TheGrill 2016: Virtual Reality Is Here to Stay – And Put You on Mars (Video)

Why VR firms are betting big on the technology

Every distributor and studio is rabidly chasing virtual reality dollars that may not quite exist yet. But to the doubters, 20th Century Fox futurist Ted Schilowitz has some words of advice: “The curve of change is happening really fast. We’re going to look back at the stuff we use today like [cathode ray tube] models.”

And because of that rapid change in technology, Schilowitz views his company’s investment in VR as crucial. Fox has already created a VR experience based on the hit movie “The Martian,” where people can ride the Mars Rover from the comfort of their own living rooms and lob potatoes across the red landscape, to rave reviews.

Schilowitz was joined on a panel on VR and AR at TheGrill with other hard-chargers in the space like Nonny de la Peña (co-founder and CEO of Emblematic Group), Anthony Batt (co-founder and EVP, Wevr), Clint Kisker (president, Madison Wells Media) and Peter Girardi (SVP, creative affairs, Warner Bros. Animation and Blue Ribbon Content). The main topic of discussion? Why, exactly, VR won’t be a repeat of the 3D TV debacle.

“There are a lot of people who haven’t been present in a moment since they were kids,” Kisker said. “They’re distracted. They haven’t been truly present in their lives in maybe 30 years.”

Take these adults and stick them in a virtual reality experience like “theBlu,” which takes them beneath the surface of the ocean and has a blue whale — at full size — pass by them, and they’re finally living in the moment, truly present.

There are still hurdles, the panelists acknowledged.

The headsets are currently prohibitively expensive. However, that’s about to change, de la Peña pointed out, with the forthcoming launch of Sony’s Morpheus headset that’s a mere $300, compared to the $600 Oculus Rift or the $800 HTC Vive.

The other products also require expensive computing power. Sony’s requires only a PlayStation 4, of which the company has already sold more than 40 million.

Even more consumer-friendly are products like Google Cardboard or Mattel’s revamped View-Master. With these products, one simply downloads a virtual reality app to his or her smartphone and sticks the phone into a slot, no PC or game console necessary.

Warner Bros. has teamed up with Mattel to create a Batman VR experience for the View-Master, Girardi said.

But after these hurdles are overcome, companies who are pushing hard into VR now will be well-placed. “Mass is on its way,” said Batt. “If you get mass with no content, you have a problem. We’re committing to making VR, even though the market is small, in order to prepare.”

For that matter, the storytelling is just different, and requires Herculean effort. “You can’t just go ‘Hey I have this busted script, let’s turn it into a VR experience,’” Girardi said. “You have to bring together experts in gaming and visual effects and narrative storytelling.”

And as the technology gets further and further away from the current on-your-face delivery system, there’ll be further need to dip into other fields of expertise.

“At some point there will be sensors you will place in your house and office. You’ll put them all around the room and the room will be a smart room, it’ll become a holographic room,” Schilowtz said. “That’s what the future holds.”