Tommy McCubbin
Industry Expert

Tommy McCubbin is an advertising veteran, creative director and creator of Futuresandwich.com

Virtual Reality: Revolutionary or redundant?

Tommy McCubbin
Industry Expert

Tommy McCubbin is an advertising veteran, creative director and creator of Futuresandwich.com

With rapidly changing technology and big bets being placed by companies like Google, Facebook and eBay, Virtual Reality (VR) is about to have its moment. So who is using it well, and how can you take the step for your business?

Whenever a technology is at the bottom of the curve of its exponential growth, there is a gold rush of experimentation. Who will commercialise it first? Who will create the experience that will define the technology? This period is inherently frantic, and full of failures, but there is invariably a moment where people ‘get it’.

Think about what the film Avatar did to 3D cinema, and what tap-and-go credit cards did for Near Field Communication, or what Nike+ did for the Internet of Things.

Virtual Reality hasn’t had its moment yet, and there are a few reasons for this.

A man and woman sitting on a couch with VR headsets on.

The social factor

Virtual Reality is simply brilliant… for everyone who is wearing the headwear. For everyone else, it looks ridiculous. But VR is more social than it looks to the naked eye. Facebook’s Oculus released a social demo where you can sit in an open cinema on the Moon, and in the virtual seats next to you are your friends beaming in from wherever they are in the world. 

The access factor

It hasn’t been easy to experience best-in-class VR. For now, the gear is simply too expensive and scarce for the masses to access it. However, Google’s Cardboard reduced costs of headsets down from several hundred to a few dollars. These headsets are completely made of cardboard and leverage the technology inside most smartphones. The New York Times recently attached over 1 million custom Cardboard units to its weekend edition. 

The content factor

Bespoke VR content simply hasn’t caught up to its potential. Creating a story for screen is relatively easy, because you have the audience’s attention focused on a frame. With VR, there is a 360 degree view to explore, so the rulebook of how to keep and direct someone’s attention is being completely reworked.

Technology take-off

The roadmap of innovation in VR makes the current technology seem primitive. Here are the five big advancements coming up.

1. Hand controllers.

The more senses VR allows you to use, the more immersive it gets. With HTC Vive, and the future Samsung Rink, you can physically engage with elements in the virtual world, opening things up for interactive gaming and utilities.

2. Eye tracking.

When we look around in real life, what we focus on is very sharp, and everything in our peripheral vision is blurry or low resolution. This mode of viewing is being replicated in VR using eye-tracking technology, allowing the image to render in HD only where the viewer is focusing. This means the processing power can be reduced by a factor of hundreds.

3. Spatial mapping.

Google has a project called Tango, which is a series of soon-to-be-released cameras and sensors that scan the space you are in – the size, colour and the scale – with near-perfect accuracy. This allows everyone who has a phone to share their space in real-time.

4. Face Tracking.

Along with Oculus’ virtual cinema with friends experience, the next big innovation will be sensors and cameras that track facial expressions.

5. 8k Image Resolution.

We’ve seen screen resolution increase exponentially over the past decade, from 1080 pixels to 4k monitors. The next natural level up is 8k, which offers an image so rich that the brain cannot actually distinguish what is real, and what is virtual.

Regardless of where the maturation of Virtual Reality is at the moment, you can still make cool experiences for your business. Here’s a handful of inspirational examples:

eBay X Myer

A first mover in retail, eBay and Myer collaborated to launch ‘the first VR department store’.

Tourism Australia

Arguably one of the most effective uses of VR. Tourism Australia who made a beautiful 360 degree film to launch its campaign this year, in which users could fly above the 12 Apostles, or dive into The Great Barrier Reef.

The New York Times

The New York Times has launched a VR platform containing several ‘articles’ in the form of immersive, 360-degree video. This is an example of journalism recognising VR’s power to immerse the reader in the story.

The VOID

The VOID is the next generation of theme parks – an empty warehouse where you wear a headset, hold a fake weapon, and move around a physical space, but transformed in VR.

Real Estate

For Real Estate agents that want to sell a property, VR is how to get the deal done. Browsing properties in VR is a stunning example of how it can be used practically by a business today.

My advice to a business thinking about moving into VR would be to watch what these first-movers are doing. Learn from their mistakes as they stumble through the growth spurts of this rapidly advancing technology. Get yourself some Google Cardboard or if you can, buy an OculusRift kit, and keep playing with it. Immerse yourself in the latest releases, as they’re often free demos, and more than likely first-of-their-kind executions.

If you need to make a statement to a few high-value clients, VR will do that. But, there’s no guarantee that socks will be knocked off as the content and hardware isn’t delivering to its full potential yet. Virtual Reality will be far more accessible and efficient in five years’ time, when opportunities will be more obvious, and ROI will be much clearer. For now, continue to experiment but the current growing pains of VR may be better left to big brands with deep pockets. 

Looking for more information about the latest technology?

Read our round up of the latest from CES 2016 for smart cars, VR and IoT.

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