Virtual reality becoming a greater part of reality A visitor tries Sony's "Project Morpheus" virtual reality headset. At left, Cal Arts student Alexander Hager watches a student project at the Vortex Dome in Los Angeles (AP photo / Reuters)
Virtual reality becoming a greater part of reality
Lexile

Virtual reality is creeping into our world.

It was once seen mostly as a tool for alien-blasting gamers. Now movie studios, television producers and artists are adopting the technology. It immerses people in faraway realms. It uses bulky goggles, house-sized domes and smartphones.

Entering a virtual world is special. It means that users who look left, right, up or behind experience an alternate environment. And even when they're sitting in a theater or on a couch.

It means a horror movie can be promoted with a haunted house tour. It could feature a villain who can spring from anywhere. Or a shark documentary enhanced by the sensation that you're being circled by predators.

"What's better for jump scares than, like, turning your head and it's right in your face?" says Matt Lipson. He is the senior vice president of digital marketing at Focus Features.

Virtual reality may not appear at your local multiplex soon. But it's being used to lure you there.

Universal's Focus Features recently launched its first virtual-reality experience for movies. It is promoting the release of its "Insidious: Chapter 3" horror flick. The studio is driving a truck around the country. It invites fans to wear virtual-reality goggles. It's also sent out thousands of movie-branded Google Cardboard kits. They fold around smartphones. That turns them into primitive VR viewers. Fans can download the app from Google Play, or the App Store, to make it work.

In the "Insidious" VR experience, viewers sit in a haunted house across from a psychic. Various scares appear from the right and left. In the end, there is a close-up encounter with a bad guy. He is known as the Bride in Black.

Lionsgate used a similar approach for its "Insurgent" movie. It applied VR to try to widen the film's fan base beyond young women, to male fans of action movies. Using VR was one way to appeal to gamers. They are mostly men and are expected to be the first buyers of VR headsets.

VR remains the realm of promotion. But content created now or for future films could also build value for home video products. It could happen as more VR headsets are sold, Lipson says.

And the number of outlets for virtual reality is increasing.

Oculus VR is a company Facebook bought for $2 billion. It is a leader in the VR headset market. Oculus VR is expected to start shipping a consumer version early next year. It's already sold 150,000 goggles as test units for content developers. Samsung, meanwhile, is selling Gear VR. It works with Galaxy S6 smartphones. Sony will release a consumer version of its Project Morpheus. It connects to its PlayStation 4. It should be available in the first half of next year.

Oculus's goal is to get headsets into as many hands as possible. That is according to co-founder and head of product Nate Mitchell. The company set up a division of experimental filmmakers. It is called Oculus Story Studio. Its goal is to help other filmmakers learn how to create VR video.

"Our goal is making the Rift (headset) and virtual reality affordable," says Mitchell. He added that he hopes it "becomes a technology that truly changes the world."

Facebook is testing what CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls "spherical video." Think of it as a flat representation of immersive content. It could be navigable by a mouse on its website. Google's YouTube launched support for "360-degree video" on Chrome browsers and Android phones in March. Now it is providing VR camera rigs. They are used by its partners at its six studios. Fold-up Google Cardboard units can be bought online for as little as $2.46.

Discovery Communications is also planning to launch VR content. It will be marketed under the Discovery Virtual brand. It's expected to be available in August.

Teams are already shooting off the Bahamas in preparation for "Shark Week." The shows will run in July, says Conal Byrne, Discovery's senior vice president of digital media. Fans of the series are used to watching the circling predators from inside a protective cage. But virtual reality would heighten the fear factor. The sharks could cruise by. And they could do it while your head is turned elsewhere.

Another virtual frontier to cross is creating environments for groups, not just individuals. It might occur in the same way that theaters provide a community experience.

That possibility was tested out on a recent evening. Eight art school students gathered under a dome. It was in downtown Los Angeles. They were preparing an immersive show. It was projected on a 19-foot-high hemisphere.

Student Jack Turpin used video game software. With it, he created a psychedelic world of rolling mountains, beaches and palm trees. Using a controller, he transported students through the environment. It was as if they were riding in a tour bus with a bubble glass roof. Student Jackie Tan spelled out words, forcing viewers to glance around the dome. Then she gave them a bug's eye-view of ice cream melting over the top of them.

It's all part of creating a new cinematic language. It doesn't just play out on the screen in front of you. But it is interactive and immersive. That was according to Prof. Hillary Kapan. He put on the class for the California Institute of the Arts.

"What kind of elements do you use instead of an icon on a computer? How do you interact with that world?" he says. "We're just in the beginning stages of understanding."

Critical thinking challenge: What barriers prevent everyone from experiencing virtual reality virtually everywhere?

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COMMENTS (6)
  • sean11-Bla
    6/05/2015 - 11:13 a.m.

    I wonder if 20 years in the future man will have a computer that has ever lasting charge

  • Malcolm-Par
    6/09/2015 - 08:00 a.m.

    I think that it's awesome to have virtual reality in a movie. I want to go there.

  • John0724-YYCA
    6/09/2015 - 04:38 p.m.

    I agree that people are creating movies and people get so used to it and the world is now virtual that now there making a game that right when you turn your head there is something comes right in your face or a game that you can see yourself surrounded by a lot of deadly sharks. I really don't think that this is a good idea because this makes people more attracted inside the game that they don't know whats actually happening and when they see the world they think its a game.

  • ChristianAcuna
    6/21/2015 - 09:13 p.m.

    Opinion: I think that virtual reality is a part of technology which is developing in a very fast way. I had been always interested in this theme, since I love all the things related to technology. The progress in the virtual reality is a very important topic to science. However in my point of view this situation could be detrimental to the interpersonal communication, because people are spending more time in the virtual reality than in real life, this affect us to the point that people will prefer to talk throw screen insted of talking face to face.

  • rayen123
    6/23/2015 - 11:27 a.m.

    the text is about a new way of producing and movies and also see them. It is a virtual form that has a lot of technology and is pretty expensive , many companies are already selling these products , for people will have the experience what is for example being in a horror movie .
    I think it's interesting , personally like technology and believe it should be fun to see a movie with this new trend in what the cinema.
    one of the main barriers to that not everyone can have this virtual experience is money, not everyone has enough money to buy the technological devices that are also very expensive.

  • FranciscaSanhueza
    7/02/2015 - 05:03 p.m.

    It is incredible how technology has progressed in a short period of time. This virtual reality was nothing than a dream few years before, but now it is true. People can interact with movies, being part of it and games too. Maybe in a few years later, this virtual reality will be part of everyday, and people will be totally depending of technology. We have to be conscience that technology doesn't and must not take the control of our life.

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