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VR Content – On the Eve of a Renaissance

Featured, For Entreprenuers, Virtual Reality  |  January 27, 2016  |  By

Virtual Reality is technology that simulates an alternate environment by immersing the viewer in a captive, fully digital experience. This is what sets VR apart from other forms of media, but also presents unique challenges requiring new hardware and novel approaches to content creation.

We’re finally there on hardware

VR needs to be experienced through a head mounted display (HMD), which has required solving challenges like display quality, frame rate, field of view, real time data processing and high speed connectivity. The current generation of HMDs delivers on all those fronts – For $99, Samsung S6 and Note 5 owners can turn their smartphone into a VR HMD with the Gear VR, and for around $600, PC and Playstation owners will be able to access the high quality VR content via Oculus, Vive or PSVR. So if the hardware is ready, what else needs to happen before we see large audiences adopt?

Forecasts predict that by the end of 2016, 6-7M VR HMDs will be in consumer hands, several million more if you include Google Cardboard. But to attract these audiences, HMD makers will need quality content such as games, animation, live action and cinematic film, created natively in VR. Content companies whose brands stand for the most compelling VR content will define, attract and capture the lion’s share of new audiences, similar to the movie studios in the 1920s, Netflix at the dawn of VOD, Zynga in the early days of Facebook web, or Supercell at the beginning of mobile gaming. How soon will this happen?

The calm before the storm

When the original iPhone launched in June 2007, there were just a small handful of first party apps like Safari and Mail, and not much content to speak of. Apple opened their platform to 3rd party developers shortly thereafter, and gaming and mobile video content began to rapidly proliferate. When consumers bought their iPhone 3Gs a year later, there were still only 500 apps available for download, which is 0.03% of the 1.5M apps available in the iOS store today.

This puts things in perspective. VR is content is at a similar stage of infancy, but because it will leverage existing forms of OTT and mobile app store distribution, I expect that content proliferation will ramp much faster. Today, there are about 500 pieces of VR content available in Milk VR, the largest consumer library for VR video. Several hundred more apps, weighted heavily towards games, will be available one the PC and console based HMDs ship in 2016. If we take precedent from the mobile world, by 2018 we might expect over 100,000 pieces of VR content available for consumption.

A preview of best-in-class VR content

Creating great VR content combines both the art of storytelling and new technology tailored to a new medium. For example, VR filmmakers need to work with custom cameras that combine an array of lenses to accurately capture stereoscopic depth, and will need to direct from a distance to prevent occlusion. Creators will have to address parallax error, caused by a change in the observer’s position and line of sight – not an issue in the 2D world but central to VR. Concurrently, without the equivalent of cuts, pans and zooms, new methods will need to be developed to direct the viewer’s attention. As a result, every perspective has to be planned at all times. Post production and stitching (combining multiple images to create a cohesive story) is also far more complicated, requiring new types of pipeline software.

The best VR content creators will rise to these challenges and define a new language of storytelling in the process. Here are some great examples in each of the major VR content genres, no doubt to be followed by many more as the market evolves:

  • Animation: Invasion! by Baobab Studios, a Pixar-quality animated adventure told in VR
  • Cinematic video: Kurios by Felix & Paul Studios, which puts you into the cast of a Cirque du Soleil performance
  • Live events: The Democratic Presidential Debates by NextVR and CNN, the first presidential debate in history to be viewed in VR
  • Documentary: The Displaced, available in the New York Times VR app
  • Gaming: John Wick by Lionsgate and Starbreeze VR and WEVR, a VR first person shooter set in the movie

We’re on the eve of a content Renaissance in VR. Expect lots of choices in 2016.

 

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