Virtual Reality: Going Beyond the Gimmick - How Journalists Can Stay Ahead of the Game - A Quick Look at a Recent White Paper

Last semester, for my VUB master in Journalism studies, I wrote a White Paper called Virtual Reality: Going Beyond the Gimmick - How Journalists Can Stay Ahead of the Game. I'm currently working on a master thesis about immersive storytelling, VR/360 and empathy, so the White Paper felt like a logical, first step in the VR-in-Journalism discovery direction.

This week, it's been published on the Journalism Trends & Technologies Medium page. You can find my White Paper here.

Below is a summary of what you can find out from the paper,

but feel free to read the complete paper if the topic interests you!

Despite VR’s numerous shortcomings, stakeholders in the journalism field must keep their eyes on the VR market and be ready for its possible impact.

  1. If you need or want to get an overview of the current issues facing VR in the journalism sector, the content herein can help you do that. It will give you a brief view on the history of VR and take you through the pressing issues such as hardware, content, audience behavior and awareness and monetization challenges.
  2. If you are in the news industry, VR sceptic or not, we urge you to stay alert to the various technological trends and disruptions. This paper can help you do that.
  3. Though virtual reality might be the least of your newsroom worriesright now, knowing its current position in the media market will give you a competitive edge. This paper will suggest ways to stay open to VR.
  4. You will not get a detailed breakdown of the latest VR technology, content and statistical projections. With varied and inconsistent predictions coming from all sorts of directions, you would be better suited to set your Google alerts on “VR” to get up to date number crunching and tech development information, as needed. This paper will, however, give you indications about trends and prepare you for the VR vocabulary, going beyond just the notions.

 

Below is a quick view of what you should know!

What You Should Know about the Ongoing Challenges in VR

1. Clunky, costly, non-portable headsets have plagued the VR market. Recent announcements about soon-to-be released products are getting people excited as annoying cables disappear, prices drop as standalone versionsenter the market making mobile and desktops less necessary. The vast divide in quality and price will remain among cheap, cardboard viewers, mid-range ones and high-tech, high-cost headsets. All will offer different VR experiences though only some will provide truly immersive ones. Lack of speed and bandwith are also technical issues, among many others, that still pose problems for smooth VR use.

2. Content continues to be a problem for VR as there simply isn’t enough of it to go around to keep consumers coming back for more. The early adoptersand innovators are offering a continuous supply of compelling content, but not enough to drive, let alone sustain, the VR market. As the headsets get better and cheaper, the content must keep coming or none of it will matter.

3. Monetization models are unclear and profit seems far off in VR, especially due to the combination of high equipment and production costs. Dabbling in low-end, less quality 360° VR is a money-saving option, but many wonder why bother if it ultimately won’t keep users engaged due to its limitations.

4. Digital disruption, some say, is an ongoing hurdle for the news industryand a “new” medium such as VR will need time to find its place in the crowdedmobile-focused media market. Why bring in a new, visual medium, when many newsrooms are just finally figuring out how to pivot to video, how to create data journalism teams and graphics and how to handle social media?

5. Audience behavior on VR is hard to measure as there are limited dataavailable and too few user studies until now. VR has been mostly associated with gaming and gamers until now, who haven’t necessarily been considered a viable news audience yet. The news industry needs to get a better grasp on the potential of VR in the future as today’s young gamers might be tomorrow’s engaged citizens.

6. Storytelling methods need rewriting for VR. Not all stories are meant for the medium. A new narrative requires different framing, literally and figuratively. Design thinking and multidisciplinary teams might be necessary to create good VR experiences. This can be costly for newsrooms, with little return. The VR stories so far that people are talking about have mostly revolved around struggle and oppression. Some argue that we shouldn’t forget about VR’s entertainment value, which probably brings more profit possibilities with it.

7. Ethical questions arise with any new medium and newsrooms struggle to redefine codes and practices while maintaining standards such as truth, transparency and fairness. Virtual Reality offers a new format that changes the role and positioning of the journalist and user. With these new roles come new challenges.

And below you can see a summary of how to prepare for the future of VR in Journalism.

 

What You Need to Do to Prepare for Upcoming Opportunities in VR

1. The absolute minimum a newsroom should do is keep a close watch onhow its regional, national and global competitors are approaching the Virtual Reality market. What you don’t know, can hurt you, so make sure to know. Eventually, the news industry will have to come together and share knowledge on VR issues.

2. Good partnerships are often essential in VR creation and distribution. While looking at the competition’s relationship with VR, try to get an idea of whom they work with to make VR happen. Imagine if your news organization wanted to look further into VR production or publishing, consider with which partners you could possibly combine resources.

3. Speaking of collaborations, keep in mind that journalism schools are trying to get their heads around the future of VR as well. Working together with them on ideas and action in VR could lead to innovation and help you keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to VR.

4. For those who don’t really get VR, in order to understand VR, you have to try VR. Even if you can only get your hands on a cheap, cardboard VR viewer, it will be worth it. There is no sense in being a sceptic without doing a little experimenting with VR first. Go through the motions that your audience would. Get a feeling for VR before deciding it is not for you or your newsroom.

5. While you have that headset in hand, a next, easy step is to have a good look at what kind of VR content already exists in the media-related field, what kind of stories are being told through it and which approaches are and are not effective and appealing.

6. Now that you’ve experienced a little journalistic VR magic and VR trash, it’s a good moment to look beyond the journalism field and see how VR is being used elsewhere. Not only will such content be an eye opener, it might also inspire ideas for news coverage. Virtual Reality is spreading through many sectors and can be game-changing within certain fields. There are numerous stories there. Sharing them is a good way to create VR awareness and media literacy among your audience.

7. Get to know about your potential VR audience. Who are they and what expectations do they have? VR might not take off for a while, but try to figure out who will be using it and how when it does. Turn to existing and upcoming VR user research or conduct your own. Not all VR users are news consumers yet but they will be. Be ready for them.

Thanks for reading! Find the complete paper here  if you want to know more!

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


Can VR & AR Help Sport Teams & Consumers Reach their Goals?

It's not hard to imagine how VR and AR could enhance the experience of people watching sports from their living room couches or even from within the stadium itself. Put a headset on and be transported to the field and feel like you're right in the middle of the action. With AR, it could be more of a social experience - a group of friends using their phones to add layers to their experience. Right now, as with any VR and AR discussion, the headsets and the content are not yet at the top of their game. We all know that practice makes perfect and that sport is definitely one of the sectors in which money can be made, meaning it could be one of the first, alongside other entertainment, to really take off in the consumer market for VR and AR. Some say that sport will be the driving force in getting everyday people interested in immersive experiences, especially when they are social ones.

Back in 2015 (and many years before, after  and to come), thanks partially to a Time Magazine cover and story, there were predictions and proclamations that VR could really become a major consumer product. Best of all, there were a lot of memes going around of the boy on the cover in every sport and entertainment pose (and more...).

And this funny one from this article.

Sport teams and organizations and news and entertainment platforms are clearly taking VR and AR more seriously these days. Charlie Fink, a Forbes writer focused on VR and AR trends and tech who you can follow via various forms of Fink Metaverse, sees investments in sport tech going up and sport as a market leader in the field. In a recent article in The Independent, Fink said that AR, for example, will make sport matches come to life on tables at pubs, allowing "spectators" to gather around with their friends, pulling up players and their stats.

PCR, which covers the Computing sector and  published an AR/VR special in early March, writes that watching sports from the comfort of your home yet with the feel of a stadium will become more common as the quality continues to improve. PCR says that NextVR is one of the companies that's working hard on transporting fans to arenas via quality headsets and experiences.

In the below video, you can get an idea of what content NextVR offers.

Or - have a look at this guy's visual description and review, in which you can also see eveything you will need to actually watch NextVR sports in an immersive way. I just wonder if NextVR paid this guy to make his video as at one point he says, "Who needs to pay 2 grand to sit court side." You can hear how happy he is as he says it so either he truly loves it or he's earning 2 grand for doing the video :-).

For transparency purposes, I should let you know that I am earning nothing for this article (other than a master degree, maybe) and that I tried out NextVR for several hours this week. Though after 5 minutes the foam on the mixed reality headset had me sweating as if I were actually doing heavy sports, I have to admit that I was truly drawn in to the semi-immersive experience of watching everything from soccer to football to big-wheeled trucks in mud to entertaining wrestling - from the corner of the boxing ring. Tennis, I'm sorry to say, put me straight to sleep. I know very little about sports but could still really get into almost everything I was watching. It felt different from watching sports on TV. The ever-so-slight immersion thanks to 360° cameras and / or stereoscopic ones gave the experience more depth. I felt much closer to the players and to the spectators. I enjoyed having a bird's eye view of hard-working, impressive muscles and amazingly weird bodies. I loved seeing the face of the person who scored close up right after it happened. It also felt very flat at times, but the "experience" was enough to make me want more.

It needs to be said, time and time again, that 360° is not VR and VR is not 360°. With that said, they get mixed together so frequently that it's hard to differentiate them. The most basic explanation is that 360° allows for pretty passive experiences whereas VR should permit more interactive ones, such as teleportation, etc... VR experiences, for the moment, are more game-like in terms of look and feel. 360° experiences are based on video being filmed with a 360° camera. There are also stereoscopic experiences that can be mistaken for VR or 360°. Again - basically - those are filmed with two cameras and create a feeling of depth - like a more 3D environment. VR uses some of the same cameras and angles but there is far more programming and design involved, which is also why it's more expensive. To sum it up, a lot of content that's called VR is in fact just 360° or made with 2 cameras (or more). Once you try real VR, with hand controls and haptics, you start to understand the difference and the limits of 360° videos.

Below are a few of the best 360° degree sport videos I tried this week. These ones I watched with various high-tech and high-quality regular and mobile headsets - simply because they make the experience have more depth and therefore immersion thanks to the lenses and the integrated sound. Honestly, with sport, and probably most immersive experiences, the sound quality makes all the difference. When the sound was good, I was fully engaged, even just with regular earbuds. Good sound could really give you "the-crowd-went-wild" feeling. Sometimes I even felt euphoric. At other times, like with downhill skating, I felt excited, scared and a little dizzy. Put a headset on (cardboard with earbuds will be fine but not fabulous) and take a fast ride down a steep hill (with no breaks)!

This NFL one can't be embedded here, but if you can, have a look at it in a headset with headphones. It's a long one but it had my attention to the very end, and I'm not even really interested in football! The storytelling and visuals are good and the quality is great. Towards the end, the team is in a room together analyzing their plays that week. I seriously felt, at that point, that I was right there in the room with them. It was unreal. Or was it too real? Hard to say.

There are so many great ones, but have a look at this surfing one if you've ever wanted to ride the waves. I felt thankful that these 2 surfer dudes were kind enough to take me along with them. I'm pretty sure I'll never go surfing, so for me, this immersive stuff is a great and fun - and a safe and shark-less alternative!

VR Focus, a site all about VR, AR and MR, has a weekly overview of sport news related to tech. This week's highlights include a baseball team that wants to give its fans the opportunity to know what it feels like to be on the field up at bat - via VR. They are also looking into developing an AR game that allows kids to find player cards throughout the stadium. In other news, Fox Sports is going to use AR to enhance their live studio coverage by superimposing computer-generated images within the broadcast. You can imagine sport players and stats popping up larger than life in the studio next to excited sportscasters. VR Focus concludes this week with news that the American Football arcade experience that puts you in the shoes of a quarterback will be coming soon to PlayStation VR.

Speaking of getting inside the shoes of athletes, VR is also being used for practice and training by sport teams. A recent report about an NBA basketball player who had a serious injury indicates that his team is hoping practicing his shots in a VR environment will help him get his shot back to what it was. According to the February article in the Philly Voice, the Philadelphia 76ers is one of a small group of  NBA teams that wants to use VR not only for training but also to help get a player's confidence level back up and minimize the stress of having all eyes on the player as he practices. VR can create a more private practice environment and help a team member to visualize his plays with less pressure and fear of failure. That is the hope, anyway, according to the sources in the article.

The 2018 Winter Olympics also featured some VR sport stories. Not only was some of it shown in VR thanks to a collaboration between the NBC network and Intel, but VR was also used by the US ski team to visualize the ski course before actually ever skiing on it. Working with the company STRIVR and 360° degree cameras, one of the coaches had access to the slopes and could film the course numerous times. The footage was then made into a sort of training / simulation VR expereince. According to this Washington Post article, the skiers could use the technology to memorize the route and better ready themselves for the competition.

For more information, check out this news report.

Here's another training-with-VR success story via ESPN. It's about "how more than 2,500 virtual reality reps helped transform" NFL football player Case Keenum's game. The company STRIVR also worked with Keenum on his training and had this to say about it, which gives you yet another glance at the potential of training in VR:

"And that also begs the question…who is the next Case Keenum? Who is taking their game to the next level with 2,647 extra moments of practice? Another athlete? A front-line worker at a large QSR chain? A doctor, nurse, or surgeon? The big exec needing to give a keynote address? The operations lead in a manufacturing facility? Answer: all of them."

Last but not least, here's a look at an upcoming VR game from Black Box VR that hopes to help you forget that you are lifting real weights. It sounds dangerous to me but perhaps less so for athletes and fitness folks who know what they are doing. In August, the same company plans to open up a full VR Gym in San Francisco. Have a look at the video to find out more.

If that video didn't convince you, perhaps this one will (or really won't)!

All this sport talk is exhausting me! There's a lot more to be said on VR/AR/MR in sport - so if you're in the sport field or just interested in being transported to a sport field to watch a match - make sure to keep your eye on the ball for all the new and upcoming trends!

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018


Man fietst door Verenigd Koninkrijk in VR via Google Street View

Aaron Puzey zei dat het begon uit verveling. Na een jaar lang elke dag een half uur lang te trainen op zijn hometrainer begon het al snel te vervelen. Hij droomde al langer van de mogelijkheid om in Virtual Reality rond te fietsen op zijn hometrainer.  Door de grote vooruit gang in de technologie heeft hij zijn droom werkelijkheid kunnen maken. Met het koppelen van een Galaxy Gear aan Google Street View kon hij zijn fietstocht doorheen het Verenigd Koninkrijk starten. 1.500 kilometer van Land's End naar John o' Groats - allemaal vanuit het comfort van zijn woonkamer

Puzey documenteert zijn reis via een blog, Cycle VR. Hij post een bewerkte video van de hoogtepunten van elke 100 kilometer. Hij hoopt zijn reis af te werken in ongeveer 50 dagen.

Meer informatie op: http://www.cyclevr.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7iCL_GO7ag

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0TNiDNbUDc