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.

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 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. It's 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 to turn 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 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. It 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, says co-founder and head of product Nate Mitchell. The company set up a division of experimental filmmakers 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," or 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 for 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 under the Discovery Virtual brand in August.

Teams are already shooting off the Bahamas in preparation for "Shark Week" 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 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 in downtown Los Angeles. They were preparing an immersive show projected on a 19-foot-high hemisphere.

Student Jack Turpin used video game software to create 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 is interactive and immersive, said Prof. Hillary Kapan, who 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 (77)
  • esabellas-wal
    6/05/2015 - 09:52 a.m.

    This sounds really cool and it was a really smart and creative idea. I feel like there is something about it that makes it seem like it is not totally ready to be put into the world for anybody to use yet but I think this could become really popular really fast. I don't fully understand how this would work, but the concept sounds neat.

  • ksadat-5
    6/05/2015 - 10:48 a.m.

    Just recently, movie theaters have been adopting a technology that was mainly used by the top notch gamers. They put on goggles and using the power of new technology, can create an alternate world for the wearer of the goggles to experience. If the wearer looks up, they can see the sky in the new environment. If the wearer looks down, they can see the ground in the alternate world.

    This is an amazing breakthrough in the technology world and the entertainment world. People can now wear goggles to see a completely different world than the one we live in.

  • HudsonC-3
    6/05/2015 - 10:50 a.m.

    Virtual reality video games are becoming a lot more popular. Sony made one and there are many others. The only problem is they don't know the side affects of playing for too long or many other dangers. There also aren't many games for them. I think they should make more games. They should also make them more comfortable.

  • Madisonm157
    6/05/2015 - 10:53 a.m.

    I think this would be a very interesting device to add to televisions and movies. I really hope that they could make the devices more affordable so people could buy them, and experience this cool experience.

  • Ariannar103
    6/05/2015 - 10:54 a.m.

    Wow I honestly don't know what to say about this invention. It seems so cool that they could make it like like your apart of the movie. I think it would be awesome to try this out but it would also be scary if your watching a scary movie then all of a sudden there is a scary thing in front,beside or behind you, This idea makes the movie seem more real and I think it will attract a lot of people because I would go to the movies everyday if I could do this!

  • kweisip502
    6/05/2015 - 11:11 a.m.

    Just imagine what else we could think of sooner or later we will have virtual reality in our game designs. The games that will be developed using virtual reality just think of what we will be able to do and how great it will be.

  • kevinb728
    6/05/2015 - 11:15 a.m.

    I think we are not technologically advanced enough. How can we see things that are not in front of us just by using goggles. It seems complex. We are adapting to it though and I can't wait till when it works.

  • kalindah11
    6/05/2015 - 11:57 a.m.

    Wow, I find it so cool that soon enough we'll be able to be play video games as if it were actually real and not just on some screen!

  • Nylasiab201
    6/05/2015 - 01:00 p.m.

    Yesterday I looked at a preview of a movie that said they were putting. I think that all this reality stuff is just so AWESOME like for real.

  • FrancoS2211
    6/05/2015 - 01:23 p.m.

    WOW this is awesome. I cant believe that the world is so high-tech that people can invent stuff like that. How can they make the virtual reality, reality. Its too much.

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