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CES 2016: VR Experiences Clarify Challenges and Opportunities

by David Mercer | Jan 08, 2016

Virtual reality will be one of the most hyped technology themes of 2016, with several major headset vendors launching new products. At CES I have been able to experience several more demonstrations of VR, in addition to those I saw at IBC back in September and on previous occasions. Now seems like a good time share a few key takeaways from a personal perspective. 

  1. Quality of content material matters more than quality of technology
  • I’ve experienced Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, HTC Vive and other headset technologies, at various stages in their evolution. Regardless of which technology is sitting on your head, what you will notice first and foremost is how good the video or graphical material is. This should come as no surprise – the success of consumer electronics products like TVs, video devices and games consoles have always depended more on the quality of the content available than how good the technology itself is.

2.     Certain VR content situations should be avoided

  • If VR material puts the user in a situation where they are moving through a scene, you are going to cause trouble. I have felt sickness a number of times in such situations, the latest being riding through the streets of Nepal at Dolby’s CES suites. This impact may be confined to certain users (I know from discussions with colleagues and friends that I am not alone) and it may eventually be alleviated by technology enhancements, but until then developers need to think carefully and test rigorously.
  • Another lesson from Dolby’s demo is to think about sound. Once 360o sound is added to VR material, its impact on the user experience needs to be carefully considered. The user may be encouraged to explore a scene by following sound cues, for example turning round to see a character who has started talking behind you. This sounds like fun, but I was surprised, not always in a good way, to see characters suddenly standing right next to me where there had been no one a moment earlier. This may have resulted from inadequate scene editing or inability to synchronise audio levels with distance from the user. In any case, it is something that content developers need to work on.

3.    Graphics will beat video in VR adoption

  • Video graphics are fundamentally 3D in nature whereas camera-captured video material gives only a 2D rendition of the real world. Graphical material is therefore more easily adapted to an acceptable VR experience, and I saw a great demonstration of this using HP’s processing technology with HTC’s Vive headset. The environment was a graphically rendered office in which the user could interact with every object, including holding it with handheld controllers. This was a highly entertaining and impressive experience and it is easy to see how this type of approach could support educational, training and marketing applications.

4.    Games be the early VR success story

  • Partly for the above reason, VR is likely to evolve most naturally as part of the existing video games business, and games consoles are clearly best suited to exploiting this opportunity. Sony’s PlayStation VR headset will be the first real test of this assumption when it launches this year.

David Mercer

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