"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." - Western Union internal memo, 1876.
Often new mediums are misunderstood. Primarily, I think that misunderstanding comes from a short-sightedness of the potential of what a technology could be. In other words, people don’t believe in new mediums because they judge their future potential on what they’re capable of today while ignoring what they could be very soon.
Consumers of early virtual reality (VR) were slammed with the cost of using intensely complex control systems of which they were not previously accustomed to. Ranging from $3 - $5 to play a single session in a virtual reality pod of which an experience lasted around three minutes, the consumer did not see the payoff of such cost to the experience they were receiving and very quickly lost interest. VR failed, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t valid as a medium. It was judged on what it was capable of at the time.
3D television was made widely available to consumers in 2010, at a hefty cost of £1,800 for the 47” model alone. On top of this, a £200 cable and a pair of 3D glasses were required in order to experience the full potential of this new concept. "So what next?" consumers murmured as they scratched their heads. "How do we get bigger, better!"
Thankfully, houses with dedicated spherical rooms which contain an array of curved TVs was not the answer, instead we turned to spherical content and the devices in which to present this medium.
Technological advancements since these early times for VR have enabled development to come at a significantly lower cost, with vastly improved quality. In particular, the incredible pace of innovation in the mobile industry has reduced the cost and increased the potential of small screens, gyroscopes and accelerometers. This means that a $99 headset, using a mobile phone, has no perceivable lag and allows us to watch content on virtual screens bigger than a cinema. For 360 video, viewers have the ability to watch a film, not from the seat of a cinema, but from within the scene itself!
360 video is a gateway to what we understand as immersive experiences, something which the film, music and games industries have aimed to achieve since they were created. However, only now do we have a good foundation upon which to develop these experiences. For many, 360 video will be their first taste of this kind of immersion, because mobile VR devices are about to be heavily marketed toward consumers. Everyone has a smartphone, and with a very marginal investment, you can convert that phone into a pretty great VR headset. Devices like the $99 GearVR headset by Samsung can convert any Galaxy phone into a VR headset. So what’s the best and most widely available kind of content for a device like this? 360 video.
YouTube and Facebook have already enabled 360 videos in their players, and every day dozens of new immersive experiences are being uploaded to their platforms, allowing qualifying mobile devices to view 360 videos with the extremely inexpensive Google Cardboard, and once devices such as the GearVR become readily available, the market then has a 360 immersive platform. One which games, videos and music can be viewed on, with a possible potential for VR theatre, live streaming in 360 degrees and realistic ‘look before you buy’ experiences, which will open whole new areas of content.
Henry Stuart, Co-founder & CEO, Visualise.