Virtual reality is slowly shifting from experimental and exciting to a potentially viable medium for consumers. To help this process gain momentum, many technology, production, and hardware companies are making significant moves in the world of immersive video.
We all know what giant tech and content company Samsung has been doing in this realm, but what have other VR-focused companies been up to? The following all have some big VR plans for the coming months (and years), and they all have something unique to offer in the growing VR ecosystem.
From videos projected onto viewers’ eyeballs to spherical camera equipment, here’s how these companies are looking to bring VR into the mainstream…
One of the biggest names currently in VR, Oculus Rift has appeared across YouTube Let’s Play videos and digital tech documentaries alike, their developments becoming synonymous with VR’s future on both the tech and the entertainment side. Oculus technology powers Samsung’s Gear VR, and the two companies have worked together to make that experience what it is (not entirely sickening from latency issues and accessible because it works with a phone, the Galaxy Note 4).
On the content side, Oculus Story Studio, made up of a team that includes former Pixar creators, released a four-minute VR experience at Sundance (called “Lost”) in the hopes that it would attract more filmmakers interested in VR to produce original content for Oculus. Facebook bought up the company back in March 2014 for $2 billion, showing that the forward-thinking, video-focused company sees a lot of potential in Oculus.
Razer’s Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) focuses on gaming, and, according the company’s CEO, Min-Liang Tan, it’s the “Android of virtual reality.” The main idea behind the development system is to make all VR content universal, so you can watch it on all kinds of VR headsets. The company also invites real VR enthusiasts to build their own headsets with the OSVR Hacker Dev Kit, which is set to come out at about $200 to consumers as soon as June 2015. In addition to building the headset, users will be able to create their own VR programming with OSVR. This has the potential to democratize VR video/gaming in the way that YouTube democratized online video…maybe.
Still in stealth startup mode, Vrideo has a confident, forward-thinking mission statement. “It’s the dawn of a new age in entertainment,” the VR company proclaims. “We’re building a platform for what’s coming.” The company’s made calls for 3D/VR designers to create “rapid prototypes, 3D mock-ups, comp designs, and sleek environments and interfaces,” and its founders include a former head engineer at Zefr and an alumnus of Harvard Business School. Overall, there’s not much information out about this company, but judging by who’s involved, it’s going to be worth keeping an eye on.
Keep tabs on Leap Motion because it’s “combining 3D input with 3D output.” In other words, it puts viewers’ own hands and their movements into the VR experience, immersing viewers even further. Like Razer, one of its aims is to help VR developers create their own content, but it’s also got a network so far of over 150,000 developers, according to CEO and co-founder Michael Buckwald, creating educational demos like Tomas Mariancik’s “World of Comenius,” which lets viewers inside the human body to “dismantle a skeletal system, swim through a sea of blood cells, and pick up organs and rotate them in your bare hands.”
Leap Motion’s technology presents a world of interactive possibilities for the VR space, from virtual trainings to a whole new kind of entertainment. As of now, Buckwald says that “developers and early adopters are the primary demographic,” but the company has the eventual goal of “seeing Leap Motion embedded in every VR headset.”
Sony’s Project Morpheus VR headset seems like the gamers’ VR. Since it works with PlayStation, it makes it easier for people to adopt at a larger scale (because a lot of people use PlayStation). Reviewers have called the hardware more “finished” feeling than Oculus, but with both technologies, there’s still some lag in the videos. Unlike with Samsung’s Gear VR, the video demos are largely more interactive and less “lean-back,” again gearing it more towards the gaming set with viewers’ limbs showing up on the screen. Sony’s got more updates to announce on the project, which they’ll do at the Game Developers Conference 2015 in early March.
A “media platform for aspiring and professional creatives,” Wemo seeks to act as a sort of networking hub for those experimenting with VR content. The site is home to numerous posts about various companies’/creators’ VR projects, where they provide links to their Kickstarters and can see all the latest in VR news.
The company’s been making other solid efforts to bring more creators into the VR game. Wemo is working with crowdfunding platform Seed & Spark on a grant program that lets filmmakers submit proposals for “short, immersive experiences,” which they’ll review in time for an early March production. Wemo and Seed & Spark will offer creators money, post-production assistance, VR equipment (on loan), and even training on how to shoot in VR, showing just how much the companies are in support of the new medium. Watch for what the creators who earn these grants come up with.
One of the few companies forward-thinking enough to create cameras and other “video gear” specifically with VR in mind, 360Heros calls itself a “one-stop shop for 360 video services.” The company offers video hosting and licensing, mobile app support, production services, and post-production services in addition to spherical (waterproof and not) camera equipment and software.
As CEO and founder of 360Heros explained, “My goal in developing VR 360 video technology was to stop limiting filmmakers to the single perspective presented by traditional 16:9 content. VR broadens that field of view both literally and figuratively.” When a whole company’s goal is to make the future of video possible by providing the right equipment, it’s important to track who they might decide to work with.
Offering a very different solution to virtual reality, Avegant’s Glyph doesn’t make use of a screen at all. Rather, it uses low-powered LED lights and micro mirrors (2 million of them) to project images directly onto the viewer’s retina. Since this is the same way in which we see objects in everyday life, it allegedly presents a much clearer, more realistic image than VR headsets like Samsung’s Gear VR and Sony’s Morpheus — the “screen door effect” generated from pixelated screens is a non-issue, here. The hardware is also far less clunky than the aforementioned, merging the headphones and the eyewear into single device (as opposed to headsets that require headphones to sit on top).
On the other hand, Glyph doesn’t purport to be as immersive as other VR hardware. It claims to “enhance any media of your choice,” enhancing being distinct from “immersing in.” You can peek out above or below the eyepiece, opening it up to public experiences — you can wear it on your morning commute. You can also plug Glyph into various devices and watch any content projected onto your eyes that you can watch on an external display.
Combining technology and video content development in one studio, this company was created by people who know traditional media and are ready (and eager) to go beyond because they believe in the power of VR as a storytelling medium. The company has a software tool (Visionary Focus) for filmmakers to use and offers collaboration on VR video production. Overall, the company’s seeking to make a comprehensive set of materials for creators moving into VR, helping to make their transition into the medium relatively seamless, additionally by offering support and a community of VR creators.
Like 360Heros, this company makes spherical camera equipment to capture 360-degree, VR video. It’s able to stream live video, and the app lets you explore all angles of 360-degree videos by navigating with your fingertips (when you’re not using a VR headset). The camera boasts “no blind spots” and looks unique, unlike the detachable camera devices made by 360Heros. This camera is purportedly simple and easy to operate, but it’s angled more towards professionals than your average person wanting to give it a try. It’s currently going for about $700 for pre-order and won’t ship until this spring.
Like Visionary, Jaunt is also set on providing a “comprehensive toolset for creating cinematic VR” that extends to editing and production. The company’s behind such talked about VR experiences as the Paul McCartney concert (in which the former Beatle performs “Live and Let Die”) and “The Mission,” which follows a special ops team on the Eastern Front during WWII. Jaunt has got the content side of VR down, truly exploring the possibilities therein. It also has the technology to make it happen, including a spherical camera system complete with “3D sound-field microphones.” The cross-platform viewer makes Jaunt content viewable on Oculus Rift and other headsets.
This article is part of VideoInk’s “VI Goes VR” special issue, which explores the current opportunity and future potential in virtual reality for the entertainment industry.