Where Virtual Reality Makes Sense

I read recent coverage of comments from Carnegie Mellon University professor and former Disney Imagineer, Jesse N. Schell regarding his vision of the future of virtual reality and when and where it might start to show-up. I agree with his sentiment that reality and VR are a natural fit, but I don’t believe that VR is a universal fit for reality content. It’s true that virtual reality makes sense where a POV perspective makes sense, but it is more than just that. Virtual Reality makes sense when what I refer to as a “surrounding POV perspective” matters.

I believe VR is here to stay and will continue to grow in terms of adoption, content availability, and applications in the years to come. But I also believe 2D video is here to stay. I don’t expect VR to replace video as we know it. I don’t expect VR to be the dominate video experience anytime soon – and its likely/conceivable that it never will be the dominate video experience. As the use-case applications expand, the reach of VR and the influence of VR will be more widely felt in both 2D and 360 degree video experiences, but 2D will continue to be a viable and important content medium for decades to come.

Let me talk for a moment about what I mean by a “surrounding POV perspective.” VR provides a robust (and notably new) experience when you want the viewer to be able to examine the surrounding environment. VR fits an environment wherein you want the viewer to be able to look left or right, up or down. In most instances, this would be considered “off camera” in today’s 2D video world. VR makes sense when something relevant is happening “off camera,” or in other words, when the POV is wider than the traditional 2D perspective. There are plenty of environments where the 2D perspective is sufficient. And in many instances, VR will only make sense if the traditional video experience we are having today undergoes significant change by making the “off camera” content more meaningful and relevant to the overall video experience.

I foresee a variety of commercial applications where VR will fit well. Imagine someone contemplating a cruise and debating between two different options. Aided by virtual reality they would be able to walk inside the different cabins and gain a feel for the cabins’ relative sizes. They could look around the cabins. They could walk out onto the deck. They could walk to the dining rooms and into the casino. They could walk to the pool desk and around the ship. The immersive nature of virtual reality would allow them to feel themselves within the relative spaces and gain a perspective that 2D video allow might not adequately provide.

Virtual reality makes sense in environments with more than one focal point. In this way, traditional 2D video will need to be rethought before a 360 degree virtual experience makes sense.