given away for free) to date, this makes it by far the biggest user base in the VR market. The Gear VR’s accessibility means that it is the most likely channel for many people to have their first proper VR experience, something that Samsung  seems to be very aware of. By running campaigns like this and basically promoting the general concept of VR, not just their own product, they are taking on the responsibility of raising awareness of the entire product category. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. We’re very slowly reaching that VR tipping point. But reaching it none the same.

Posted by Rob in Virtual Reality

Even with VR, it’s still all about “content”

With the PlayStation VR announcing it’s pricing and launch details last week (EUR 399 and October by the way), and the Oculus Rift about to hit shelves imminently, Virtual Reality finally looks set to start realising its long heralded potential. But all the talk about pricing and technical specifications misses the point somewhat. Whether it’s basic 360 degree videos on a cheap Google Cardboard setup, or a full-spec Oculus Rift or HTC Vive running on a $1,000 gaming PC, the value and enjoyment that the user will take away from the experience all boils down to the quality of the content made possible by it. It’s the same with any other form of media too, the medium will always play second fiddle to the content at the centre of it. I personally can’t wait to get stuck into some of the stuff on show below. Let the games begin!

PlayStation VR Games Showreel

Oculus Rift Games Showreel

Posted by Rob in Media, Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality and the future of Media & Entertainment

A version of this piece was originally written for Shane O’Leary’s Tracking ’16 Trends Report which was launched this week. You can download the full report here.

Virtual Reality, despite being an actual reality for quite a while, is still somewhat the stuff of science fiction for the average person on the street. All that might change over the next 12 months though.

In 2016, there will be some serious movement in the Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality) space in terms of mainstream availability. The consumer versions of the Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, and PlayStation VR, among others, are all scheduled for release in the New Year. But more importantly, away from these pricey headsets, more affordable and thus more mainstream-friendly options are becoming available to let anyone with a smartphone experience the potential of what VR technology has to offer.

This past November, a collaboration between Google and The New York Times put cheap Google Cardboard VR headsets into the hands of over 1 Million people to facilitate a 360 degree documentary that The New York Times produced on the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Never before has basic VR technology been so widely distributed and so easily accessible to the general public.

From a publisher point of view, this is an area where large incumbents (like the New York Times mentioned above) can flex their muscles and use their resources to produce more powerful content via VR that smaller pretenders might find harder to create.

But with this technology more accessible than ever before, and content producers now starting to actually cater for it, what is really exciting is how different industries might take advantage of Virtual Reality to offer more immersive experiences to their audiences. Just think of the potential that cheap, mainstream VR availability could have on the actual media and entertainment that can be produced across everything from news, TV and movies, video games, and even areas like live music and sport.

Imagine being able to watch your favourite band play a festival half way around the world from the fan pit. Or experience the Champions League Final as if you were sitting in the front row right on the halfway line. All this from the comfort of your own sitting room (and without having to queue up for half the event to get a pint!).

In addition to large media and content publishers starting to cater for VR content, the barriers to this type of content creation itself are beginning to come crashing down, at least in terms of 360 degree video. Devices like the GoPro and Google camera rig collaboration will enable smaller publishers and agencies etc. to get in on the action too. And that’s even without taking into account user-generated content, something that is bound to grab people’s imaginations. With live streaming increasingly accessible and growing in popularity all the time through apps like Periscope, users’ appetite for this type of content, from both a consumption and creation point of view, should help propel the concept forward. Take the 360 degree video of the annual Grafton Street Christmas Eve charity concert from Bono and the lads below as an example of the possibilities (view it on a mobile device to get the gist of it or drag your cursor around the screen to manipulate the view if you’re on a laptop / desktop).

With VR slowly graduating from being a techy niche to scratching the surface of the mainstream, and with content producers finally starting to jump onboard, expect to see some really interesting examples of this over the next 12 months.

Posted by Rob in Media, Virtual Reality

Google distribute 1 million free Cardboard VR headsets

I’ve talked about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality here a few times before, in particular the slow pace at which both are making a mainstream impact. Slowly but surely though, we are starting to see examples manifest in the real world. Just last week a collaboration between Google and The New York Times was announced to distribute 1 Million Google Cardboard Virtual Reality headsets with the NYT Weekend edition on November 7th. This will let users view a 360 degree documentary that NYT have produced based on the current refugee crisis. While it sounds like a pretty cool concept in general, it also has the potential to have a massive impact in terms of giving basic smartphone-based VR technology a mainstream reach.

In a more high-end capacity, Sony’s effort, the recently renamed PlayStation VR, has just been given an estimated release date for the first  half of 2016. Last month I got the chance to try out the then-titled Project Morpheus and it blew me away. Much more-so than the first edition of the Oculus Rift I tried out last year which left me pretty disappointed to be honest. VR seemed to play a pretty big role at this week’s Paris Games Week showcase so you can be sure that Sony plan to make this a significant part of their offering going forward. As mobile gaming (and Apple TV-style gaming) becomes more and more popular, games consoles will have to find new ways to differentiate themselves and offer a more full-on experience for hardcore gamers. I was fortunate enough to try out one of the flagship PlayStation VR demo games, “London Heist”, at the GAMES15 event in Dubai last month and I couldn’t believe how immersive it felt. No doubt there are countless PlayStation developers hard at work coming up with some kick-ass ways to use this technology as we speak.

Something else that serious impressed me this week was the new demo video from Augmented Reality platform Magic Leap. It features actual footage this time, not just concept imagery, and looks amazingly crisp and life-like. I can totally imagine experiencing it as it was previewed in the video. The possibilities this technology can throw up are endless.

Posted by Rob in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality