How do you talk about Virtual Reality without recalling the negative connotation that many in our industry have with 3DTV? For most broadcasters the glasses-bound depth experience introduced so enthusiastically a few years ago, has turned out to be an 'innovation' with only very shallow impact. Why would VR - which is even more a 'glasses' type of experience - be any different?
In his VR overview presentation during the recent EBU Production Technology Seminar, Simon Gauntlett (DTG), addressed the issue with a question. He gave the audience the choice between 'opportunity', 'threat', or 'gimmick' to qualify VR. Most of the broadcasters in the room seemed to vote for the positive first option, but one may wonder if they are representative of the real world? Isn't it the case that the typical tech seminar visitor is wearing - at least a small set of - virtual pink glasses when it comes to looking at anything techy and 'new'?
That may be, but Simon stuck to the facts when it came to explaining why VR is a development to take seriously. The first piece of evidence he showed the audience was the the large range of new headsets and cameras that have appeared on the market in recent months. The second was a quote from market analysts who see a VR-market of ~120 billion USD at the 2020 horizon, mostly in gaming by the way (but who knows how broadcasters and gaming will interact by then). The third argument to consider was the sheer number or organizations involved in making VR work.
Experiments have been conducted by several broadcasters already, as well. The BBC tried VR with the popular Strictly Come Dancing, FOX produced Golf in VR, Sky News put a VR camera in the middle of refugee camps, Dutch broadcaster AvroTros has created a 'Flatliners' (the movie) inspired drama piece, the ZDF produced a Volcano documentary and ARTE has invested in a whole series of VR productions promoted under the slogan 'Reality but Better'. And in Geneva all broadcasters who demonstrated VR footage said they were working on more.
With new opportunities seem to come old challenges, though. As Simon pointed out interoperability and the lack of a new 'production grammar' are currently the main ones. So, there is work to be done and time to watch pass before we will be sure that VR is or isn't the new 3D. But even if it would be, and we realise in a few years we have ended up being at the same place, we will be an experience richer. Like the people in the Virtual Rollercoaster Simon showed near the end of his presentation. Enjoy the ride!