Insights

The Consumer Virtual Reality Revolution has Begun. Is your brand ready?

Co-President
Valtech Canada

March 09, 2016

It's here now. The major obstacles have broken down. The technology has advanced and is accessible, consumers are ready for a new experience, distribution models are in place and most importantly, it has become affordable.

Both business and consumers are taking the leap and embracing VR

When Samsung released its $99 Samsung Gear VR a mobile headset in last November, it was sold out in less than 24 hours on both Amazon and Bestbuy.com. On the first weekend of November, 1,000,000 New York Times subscribers got Google cardboard shipped with their home subscription magazine. Viewers were invited to watch full-immersion documentary journalism, and experience the world's most effective "empathy machine" – a term coined by interactive storyteller Chris Milk in a TED talk. He just debuted his latest VR film at Sundance. A week later, COMCAST, Time Warner announced $30.5 in funding for Next VR, a VR live streaming startup. Fox Innovation Lab announced a VR companion to The Martian to be released early next year and major sports organizations, such as Fox Sports are unveiling live broadcasting in virtual reality. Anyone can now have a front row seat to the game, with a 360-degree view.

The Real Revolution Begins with Distribution

For me, one of the biggest game-changers happened this summer is when YouTUBE announced it would support 360-degree videos. With an updated Android YouTube app and Google Cardboard-compatible smartphones you can now view 360-degree video on YouTube. 2D 360-degree video was also rolled out, accessible to everyone (without cardboard). This meant there was a viable distribution model for VR: it was now accessible to consumers.

The VR revolution is speeding up: and fast. According to consulting firm KZero, the VR market could reach $7 billion by 2018. VR hardware equipment will make up about a quarter of the profits, while games and apps will pull in the rest.

According to the Virtual Reality Brand Power Index, 75 percent of the Forbes World's Most Valuable Brands have virtual or augmented reality projects for their customers or internally for their employees. Some are even innovating and developing technologies themselves.

Brands, be advised: it's game-on for VR.

Consumer VR Pioneering

I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel in New York with Harold Dumur, founder of OVA, a company creating immersive educational environments, and Kevin Cornish of Image Theory, an organization creating narrative VR experiences.

As we discussed VR content creation, I realized how far-reaching the current VR technology has come. As we presented our experiences, the room filled with the excitement of the present moment. It was no longer "the future". It was now.

True, headsets are still heavy, and it takes time to adjust to being in a virtual environment. Some people get dizzy at first, and there's a limit to how long you can stay in. But the experience of full immersion is amazing. Once you get the bug, you want more.

Fully Immersive Experiences Anytime, Anywhere

From a B2C perspective, the possibilities are limitless. VR opens up a tremendous realm of possibility for engaging with customers. And it's only going to improve. VR can bring audiences to places they can't go in real life.

Behind the wheel of an F1 car. Beside the lead singer at a concert. Watching a soccer game live from behind the goal post. Into a children's playground in a slum in the post-war Ukraine. Surviving on the moon. Beside Paul McCartney at a live concert. Oe even buy products and merchandise from a Virtual store.

VR can also help the consumer better experience products and services before buying them. Luxury brands are quickly embracing the new tools in the showroom, with plans to make their new tools accessible.

Luxury Brands Pioneering in VR

Audi is one of the pioneering automobile companies to announce VR as part of its 2015 experience in dealerships.

Wearing a headset with a high-end Bang and Olufsen surround-sound system, a camera tracks the movement of a user's head and adapts the image display as well as sound to allow a full immersion driving experience in the Audi model they choose. Customization of colors, leather, inlays and infotainment systems further customizes the experience. Look inside the trunk and the engine and hear the car door slam.

Nearly all major automobile companies have plans, and not just luxury brands. KIA, Volkswagen, Luxus, Chevrolet, Honda, BMW, and Porsche have VR and AR experiences in their marketing strategy. (Source: Hypergrid Business).

The Process

I had the pleasure of working with luxury appliance provider Thermador on the first retail VR project in Canada. We created a 360-degree VR experience for the potential consumer; a new way to experience the brand's high-end cook stoves.

Previously, consumers had to attend a special outside the city, scheduled at least 6 weeks in advance, or wait until they got home to really see the features of the stoves.

Using a Zeiss VR One headset, we created 3 full-immersion 2-minute videos with chefs Daren Bergeron and Nico Lacino doing a cooking demonstration. The results made an incredible impression, and the brand was proud to give its customers this cutting-edge experience.

The Challenges

Through the process, we saw the challenges and benefits of VR creation first-hand. Using 12 video cameras and 10 actors, we learned about stitching, when cameras are not perfectly aligned, and what happens when one of the actors goes into another camera view. Our director had to do his job without being present "behind the camera" where the filming was taking place, or he himself would be in the shot. And this is the on-set set of challenges that this new way of telling stories and producing media brings with it.

Down the road, new technology will make content creation for VR and 360 easier. It’s not 100% there yet, but every month, new technology arrive on the market who aim at making it easier, and cheaper.

The results make it all worth it! Amazing. Immersive. Effective.

It's not just B2C that benefits. From a B2B standpoint, there are a multitude of opportunities. How do you make it easy to train to work in a large manufacturing plant or remote area? [JT1] Today, a 360-degree VR simulation is a clear and viable option.

Searching for VR

Currently, the best VR experiences are on the Samsung Gear web site; but to post content, it has to be approved. While you can watch today's best VR through the site, the experience of browsing the content leaves much to be desired. There's no way to search, and looking through the content doesn't feel intuitive.

I look forward to the day they integrate voice recognition or eye tracking. Still, I enjoyed my immersive experience watching Catatonic; a 5-minute horror film. It took me off the edge of my seat fully showing me the power of VR.

A New Era of Digital Experience

In the next few years, we will enter a new era of digital experiences in 3D spaces. The Internet will begin to take on shape and form like never before. Augmented reality will make it possible to actually place yourself in the environment. For example, shopping for a watch? Just extend your arm out in front of you while wearing a headset; the watch will be superimposed on your arm.

Haptic devices will transmit a touch component, and make it possible to physically grab and manipulate virtual objects. It's all coming; much sooner than you think.

Everyone has a place in VR. – First adopters are sure to reap the benefits. I say, take the lead! You have to be there first. This is a new channel, and it's potential is large.