Meet the VR Experience Customized By Your Body

VRScout’s Zeynep Abes checked out the VR Village at this week’s SIGGRAPH show in L.A. She was taken by Strata, a VR experience from The Mill, a global media studio better known for producing hip-hop mogul Jay-Z’s recent, “The Story of O.J.” video.

Strata was actually released last year, but neither I nor, apparently, Abes, had heard of it until this week. The experience combines an Oculus Rift headset with a chest-worn heart monitor and a Bluetooth device called Muse:

Before putting on the Oculus Rift, the developer placed a headband on me, called Muse, to track my brainwaves—to monitor wether or not my mind was calm or active. Muse is described as a meditation assistant, but in this case it was used to help Strata tune into my heart rate, breathing, and stress levels. The experience can respond to my emotional state and create a virtual world depending on that data.

Muse is just one of a growing fleet of consumer-facing biometric devices that leverage low-cost sensors and the power of computers consumers already own, namely smartphones and laptops. While Strata requires a relatively expensive Oculus Rift-and-PC combination to run, the $249 Muse headband was originally designed to work directly with an Android or iPhone app.

That said, the notion of leveraging biometric sensors to create customized VR experiences based on an individual user’s state of being at a given moment is intriguing, to say the least. Imagine the old “iTunes Visualizer,” but in virtual reality, and responding to/controlled by your breathing and heart rates, and other biometric data:

Strata gave voice and form to the invisible happenings within me. The minimalist designs with the dreamy color palettes for each world gracefully reflected me back to myself; my breathing created ripples across the water, my stress level changed colors around me and heart beat pulsed in sync with the floating orbs of light around me. A state of calm washed over me as the experience started to come to an end.

It’ll be interesting to see if these types of devices and experience gain traction once they’re able to work with standalone VR rigs like the ones coming soon from Google’s partners, HTC, and, most likely, Facebook and Samsung.

Virtual Aggregation! RTL Leads $15M Investment in Inception VR

Advanced Television:

Inception, a next-generation immersive content network, has announced a $15 million Series A funding round led by RTL Group, the broadcast, content and digital media giant. This investment helps Inception expand its content catalogue, enhance its technology platform and accelerate growth.

Inception’s home page showcases a ton of 360 video content, most of which looks mildly tittilating and/or annoying on first glance. Interestingly enough, scroll down the page and you’ll see a bunch of Time Out branded content. I haven’t seen a copy of Time Out in years!

RTL Group is a media conglomerate with interests in 59 television and 31 radio stations in 10 countries across Europe. Their home page is also not a model of modern aestheticism.

But, hey, content aggregation is alive and well in the age of VR!

RED’s Enormous Holographic Phone Previewed in Video

YouTuber extraordinaire MKBHD (aka Marques Brownlee) got his hands on a few prototypes of RED’s forthcoming Hydrogen holographic pocket digital cinema phone. Brownlee made a video.

The phone looks enormous and dumb. You can watch the video for yourself, or just scan TechCrunch’s summary and move on with your life:

Brownlee, though he says he was merely at a loss for words, doesn’t seem particularly blown away. It’s easy to imagine why: small glasses-free 3D displays came and went not because they didn’t work but because they aren’t compelling. If this is just a high-fidelity version of a technology that failed for a dozen reasons, it’s hard to muster any enthusiasm.

Hydrogen will ship sometime in the future and cost far too much. A few movie directors will probably buy them, use them a few times, and go back to their iPhones.

Meet the LA Startup Designing VR Theme Parks in China

Rebecca Fannin, Forbes:

One of the more fascinating startups in the ever-so-heated virtual reality field has to be Spaces. A DreamWorks Animation spin-out in Los Angeles funded to the tune of $39.5 million by U.S., Chinese and Japanese investors, the 16-month-old is doing something that seems fairly far out — designing virtual reality theme parks in China.

These VR attractions are in prototype stage now at large-sized back lots in LA, Orlando and China, and are set to open by early next year in at least two key Chinese locations. This comes through a $30 million joint venture with Chinese theme park operator Songcheng Performance in May 2016, celebrated at a formal ceremony where the Blue Man Group performed.  Now, Spaces’ virtual reality attractions will reach 23 million thrill seekers in China who want to experience the latest enhanced rides, stage shows and live-streaming video content — all without getting nauseous.

Last year at Samsung’s developer conference in San Francisco, I watched people ride a VR rollercoaster. The single car coaster was mounted on hydraulics, not a track, and moved up and down and to and fro in sync with VR content displayed on individual Gear VR headsets worn by riders. Look at the photo at the top of this post and you’ll get the idea.

Pros: VR coasters are cheaper to build and install than the real thing, take up less real estate, and can be reconfigured via software to simulate endless coaster layouts.

Cons: Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby!

We are inching slowly towards a Ready Player One sort of reality, aren’t we?

Google Daydream and Major League Baseball Team Up for VR Series

Matt Apfel, 

Today, we’re debuting our latest collaboration: “On the Verge,” an original VR video series that provides an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at the lives of young MLB stars around the game.

The first episodes of “On the Verge” will take you on the field, inside the batting cage, in the clubhouse and to more places with young MLB stars Josh Bell (Pittsburgh Pirates), Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox), Manuel Margot (San Diego Padres), and Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins). These four episodes are available today in the recently released MLB.com At Bat VR Daydream app, which combines live video streaming and real-time stats for a complete live game sports experience in VR. They’ll also be available on MLB’s official YouTube account soon.

I love this direction for VR and other cutting edge storytelling tech: Don’t (just) recreate content we already get via traditional channels. Leverage VR’s unique capabilities to give us something unique. Behind the scenes is perfect; if I’m going to be allowed somewhere usually off-limits to me, like an MLB clubhouse, I’m going to want to look everywhere once I’m inside. VR is perfect for that.

On the Verge leverages Google’s Jump VR creation platform:

We worked closely with MLB to tell these stories from a new perspective amidst unique access points around ballparks with Jump, Google’s platform for VR video capture that combines high-quality VR cameras and automated stitching. Because the Jump cameras don’t take up a ton of space, it allowed MLB to capture memorable moments on and off the field, ultimately producing fun stories of what it’s like to be big leaguers.

The first four episodes are available now via the MLB.com At Bat VR Daydream app. Episodes will also be available on YouTube to be viewed via Cardboard and Daydream View players.