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The State of VR: Summer 2016

in Creative & Tech with tags , , , , , Both comments and trackbacks are closed.

Those of us in the advertising and marketing communities are expected to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s new and what’s next in technology. Tech fads come and go every few months and it’s rare that any one of them ever leaves a long lasting impact on the industry at large. With regards to the much-buzzed about virtual reality (VR) space, 360i’s Innovation Lab has been dedicating resources to learn all there is to know about the ever-evolving category for over a year. We want to be sure that if VR is here to stay, that our clients are armed and ready to play.

Disney, Facebook, Sony, Microsoft, Google, and Samsung all sit atop Forbes’ 2016 Most Valuable Brands list. And in the past year or so, they’ve all heavily invested in VR; it’s clear these cultural forces see a strong and profitable future for this emerging technology.

A fair question that inevitably comes up regarding VR is related to scale: how can a brand be sure that its investment to make great VR content will pay off and actually be seen by consumers? The aforementioned brands have been working hard to answer that question: aside from the popular physical headsets like Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR or the incredible HTC Vive that feature rich libraries of media from companies like HuffPost RYOT, content is also becoming more easily sharable on the major social networks, can work fluidly on mobile and desktop websites without the need for additional downloads, and can be ported to popular VR app libraries. What’s more, VR will hit millions of homes on mainstream gaming consoles, led by Playstation VR over the next few months.

While there’s a ton of (much deserved) excitement related to the hardware side of VR, brands and marketers should be considering the next big conversation in the space: great content. Below is a rundown of the current VR content creation world, equipping you with the best basics in process, software and tools.

360º Video vs. Software Based VR

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While there is some confusion about the varying types of VR content, we focus on two variations: 360º video and software based VR. 360° video is shot in a similar manner to traditional film. It features real life action, has a unique 360º point of view and progresses in a linear timeline as traditional 2D film does. Software based VR is made up of digitally rendered environments that are akin to video games. The environments are much more interactive by their graphical nature and subsequently grants users a more “open world” feeling for exploration. That said, there are great strides being made for composite content of 360º video with digital graphics added in post production.

Content Production for 360º Filmmaking

The three major components for creating 360º video content are visual capture, audio capture and post-production.

Visual capture:  360º cameras run a range from point-and-shoot consumer level cameras all the way to high-end production grade camera rigs (pictured below).

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Audio capture: Currently the majority of VR content, both 360º video and software based content, uses mono audio capture. Experiencing this style of audio means that both left and right ears hear the same thing throughout the experience. The alternative to mono is the more immersive, yet only supported on a limited number of applications, “binaural audio,” sometimes called “3D sound”. Binaural audio is recorded using two or more microphones and reproduces sound the way human ears hear it – for example a car alarm to your right in 360º will be heard from your right ear, but turn to face that direction and you’ll then hear as if it were in front of you. Give it a try here.

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Post Production: Once you’ve got your video and audio captured, the last step for finishing your 360º video content is post-production software. This is where your multiple camera lenses footage will be stitched together to create a cohesive 360º experience. Most lower-end consumer cameras will do this step automatically in its own software from your mobile or desktop devices. More professional level camera rigs will require advanced software like Kolor’s AutoPano Pro. Quality post production stitching is crucial to create a great piece of 360º content; visible stitch lines will distract from the experience for the viewer.

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Content Production for Software Based VR

Compared to the 360º video creative process, the process for software based VR development is much more intensive. Its most similar to modern 3D video game development, requiring Creative Directors, Writers, Designers, 3D Modelers and Artists, Programmers, Professional and Beta Testers, Technical Directors, Audio Engineers, and more. Below are the major ways to create assets and interactivity ­­for software based VR:

Modeling: Designers and modelers use 3D software like Cinema4D to create elements – people, places and things – to be used within software based VR content.

Scanning: This is the process of taking real world objects and scanning them for use in digital environments. There’s a variety of ways to capture real world content in this manner, including “volumetric 3D scanning,” that leverages 3D camera array technology and LiDar, “Light Detection and Ranging,” that uses lasers to detect depth and the shape of physical spaces. Company 8i is a pioneer in the burgeoning space and they’re well situated to continue pushing the frontier of this amazing technology.

VR Development: If you’d like to make your models interactive, such as a game, you will have to import those elements into development software like Unity 3D or Unreal Engine. These software packages use code to manipulate the elements of the experience using VR peripherals, like hand controllers.

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Future Considerations

It would be easy to dismiss VR as just another flash in the pan, to be placed alongside 3D printing, Google Glass, or Apple Watch. Yet there are compelling reasons to believe that it has a much greater potential for mass adoption.  Financially, VR’s billions of dollars of investment from tech’s major players have already dwarfed all those other tech fads combined. On the consumer side we’re beginning to see mainstream markets are hungry for VR.  Just this week GameStop executives revealed that the last pre-order event for the soon-to-be-released PlayStation VR was the “quickest sellout” in the company’s history with “tremendous demand” as they sold out “literally in five minutes.” Finally, technology wise, we’re still extremely early in on the development cycle. There are major updates happening almost daily and we can expect VR to have an even more powerful and immersive future.