SoCal VR Conference: What Will It Take to Move Virtual Reality to the Mainstream?

Samsung Gear VR Headset H 2015

A crowd-sourced method of rating virtual reality experiences could help quality control, asserted several stakeholders, Sunday at the SoCal Virtual Reality conference and expo, held at the University of California Irvine.

This was one of the topics discussed during a lively panel about what it will take to bring VR to the mainstream, which focused on getting a quantifiable number of head sets into the market, as well as quality content.

“It’s not just sticking a camera on something and recording in 360 degrees, there has to be a reason and rationale,” said Jim Willson, director of immersive products and VR at Samsung, who noted that VR content creation is still in the early stages but getting more advanced. “The production needs to be thought out in a way that you take advantage of the 360 degree environment. Filmmakers are trying to figure out what does his mean. How do they control the narrative? It’s still very early days.”

Warning that a poor experience can make a viewer sick, Karl Krantz, organizer of the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality meetup community, urged the creation of a crowd-sourced method of rating VR experiences. “A bad VR experience will ruin your day. We don’t want that to be someone’s first VR experience. That’s one of the biggest obstacles.”

St. John Colon — a lecturer on computer science at USC — suggested two types of crowd-sourced ratings: one for the overall content experience and one for comfort/technical execution. He added that it’s also important for the big companies to curate their content.

“There are very few [VR experiences] I’ll try more than once or twice; that's an issue,” warned Krantz. “The one’s I go back to are something unexpected. I think a lot of content is missing that. We need to figure out what will keep people coming back.”

Samsung — the maker of the Gear VR goggles — offers an app, Milk VR, that streams VR content. Willson reported that its library now includes roughly 200 experiences and he sees the quality bar being raised. "The early ones that we launched weren’t our best, but it was an experiment,” he admitted. “You’ll see a giant leap in quality. Filmmakers and production companies that we are working work now have better understanding of camera placement, lighting, and the postproduction quality is going up significantly. As the level of quality goes up, that allows you to retain the immersion and enjoy the experience.”

Last Thursday, Milk VR launched a new U.S. Olympic Committee Virtual Reality Experience, which give viewers a 360-degree close-up look a four sports: beach volleyball, diving, gymnastics and polo vaulting. This includes what it might feel like to dive from the 10 meter board or swing on the rings in men’s gymnastics. Featured athletes include women’s beach volleyball team members Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat, diving gold medalist David Boudia, pole vaulter Mary Saxer and gymnast John Orozco.

“I think the big win for sports is accessibility; I see the advent of VR as a way to create a social platform," Colon said,  describing a scenario where friends in different cities could virtually watch and discuss a live sporting event together.

Speakers also discussed the need to grow the base of VR goggle owners. Willson noted that its Gear VR, as well as Google Cardboard, use a mobile phone as the screen, making them accessible. He added that this got a boost this weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con, where an estimated 100,000 units of Google Cardboard were handed out to attendees.

Comic-Con exhibitors also launched numerous VR demonstrations and new content, a bit of which was also featured at SoCal VR. Guillermo del Toro’s Mirada, for instance, demonstrated its new VR teaser for FX’s The Strain, which was unveiled during Comic-Con and was filmed by the series’ crew on the actual set.

Also during the SoCal VR conference, California Science Center board of trustees member David Knight gave a featured talk about the virtual reality shoot that he exec produced to give viewers access to the Space Shuttle Endeavour (which is housed at the center). This footage is available on Milk VR, and additional footage will be used for the permanent Endeavour display, which is scheduled to open in a new pavilion at the center during 2018.