On January 6, 2016, Oculus Rift went on sale (pre-orders only), heralding in the next wave of virtual reality technology. Or is it just the next wave of technology hype? Facebook apparently didn’t think so. Starting in 2012 with $2.5 million in Kickstarter funding, Oculus Rift sold to Facebook in 2014 for more than $2 billion. In the fall of 2015, Facebook also added a 360-degree video option, achieving parity with Google/YouTube for such videos and ‘virtual tours’.
Oculus founder, Palmer Luckey, has expressed the expected far-reaching promises of the exciting new technology – treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military and emergency response training, and many other educational applications.
“Because virtual reality has the ability to put you in places in a much more real way, it has the potential to be a much better canvas.”
– Palmer Luckey, Oculus founder
However, the innovative founder also seems to have well-grounded expectations, stating that the technology won’t solve every problem and that new expertise in VR content creation is needed in order to reach full potential.
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody captures it in 3D…
A very important question arises, who will paint on this much better canvas? After all, the new headset virtual reality device is only the viewer, not the content itself. We learned this month that the Oculus Rift headset costs around $599, considerably lower than early reports (as much as $1,500). Even with the lower price, some enthusiasts point out extremely high expectations of quality with such an investment.
“VR is not a problem of making it “work.” VR is a problem of making it perfect, because anything less than perfect equals “OK, cool, now get this thing off my head.””
– Chris Kohler
While nearly every teenager in America can record and post videos of surprisingly good quality, headset virtual reality will demand a more jaundiced eye for content creation. Before, images or videos captured with smart phones, GoPro cameras, or drone flyovers was generally ‘good enough’ for viewing on your phone or laptop screen. No doubt the advances in headset VR devices like the Oculus Rift have raised the bar for the actual content to be viewed. The notion of virtual tours and immersive photography will require a nearly perfect experience, or it will likely not be adopted.
Anyone who’s built a gaming PC knows that the demands for high-speed, high-quality rendering can be enormous. With virtual reality, those burdens to your hardware can increase by as much as 7-fold. Most gaming systems can handle 60 megapixels per second, while a VR system must process as much as 450 megapixels per second, meaning that even a souped-up gaming PC would struggle to support high-quality VR content.
With some big competitors getting in the VR game right away, the market may experience a tug-of-war in pricing, features and quality in the early days. Samsung GearVR is already on the market at only $99, while a frill-free Google Cardboard option is less than $25. Again, quality of content and processing may ultimately define the battlefield for such devices.
Do You Even Need an Oculus Rift Headset to Experience Immersive Content?
360-degree video and photography and GoPro enable point-of-view images and virtual tours to be used by companies to showcase products, events or facilities in a virtual environment. While much of the lower-end content may not be suitable for commercial uses, highly professional immersive content can provide a unique marketing channel. Most importantly, such content can be easily viewed on any of the millions of laptops or smart phone in the world, without having to rely on a small installed base of VR headset technologies. The same, professional content will also be suitable for VR headsets once that user base becomes more established.
Conclusion: Content Is Still King
No matter whether you are an early adopter of VR headset technology such as Oculus Rift, or want to market to current customers who don’t yet have access to such devices, producing professional content for such virtual tours is likely a major barrier. There are established resources for such content. Virtually Anywhere (www.virtually-anywhere.com) has been producing 360-degree virtual tours since the early days of online browsing. Their industry-leading approach not only is built upon a professional photographer’s ‘eye,’ but also on a devotion to creating an intuitive and engaging interface customized for each environment, giving the viewer an experience of actually being there. This content is being used by Educational, Health Care and Commercial institutions to create more website traffic, to provide links through embedded ‘hotspots,’ and to convert business through a unique and immersive interface.
Learn more about how at Virtually Anywhere Tours.