Tag Archives: vr

VR: Because Porn! (and Siggraph and other stuff)

Over the last few months I’ve been to NAB, E3, and Siggraph and seen a bunch of VR stuff.

VR people with their headsetsMost VR people with their headsets

One panel discussion about VR filmmaking was notable for the amount of time spent talking about all the problems VR has and how once they solve this or that major, non-trivial problem, VR will be awesome! One of these problems is that, as one of the panelist pointed out, anything over 6-8 minutes doesn’t seem to work. I’m supposed to run out and buy VR headsets for a bunch of shorts? Seriously?

E3 is mostly about big game companies and AAA game titles. However, if you go to a dark, back corner of the show floor you’ll find a few rows of small 10×20 booths. It was here that I finally found a VR experience that lived up to expectations! Porn. Yes, there was a booth at E3 showing hardcore VR porn. (I wonder if they told E3 what they were showing?)

One of my favorite statistics ever is that adult, pay-per-view movies in hotel rooms are watched, on average, for about 12 minutes. Finally! A use case for VR that matches up perfectly to its many limitations. You don’t need to worry about the narrative and no one is going to watch it for more than 12 minutes. Perfect. I’m sure the hot, Black Friday special at Walmart will be the Fleshlight/Oculus Rift bundle.

Surely There Are Other Uses Besides Porn?

Ok, sure, there are. I just haven’t found them to be compelling enough to justify all the excitement VR is getting. One booth at Siggraph was showing training on how to fix damaged power lines. This included a pole with sensors on the end of it that gave haptic (vibrations) feedback to the trainee and controlled the virtual pole in the VR environment. There are  niche uses like this that are probably viable.

There are, of course, games, which are VRs best hope for getting into the mainstream. These are MUCH more compelling in the wide open space of a tradeshow than I think they’re going to be in someone’s living room. For the rank and file gamer that doesn’t want to spend $8K on a body suit to run around their living room in… sitting on the couch with a headset is probably going to be less than an awesome experience after the novelty wears off. (and we don’t want to see the average gamer in a body suit. Really. We don’t.)

And then there are VR films. There was a pretty good 5 minute film called Giant being shown at Siggraph. Basically the story of parents and an 8 year old daughter in a basement in a war zone. You sat on a stool that could vibrate, strapped on the headset and you were sitting in a corner of this basement.  It was pretty intense.

However, the vibrating stool that allowed you to feel the bombs being dropped probably added more to the experience than VR. I think it probably would have been more intense as a regular film. The problem with VR is that you can’t do close-ups and multiple cameras. So a regular film would have been able to capture the emotions of the actors better. And it’s VR, so my tendency was to look around the basement rather than to focus on what was happening in the scene. There was very little interesting in the basement besides the actors, so it was just a big distraction.

So if your idea of a good time is watching game cinematics, which is what it felt like, then VR films are for you. And that was a good VR experience. Most VR film stuff I’ve seen are either 1) incredibly bland without a focus point or 2) uses the simulation of an intimate space to shock you. (Giant was guilty of this to some degree) The novelty of this is going to wear off as fast as a 3D axe thrown at the screen.

There are good uses for VR.  It just doesn’t justify the hype and excitement people are projecting onto it. For all the money that’s  pouring into it, it’s disappointing that the demos most companies are still showing (and expecting you to be excited about) are just 360 environments. “But Look! There are balloons falling from the sky! Isn’t it cool?!” Uh… yeah. Got any porn?

Why VR Will Fail. (and AR too)

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First off, neither will fail completely. VR will succeed in games and AR will end up like the Segway… used by mall cops and tourists. And, yeah, there’ll be some industrial and entertainment (e.g. theme park rides) applications for both.

But widespread consumer use? No. Fail. Why? Because most people don’t care. At all.

Geeks LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this type of stuff because it’s extremely cool technology. And it’s true, the tech behind it is amazing. However, this does not matter to most people. For most people what matters is 1) does this make my experience better MOST of the time and 2) is it easy to use? Or, more simply: Does this make my experience so much better that it’s worth the effort required to learn and use it?

We ran into this problem with Web 3D when I worked for on Cult3D for Cycore, which was a browser plugin to let you view 3D objects on the web. Really cool tech. Cult3D, and 3D on the web pretty much completely failed. Why? Because a sneaker in 3D gets you no closer to trying it on than a bunch of photos.

And that 3D sneaker costs a LOT more to create than a few photos.

But VR and AR are different than Web3D! No, sorry, they’re not. It’s going to be the same problem. The content creation costs are going to be a killer and does it really add anything to the experience? Is it the order of magnitude better that it needs to be for most people to invest the time/effort/money in it? Especially since it requires glasses you wouldn’t otherwise need, particularly clunky, tech looking ones.

For example, the Magic Leap (VR/AR technology startup) website shows a bunch of schoolkids looking at a virtual seahorse. Ok, that’s going to be super awesome… until the novelty wears off. Then… is that virtual seahorse better than high resolution photos and videos showing the seahorse in it’s natural environment that can be shown on a smartboard or HD TV (tech that schools already have)? No, probably not.

And do you really think schools are going to outfit entire schools with VR/AR tech and the expensive content? Most schools can’t even buy one smartboard for each classroom… to say nothing of training teachers, many of whom are not very tech literate.

But wait, I’ll be able to see bus stops and find restaurants just by looking around! How often do you actually need to do this? You’re going to wear glasses you don’t need so that you can be visually bombarded with virtual signage and more information? Most of us are already in information overload. For the few times a day I need to check bus schedules, Yelp, or Lyft I don’t need AR. AR might  be marginally better than having to look at my phone, but it’s something I need to WEAR. And how do you control it? waving your hands around? A fanny pack controller attached to your belt?

One other issue is one that dogged 3D TV. People are social and want to connect, especially by looking in each other’s eyes. I don’t like talking to people that can’t stop looking at their phone. If I can’t see their eyes or if their eyes are constantly glazed over looking at the retina display… it’s a big problem.

And no, most people don’t want to live in virtual worlds. Yes, for gaming, great. Real life? Give me a f’ing break. Nobody wants to see your dragon avatar walking around the airport.

So between the high content creation costs, the difficulty/cost using it, social impediments and the fact that in most cases it’s not going to improve the experience by an order of magnitude, I don’t see it succeeding as a common, every day thing for personal use .