Hallmarks of Future Sensory Entertainment

While preparing for a presentation at the Beijing Film Academy’s Advanced Innovation Center for Future Visual Entertainment, I considered what I would identify as the hallmarks of future visual entertainment (which could more appropriately be framed as “future sensory entertainment”). Being a fan of the Rule of Three, I settled on the following:

  • Immersive
  • Interactive
  • Intelligent

Of course, I couldn’t stop there (especially once I noticed the “I’s” had it), so I brainstormed “I” words and quickly accumulated these additional hallmarks of future sensory entertainment…(full post on AWN)

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Hallmarks of Future Sensory Entertainment

SIGGRAPH Asia Macau musings

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Early last month in the gambling haven of Macau, I attended a SIGGRAPH conference for the first time in a long time. My initial SIGGRAPH experience as a student volunteer in 1993 was eye opening, and I was a regular attendee and occasional speaker for the next 15 years – including the very first SIGGRAPH Asia in Singapore, 2008. As an outsourced event, SIGGRAPH Asia has always been a distant relative to “SIGGRAPH SIGGRAPH” (as many folks comparatively refer to the “real” conference), but the initial offerings in Singapore and Yokohama were respectable.

Cut to today. Scarfing down a plate of Doritos at the SIGGRAPH Asia 2016 opening reception is a far cry from doing shots off the back of an SGI Onyx at the Nixon Library in the heady days of 1993 (though perhaps an appropriate analogy for the austerity arc of the graphics industry over the past two decades). Twenty years ago, there was a palpable sense that “anything is possible,” even though much still was not. Now – at a time when anything essentially is possible – we seem to be holding back. These days, CGI is like Doritos: tasty but predictable. And the VR game-changer has yet to emerge.

I attended all four days of the SIGGRAPH Asia conference and decided to distill my notes into three key observations (I’m a big fan of The Rule of Three). The following takeaways are… (full post on AWN)

SIGGRAPH Asia Macau musings

The Three R’s

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Virtual reality is nothing new.  It’s been around for decades, tent-poled by a few signature eras.  The first of these was in the 1960’s, when Morton Heilig built a prototype of his “Experience Theatre” called the Sensorama, and Ivan Sutherland created the first VR and AR head-mounted-display (HMD) – a massive device that required ceiling suspension.  The second era was during the mid-80’s to mid-90’s, when Jaron Lanier founded VPL ResearchMattel’s VR Power Glove was available for just $75 USD, and the concept of virtual reality was popularized in movies such as THE LAWNMOWER MAN.  We are currently in the third era, a Facebook-fueled frenzy of global activity – leveraging on technological advances and accessibility – that just might achieve mass-market traction where previous attempts have failed.

Although awareness is growing, many people still either don’t know what VR is, or refer to everything as “VR.”  In China, for instance, “VR” is used as a catchall term encompassing virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality.  On the other end of the spectrum are the technorati, who debate the fine points of whether 360-degree videos should be called “VR” and whether POKEMON GO qualifies as “true” AR.

In light of this and for your consideration, here are brief explanations of VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) that I’ve used when describing the technology to… (full post on AWN)

The Three R’s

It’s the CONTENT, stupid – Part Two

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Part One of “It’s the CONTENT, stupid” addressed the VR ecosystem’s current hardware-centric focus with the observation that nobody wants to “use VR”. People want to be entertained, to shop, to assemble their furniture, to find a good place for dinner, to talk to their family, to create things. The technology is a means to an end.

Despite a slew of VR activity across the board, there is still far more attention being paid to the bottles (hardware) than to the wine (content). Nevertheless, despite the general understanding that the wine is more precious than the bottles, no vintner is going to produce a wine that cannot be properly stored and transported. Similarly, VR content creators are dependent upon VR hardware for distribution and monetization, while VR hardware companies require an engaging stream of content for market actualization. The VR hardware/software/content equation is a true chicken/rooster/egg conundrum, with players in each sector creeping forward while calculating where to step and whose hand to hold.

There has indeed been a spike in content production, ranging from the efforts of major-player initiatives such as Google’s Spotlight Stories and Facebook’s Oculus Story Studio, through VC-funded startups such as Baobab Studios and Penrose Studios, to scrappy independent artists and eager students. No matter the size or strength of the team, all VR content creators eventually grapple with the same opportunities/challenges intrinsic to immersive media… (full post on AWN)

It’s the CONTENT, stupid – Part Two

iAVRrc / Ling VR salon held in Beijing

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The Beijing Film Academy’s International Animation & Virtual Reality Research Center held an informal salon at Ling VR in Beijing last Saturday, co-hosted by Ling VR CEO Tim Zhang and myself (iAVRrc Executive Director Kevin Geiger), with discussion among two dozen local VR developers, creators and investors.

I gave an overview of the current state and trajectory of immersive technology across a variety of fields, while Tim shared his observations as the head of a Chinese VR hardware company. It was noted that Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus sparked a frenzy of activity in China that saw a raft of local VR startups come and go in the first year (only to be replaced by more), with many Chinese investors expecting returns in as little as six months.

During the salon’s group discussion, some investors shared the topline of their analysis of China’s VR market, noting that they currently see much activity but little quality (which is perhaps understandable when your angel investors expect returns in under a year).  Here in China, we’ve seen the term “VR incubator” increasingly replaced by the term “VR accelerator”, perhaps because the former implies wasted time & money, while the latter fuels the fantasy of quick riches.

One investor observed that Chinese consumers initially spent money on things, but are increasingly spending money on experiences – indicating a potential market for aspirational VR entertainment in China. It was generally agreed that in order to gain mass market traction, VR entertainment and services must be based on human wants and needs. I commented that a Steve Jobs of VR is needed to make the technology not only necessary but moreover “sexy” for ordinary folks who wouldn’t be caught dead in an HMD face-hugger.

On the content front, we discussed the attendant issues of VR’s “hero dilemma”, and the related “ghost effect” (or “Swayze Effect”). While VR seems to work best when the viewer is a character rather than a voyeur, the former is riddled with challenges for creators attempting to limit the “gamification” of their storytelling.

Tim Zhang wrapped the salon by asking each attendee to forecast the big consumer adoption year for VR. Answers ranged from 2018 to 2021, with most believing that AR will lead VR in the mass market.  I predicted the following:

  • In 2017, VR gaming will pop on high-end HMDs within a limited market of first-adopters and VR arcades.
  • In 2018, AR / VR services and adult entertainment will pop on mid-range HMDs among the general population.
  • By 2020, AR / VR services, utilities, entertainment, and advertising will be pervasive.

We’ll see.  🙂

iAVRrc / Ling VR salon held in Beijing

A beautiful idea

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Virtual reality has a storied arc – from to Mort Heilig’s Sensorama and Ivan Sutherland’s Ultimate Display in the 1960’s, through the VR boom (and bust) of the 1990’s, to Facebook’s $2 billion USD acquisition of Oculus today.

The Verge covers it all in The Rise and Fall and Rise of Virtual Reality.  As the authors note:

Imagine 10 years ago trying to envision the way we use cellphones today. It’s impossible. That’s the promise VR has today. VR at its best shouldn’t replace real life, just modify it, giving us access to so much just out of reach physically, economically. If you can dream it, VR can make it. It’s a medium for progress, not the progress itself. In celebration of the rise of VR still to come, The Verge investigated its past, present, and future to offer a glimpse of what we feel is enormous possibility.

Indeed.

 

A beautiful idea

Coming soon to a pizza box near you…


While attending SIGGRAPH in the mid-90’s, I had my first opportunity to experience immersive virtual reality (VR) when I won a chance to “Ride the Onyx” (SGI’s premiere workhorse at the time) in a “cave automatic virtual environment” (CAVE). Soaring over a roaring river astride a pterodactyl, I promptly crashed my winged steed into a canyon wall and brought the entire system down for the next hour (yes, that was me). Twenty years later, I’m standing in a VR haunted house – courtesy of my I Am Cardboard headset & trusty smart phone – and stumbling over my very real coffee table after being surprised by a rather visceral ghost.

VR has been around for decades, with entertainment efforts ranging from the theme park attractions developed by Disney’s VR Studio back in 1992 to the array of creative on display in the SIGGRAPH 2015 VR Village. The early years of VR spectacle (akin to the early years of carny sideshow films) have evolved into today’s immersive storytelling: increasingly organic, responsive and engaging. VR entertainment finally appears to be coming into its own – with a frenzy of activity fueled by Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR, and a universe of applications afforded by increasingly inexpensive (and now disposable) hardware.

Google Cardboard – a paper VR headset created by Google engineers David Coz and Damien Henry during their “Innovation Time Off” time – was introduced last year at Google I/O. I picked one up this week. The “low-fi” VR experience – from the simplicity of slotting your smart phone into the front flap and donning your ear buds, to the miracle of losing yourself in a virtual environment anywhere/anytime – is disarmingly compelling. More than anything else, I believe that “disposable” VR tech will have the greatest impact in bringing VR entertainment experiences to The Average Person, and VR creative opportunities to The Enterprising Creator.

While The Average Person is unlikely to order a cardboard VR headset online, you don’t have to peer too far into the future to see when disposable VR headsets will be given away as entry-level windows into worlds of immersive content. “Free” is a compelling price point and “disposable” leads to ubiquity.

So, don’t be surprised when the pizza you order arrives in a box that folds into a headset through which you view exclusive VR entertainment tie-ins downloaded to your smart phone from a QR code on the lid. The fusion of content, consumer products and marketing afforded by cheap consumer VR will itself be a new reality.

Coming soon to a pizza box near you…