Regardless of the dimension of content and experience, what VR offers is a whole new canvas for new businesses to explore. Read the below 6 dimensions of Virtual Reality.
April 20, 2016
Written by: Tom Goodwin
The 6 Dimensions Of Virtual Reality
My parents were forever telling me off for sitting too close to the TV when I was younger. I wonder what they think of me strapping a VR headset in front of our eyes?
The reality is that from cinemas to TV’s to laptops to mobile devices, we’re getting ever closer to more personal, more connected, more immersive screens—that get closer to our eyes.
Many people in Silicon Valley think the world is split into two groups: those who think VR will change everything and those who’ve yet to try it. But it’s more complex than this.
I believe there are many who’ve yet to see the transformative power of the technology because they’ve experienced an early prototype, or Google Cardboard, or have only experienced stationary images. The truth is VR (more than any other technology we’ve ever known) is a vague conceptual promise, not a specification.
Unlike the exact requirements of 4K TV, or the physical specificity of DVD’s, VR is more of a loose bundling of technologies, hardware, software, and systems that are broadly confined by assumptions and expectations than anything more meaningful or precise.
This is particularly problematic since there are far more dimensions of variability. We assume that VR involves something on our head and images beamed into our eyes at close range. We assume it includes images that move as we do. It feels right that it’s 360 degrees of a horizontal plane and maybe a bit less in vertical, but beyond that, it’s a concept spanning $10 cardboard setups to billion dollar military simulators.
We also have parallel technologies that confuse the picture. Augmented reality (or AR) is generally built on almost identical thinking and closely paralleled technology and physically similar rigs, yet it seems wildly different in application.
You could argue that in its most pure form a book ( yes, a book) is like VR transporting you to another world, as VR is about removing yourself from everything around you. AR is the exact opposite—it’s being in the most embellished now, being hyper aware, and having ambient information to be more rooted in the here and now than ever before.
I believe that for VR to take off, we need to avoid the hype, manage expectations and be sure that the first reaction of the wider population is not, “So what?”
What VR needs is classification and clarification. We obviously need it based on refresh rates and resolutions, but it’s the content experiences that vary most. Here I propose the six dimensions of VR. It’s by understanding these dimensions that we can best understand the platform, the delivery, the content experience and the entire new world of opportunity now possible.
The 6 Dimensions
1) Basic VR: 360 Photos
The most basic entry level VR is still images in 360 degrees that move with your head, first popularized as Google Photo Sphere, or other similar stitched images.
2) 360 Video Emulation
Netflix and Hulu, like any self-respecting “tech” company, have adopted VR emphatically and quickly, yet in a way that’s taken the minimum effort. What we see in both cases is turning existing material, shot in a pre-VR way, and merely replicated in a VR like experience. The whole experience is generally an underwhelming experience that feels gimmicky, which replicates the environment of watching a big TV with poor resolution in someones home.
3) 360 Videos
360 Videos are probably what most people consider their first VR experience. They may be Facebook’s 360 video product, The New York Time’s first foray into news content shot in VR, or even the classic VR of events around the world—the virtual test drives and the rollercoaster simulators that dot conferences. This is what many would believe to be the most basic true VR. It’s multi sensory, it’s content that moves with time and with head movements, and it’s content that has been shot specifically for VR. Now you as the user feel in control. Now content makers have to forgo the role of director and produce content that allows people to make their own story, choose their own path. This is making content like we’ve never seen before.
4) Directional Movement
A leap beyond 360 videos are VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and AR headsets like the Microsoft Hololens that allow your head position to be tracked within a specified area. This small detail represents a paradigm shift in the immersiveness of the experience. With these devices, you can draw in 3D and walk around your image, you can be transported to the Roman Coliseum and wonder around, and you see depth and parallax movements—you feel transported. For many, these experiences represent the true apex of today’s VR landscape. When you experience VR in this form, your mind is blown with possibility. You suddenly see what transportation to another world can mean.
5) VR with Interactivity
One of the next developments will be in interactivity. How you can not just passively observe and explore, but interact in this world. The Hololens already lets you create and pin objects, and other devices let you draw and create, but what happens if the thinking behind computer games was applied to VR content? What do movies look like when you can move around and speak to characters? What do beach landscapes become when you can talk to locals? The notion of movies as narratives and TV shows as passive blend when you are able to shape what you consume. The computing power needed will be vast, the content creation endless, but this is where you can explore in a way that makes you feel involved beyond scenery.
6) Haptic Landscapes
Finally and coinciding with interactivity is the notion of haptic feedback, when a world becomes so real that you can feel it. Here we see suits like Teslasuit and VR gloves start to allow us to explore and feel the world around us. By the sixth dimension of VR, things are getting weird. We’re exploring new worlds, interacting to produce our own custom-made adventure, and then feeling it too. At this point, the real and the virtual blend, and we face deep existential questions. What is real? Why do we need to actually go anywhere? What is living?
We’ve replicated the online world largely on pre-digital assumptions. We’ve taken newspapers online and called them websites. We’ve taken catalogues online and called that eCommerce. We’ve taken TV ads online and called them pre-rolls.