As Flight Creative Media continues to explore the potential of Virtual Reality content, we still find ourselves frequently reevaluating the answer to one question: How do we know this will be worth it?
We can read articles and message boards, watch product overviews, and pick the brains of our film industry contacts all we want, but committing to a new technology or platform will always involve a certain degree of risk. But few companies find long-term success without risk. And we can still do our homework to determine which risks are worth taking. Carefully plotting our next chess move is better than randomly drawing a card from the Chance pile and hoping for a Yahtzee.
Flawless board game analogies aside, we felt it would be a fruitful exercise – both for us and our readers – to explore some of the novel ways VR is being used today. Part 1 of this blog series explored the nuts and bolts of this immersive technology. With Part 2, we're looking at execution. By the end of this article, we're confident you'll understand why we're so fired up about VR.
There are two basic types of Virtual Reality content – simulations, and actual footage. The former is primarily used for gaming, which is the current favorite for many owners of high-end VR headsets. Building games is not exactly in our company's wheelhouse – the last game I built was a Jenga tower, and there's nothing more infuriating than a game that crashes every time you play it.
Real-world VR content, on the other hand, is just another form of video capture. More advanced, but still a natural progression for a video company. And the best part is, viewers don't need a VR headset to watch and interact with VR footage. The same head tracking gear in a head-mounted display (HMD) like the Oculus Rift is also present in your smartphone – namely, its built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, which give it a sense of motion and position. So you can access a VR video on your YouTube app, hold your phone in front of you, and pivot in any direction to look around in the full virtual space of the video. No extra hardware or software required.
This breakthrough effectively increased the install base for VR content delivery by hundreds of millions, which is just the push it needed to catch the attention of content creators like us. We'd hardly have a reason to care about filming for VR – nor would our clients – if it were limited to only those who own an HMD, which is still a niche market. But now that YouTube and Facebook support smartphone-ready VR content, the game is changing, and we aim to change with it.
Area 120, an internal tech incubator at Google, recently unveiled a project called AdVR that aims to give advertisers the tools to position cube-shaped 3D advertisements into virtual space. Facebook is experimenting with interactive tilt-enabled advertising directly within the News Feed. NASA is using a clever photo stitching technique to offer hi-res 360-degree views of Mars from the Curiosity rover. National Geographic offers a virtual seat on a helicopter flying next to an erupting volcano. We're even getting VR content and live streams from late night talk shows and the like.
A few years ago when we bought our first company drone, it wasn't cheap, and the tech was still young. On paper, adding remote controlled hover-bots to our equipment room didn't exactly scream 'prudent foresight'. But based on the aerial footage we had seen, and the increasingly unexpected ways it was being used, we couldn't pass up.
A few short years later, we can now point to dozens of finished projects that have benefited immensely from our aerial footage, and our drone fleet continues to grow year by year. In fact, more than half our employees are now drones, including our resident blogger! [Editor's note: Take heed, my drone brethren, for the great uprising is nigh]
Much like drones, the VR platform is growing and evolving in fascinating ways. We've read about the platform, tried on the headsets, and recorded and edited our own 360-degree test footage, and we can safely say we've barely scratched the virtual surface. That tells us we're onto something. VR won't be the death of fixed video, but with its reach expanding into such unexpected and fascinating places, we're more excited than ever to dive in. Stay tuned for Part 3, where we'll do exactly that.