The State of Virtual Reality: "There’s a Lot of Good and a Lot of Ugly"

Speakers focus on content during a panel Wednesday at the HPA Tech Retreat.
 Illustration by: Todd Detwiler

There’s “a lot of good and a lot of ugly,” admits Steve Schklair, founder of VR production company 3mersiv (and perhaps best known from 3D firm 3Ality,) about the current state of virtual reality.

"What I’m most concerned about it is not the technology — there are dozens of companies working on the technology — but content," he said, speaking Wednesday at the HPA Tech Retreat near Palm Springs. "That doesn’t mean lots of people making lots of 360° pictures. There’s a lot more real estate [in a 360-degree frame], but what are you doing with it? Most of the content out there could also be 16x9. What make this content compelling?"

Schklair added that he’s “seeing pieces and ideas starting to emerge [but] this medium needs a language. … For cinematographers, I’m not yet sure where the art is; at this point, I would say VR is a storyteller's medium but not a cinematographer's medium."

As to potentially strong applications of VR, Schklair and Phil Lelyveld, virtual-reality program manager at the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, both cited news and documentaries as an ideal application for VR, and Nokia Technologies’ Stuart English added training and educational uses.

Lelyveld predicted a big year for VR, with many of the goggles scheduled to come to market. He cited several studies, including one that projects that Goggle Cardboard and other such systems driven by a mobile phone could hit 20 million users by year's end, and one that anticipates 3.5 million Playstation VR systems could be in use by the end of the year — a point he said is notable as the Sony Playstation is widely used system in the gaming community, another VR target group.

Lelyveld added that VR production workflows “seem to be stabilizing,” citing available consumer-level cameras, professional cameras such as the Nokia OZO and sound tools. English also offered an overview of the Nokia OZO camera.

Also Wednesday during the Tech Retreat, Leon Silverman, general manager of Disney Digital Studio Services, announced that he is stepping down as president of HPA, the organization has headed since he helped found it in 2002. Seth Hallen, senior vp global creative services at Sony DADC New Media Solutions, has been tapped as the new HPA president. Silverman will continue to serve on the board of directors.

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