Study Confirms Young People Get VR, Old Folks Don’t

Clickbait headline much? Anyway … A new study about VR use in America leads me to an inference that’s entirely unsubstantiated but probably true, anyway. (Trigger warning, Sarcasm ahead, Also a kernel of truth)

Rebecca Hills-Duty, VRFocus:

The VR/AR Insights Consortium, a group that comprises representatives from the likes of Turner, Warner Bros, and the VR Society have released a report in conjunction with Magid the sheds light on consumer use of VR and its various applications. The study was based on results gathered from 2,000 U.S-based consumers. Its headline statistic showed that 22% of VR users have used Netflix VR at some point, compared with the next most popular app, Minecraft VR at 20%.

My eight year-old son plays Minecraft. His grandfather had never heard of it until a few weeks ago, and even then didn’t put the name “Minecraft” together with the game he’s watched his grandson play. Ergo, my sweeping generalization:

Minecraft is probably popular on VR because it’s very popular, period, kids are interested in new tech like VR, and Minecraft is available on the major VR platforms. So when a kid straps in and sees Minecraft advertised on the welcome deck of Gear VR or Vive or what have you, she wants to check it out.

Netflix is probably popular on VR for the exact same reasons, except applied to all ages. I’ll now stretch things a little to make my argument: Kids probably don’t stick around Netflix VR for long because the experience is passive and easily replicated outside of VR. Since VR isn’t as popular as smartphones and computers just yet, most households that have a VR rig probably only have one, but have multiple other Netflix-capable devices. So kids’ available VR time is probably scarcer than other available screen time, and they know better than to waste it watching videos they can watch later on the boring old iPad.

Ergo, they do other, more VR-specific stuff. Like Minecraft, which is a little overwhelming and mind-blowing in VR (at least the first few times you try it).

But grown-ups who try VR are less adventurous and (just to wrongly generalize a little more) more easily disoriented and made nauseous. So they stick to what they know: Reruns of Frankie and Grace made new again by the excitement of googles, earphones, and their choice of digitally rendered luxe media room backdrops.

Just a theory.

 

Katy Perry’s Disembodied Head Takes to Augmented Reality for W Magazine

This week began with one of the world’s foremost fashion publications calling me to check a friend’s reference before hiring her as their first ever tech reporter. Fittingly, it’s ending with word of pop megastar Katy Perry gracing the cover of another big time fashion rag, W Magazine.

In AR.

Sam Reed, Hollywood Reporter:

Subscribers as well as readers in New York and L.A. will receive the limited-edition cover (on newsstands Aug.14), which shows the aforementioned floating head. Simply hover your device, which will become tethered to the page, over the image and tilt it this way or that way for a closer glimpse at Perry’s neck or perhaps her left or right ears (you know, whatever floats your boat), all without losing the high-gloss quality of the image.

From this default page, Perry’s face becomes the guide to the exclusive cinematographic content; readers are instructed to tap her eyes, her ears, her lips or her forehead to get a closer, exclusive view at [photographer Steven] Klein and Perry’s world. Three of the pieces of cover content are beautifully staged, gif-like moving images that play on a loop, while the fourth is a music video-esque short film.

Klein worked with NYC-based studio The Mill to create the cover. The September issue of W also some other bits of AR wizardry, and all of the issue’s digital content is also available on the magazine’s website.

“We come from a high-end visual effects world, and this level of aesthetic in AR was the challenge,” added Sallyann Houghton, executive producer at The Mill. “That’s what’s been the excitement for us — emulating print in the moving image.”

There are three other stories that take advantage of the technology throughout the September issue, including a feature on the last living working chimpanzee, which is paired with a short narrated science fiction short story; a fashion editorial by Mert and Marcus that allows models in the city-girl photographs to showcase their sassy, brusque personas; and another fashion editorial which, unlike the others, which unlock videos, simply shuffles the images around right there on the page thanks to the work of a collage artist.

The Perry feature is live on W’s website.

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?

AR & VR Breathe New Life into Books and Board Games

When the first iPad came out, people talked about how tablets would revolutionize old game formats. Families could sit around a table and play anything from Go Fish to Monopoly without needing to store shelves full of board games. iPad versions of the games could leverage players’ individual iPhones to digitally replicate game pieces: Tile racks in Scrabble, money and deeds in Monopoly, even hands in card games could all be managed via touchscreen. The possibilities were endless.

Digitized board games haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but they are still kicking around. In the build-up to the public release of Apple ARKit and other next-gen AR/VR platforms, developers have been showing glimpses of what board games, childrens’ books, and other family entertainment will look like in a mixed-reality world.

Twitter user  posted this video clip of Echelon, an AR strategy game being developed for Microsoft Hololens by Helios Interactive. The clip speaks for itself, showing the potential for immersion when a table full of players all strap into the same virtual world for a shared gaming session:

The Wrap‘s Sean Burch spent some time with Los Angeles-based VR studio Within, getting a glimpse of their vision for the future of childrens’ books. Burch came away impressed, to say the least:

[Within CEO Chris Milk’s] team has been working on an untitled Goldlilocks-themed experience that only needs an iPad and a flat surface to show AR’s potential. Milk — cutting a figure of a taller, more svelte Zach Galifianakis with his pulled-back hair and impressive brown beard — pointed his iPad at a table and started reading along to the story on the screen. Voice activation followed his words and a digital forest began popping up on the iPad, with Goldilocks wandering through trees before heading inside a two-story house.

Admittedly, I was caught off guard by how cool I found the experience — especially since I’m about 20 years older than the target demo. But Within tapped into how AR can create the 21st Century version of a pop-up book, with users able to turn their kitchen table into a fantasy world. “Goldilocks” was a hybrid production — part-book, part-cartoon, and part-video game.

Mixed-reality versions of board games and books will cost far more to produce than their ink and cardboard counterparts. It remains to be seen how the financials will play out for studios like Helios and Within, and if a balance can be struck between developing paradigm-shifting experiences and turning a profit.

Remember, iOS users are accustomed to paying a dollar or two for an app; something like Echelon or Within’s Goldilock’s experience almost certainly would have to cost ten times that (at least!) to make financial sense.

Still, the future of family fun will be interesting to watch as we move from board games and screens to headsets and mixed realities.