Every day, I see articles about how virtual reality (VR) and 360° video are taking off. I see articles about new VR devices and
shows, but mostly I see articles about investments: Studios and advertisers are investing
millions in VR. Jupiter Research predicts the VR
market will be worth $50 billion in just 5 years.
Despite that, when I attend industry conferences and the topic of VR comes up, publishing executives invariably say the same thing:
They’re skeptical, but they’re enthusiastic. VR
will at least be a major area for gaming, they say.
Do you know why they’re skeptical? Because
they’ve tried VR and been underwhelmed. They
think it’ll be great for gaming because they’ve
never tried that, so they assume that’s where
VR really shines. There must be something to
justify the hype, right?
I’ve looked at VR, and it’s time to say I don’t
get it. It’s a novelty. Yes, you feel like you’re immersed in some other environment. You can
turn your head and see new things. But what’s
so great about turning your head?
Before writing this, I looked at as much VR
video as I could, focusing on popular apps. I
like Discovery VR, put out by Discovery Communications. It has a lot of strong nature videos,
but it isn’t content I would normally seek out.
I also like Within, which curates the best new
work. But the videos I’ve liked on it I would
have liked just as much on a regular screen—
probably more, since I wouldn’t have to swivel
around in my office chair trying to figure out
where to look.
Some apps I want to like, but I just don’t.
Videos in the NYT VR app always look blurry in
a Google Cardboard device. It’s been that way
since the app launched. The two video images
don’t come together correctly to create a 3D
effect, something my childhood View-Master
could accomplish. The same is true for the Jaunt
VR app. VR leaves me dizzy anyway, but unfocused video makes it even worse.
VR video is so pixelated on a phone you can
count the squares, but the files are massive. I
get a lot of buffering when watching VR. Some
apps let me download videos before watching,
but that leads to huge wait times upfront.
I attended New York Comic Con recently,
which featured an area called the Experimental Zone that was full of VR. Companies drew
steady lines for their VR experiences, but the results left me unimpressed. Amazon used a simple interactive VR video to promote The Man in
the High Castle. Short and with extremely limited interactivity, it would only interest die-hard
fans. Jaunt VR showed a clip from an upcoming
VR horror movie called The Game. It had no interactivity, just the feeling of being in a creepy
slasher world. The immersion was interesting,
but it felt like a gimmick to make me watch a
clichéd low-budget horror movie that I would
never normally sit through.
At home I watch VR with Google Cardboard
devices, but at Comic Con and other conferences I’ve used fully featured headsets. They’re
way too heavy. Even wearing them for a 3-
minute test is uncomfortable.
One of the more levelheaded things I’ve
heard about VR came from Josh Courtney,
chairman and executive producer for Sky VR,
at his Streaming Media East 2016 keynote
address. “We’re really at the very beginning,”
Courtney said, explaining that television needed 30 years of research and development before it took off. Virtual reality has only been
around for 4 years, he noted. He cautioned the
audience to not write off VR after one bad experience. The controls, headsets, and cameras are all going to get better quickly, he said.
Until that happens, I’m going to stop watching. It’s just not fun. I’m going to set a timer for
10 years out. At that time—I hope—headsets
will be inexpensive and feather-light, videos
will download quickly, and I won’t get dizzy
turning in circles in my office chair.
What’s So Great
About Turning Your Head?
Troy Dreier ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior associate
editor of Streaming Media and Onlinevideo.net.
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