While VR has great promise for story telling, the people who make VR movies need to think about how to focus the attention of the viewer. It’s great that people can now view a film from virtually any direction, but it’s not great to miss important parts of a video because you don’t happen to be looking in the right direction. Virtual Reality Movie Makers Need To Focus on Viewers’ Attention.
April 17, 2016
Written by: Larry Magid
Virtual Reality Movie Makers Need To Focus on Viewers’ Attention
We are at the very early stage of virtual reality and, now that a slew of headsets are out or about to come out, we’re going to see a flood of content ranging from games, to shorts videos, to full length movies. And, as almost anyone could have predicted, we’re already seeing VR porn. For the record, I haven’t actually seen any of that yet, but I have seen pitches from PornHub and other purveyors.
So far, I’ve had a chance to view video on Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus.
The Oculus Rift is, by far, the best experience, but Gear VR is also good and Google Cardboard is a great introduction to virtual reality for a very low price. Home delivery subscribers of the Sunday New York Times got a free Google Cardboard headset last November so they could watch virtual reality videos produced by the Times.
Issue with smartphone powered VR headsets
Both Google Cardboard and Samsung VR use a smartphone for both video and audio. For Samsung VR, you need a compatible Samsung Galaxy phone, but Google Cardboard works with almost any Android or iPhone. A phone actually works pretty well for the video. Developers figured out a way to split the display to create a stereoscopic image that looks pretty impressive when viewed through the headset. It looks especially good with the $99 Samsung VR but not bad on the cheap Google Cardboard. Audio is also delivered through the phone and therein lies part of the problems. Unlike Oculus Rift, which has 360 sound, audio delivered through a phone can’t give you a good sense of where the action is and where you should be looking.
One of the New York Times videos showed a plane dropping food for people at a camp in South Sudan but when I watched it through my Google Cardboard I didn’t happen to be looking in the right place and I missed the drop.
As I was playing with my Samsung GR VR, I saw a nice video of street scenes in Havana during President Obama’s visit. As is typical with VR, I was able to look left, right, up and down and — as I was looking down a street in the Cuban capital, I heard people loudly protesting a government policy, but I wasn’t seeing it. I did look around and eventually saw the protestors but, by the time I was focused on them, the video moved on to another scene.
Had these been traditional videos, the director would have pointed the camera at the place the viewer needed to be looking for the scene to have the most impact. Yes, the viewer of traditional videos have less control over their experience, but at least they would get the essential information that the filmmaker was trying to get across.
Need for focus
While VR has great promise for story telling, the people who make VR movies need to think about how to focus the attention of the viewer. It’s great that people can now view a film from virtually any direction, but it’s not great to miss important parts of a video because you don’t happen to be looking in the right direction.