Is 360 VR here or “virtually” here for the corporate world?!

Is 360 VR here or “virtually” here for the corporate world?!

It’s a question I keep getting asked: Is it too soon for corporate organisations to dive into virtual reality (360 VR)? And for that matter, it’s a variation of a question I occasionally ask myself – is it too early to dive into from a production company point-of-view? Having already invested in camera rigs and specialist 360 degree software, I guess I’ve answered the second question already although a little caveat on that later!

“360 video” and “virtual reality” are the trendy buzzwords of 2016. Why now when Virtual Reality has been around for over 30 years? Well, now it’s at last accessible at the consumer level at a reasonably low price-point. Plus it’s now viewable on platforms we’re familiar with – YouTube and Facebook – plus a host of new platforms. So, if you own a smartphone or computer, you can experience 360 degree video right now. To illustrate, just open your YouTube app on your smartphone and search “Tulloch 360 VR timelapse”, or click on the link below to one of our short 360 videos:

If you’re watching on a computer, just put your mouse over the picture. You’ll see a hand symbol appear. Now just click and hold and drag the picture around. If you just see a strange distorted video – you’re probably using Safari on a Mac which doesn’t currently support VR. Sorry. Yet another reason to change to Google Chrome or Firefox! If you’re viewing through the YouTube app on your smartphone, just move your phone to look around the 360 environment.

Now, if you’ve never seen this before, it’s instantly a bit of a “Wow!” moment. But it’s not as good as it gets.

The next step up is to get hold of a Google Cardboard viewer. You can get them on eBay for under $6 or invest a little more and buy the 21st Century version of one of your childhood memories – the View-Master VR Experience starter pack – widely regarded as one of the best Cardboard viewers currently.

This time, open our video on your smartphone using the YouTube app and you’ll notice there’s a Cardboard Viewer symbol in the options at the bottom right of the screen. Click the icon and now the picture turns into two distorted side by side images. Slot the phone into your Cardboard viewer, line the centre mark up with the middle of the viewer and now look around. If the viewer focuses okay for you, I’m sure you’re finding this a much more compelling and immersive experience than the previous computer/smartphone option. Why, because the pictures you’re watching are virtually filling your peripheral vision so you’re experiencing the scene more completely.

So, from my perspective, Cardboard is probably the most appealing entrée level for corporates – the viewers are cheap, they can be easily branded so can double as a marketing tool, plus they work with virtually any smartphone. And as nearly everyone has a smartphone these days, that means most people can experience 360 video this way. In fact, they’re such a cheap option that they can easily be given away – just ask The New York Times who distributed 1 million in 2015 and a further 300,000 to online subscribers earlier this year.

HOWEVER…

If you want a truly immersive experience, take a look at the Samsung Gear VR. The headset itself is only about A$160 but it is a quantum leap forward on the Cardboard experience. Why? With this headset, you get far more immersed in the content – it fills your vision, the head motion is more responsive, the visual quality far greater. If you wear glasses, you can keep them on and there is also a focus wheel for those that don’t wear glasses or lenses but maybe should! For me, the Gear VR option is where the corporate viewer is likely to get the most immersive overall 360 video experience – depending upon good content being produced of course!

But there is a catch with the Samsung Gear VR! About a A$1,000 one! It only works with current Samsung handsets. Great if you own one but quite an investment if you don’t. And that’s the choking point for most corporates with this option, which is a shame.

The good news is that this landscape is changing fast and quality headsets that are phone brand agnostic are likely to appear soon. In fact, this week Google have announced a replacement to Cardboard – Google Daydream. This is a new VR platform built on top of Android so likely to be available on most Android devices supposedly from the fourth quarter of this year. It also includes a range of VR viewers and motion controllers so will be a quantum leap forward from where we are with Cardboard. Another caveat though – whereas Cardboard works with virtually any existing smartphone, Daydream will only work on new phones with specific components built in such as special sensors and screens. This could also point to some developments we might see in the next version of the iPhone!

Now, there are still better options – you will no doubt have heard a lot about Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, etc but my view is that these are primarily aimed at the gaming market and are more sophisticated options than most corporates are going to require at this point.

So why do we believe that 360 video is an important medium for corporates to embrace? Where are the low hanging communication opportunities?

Most VR out there currently takes you somewhere – flying under helicopters over cities or beautiful landscapes, diving under the water with sharks and dolphins, standing in famous tourist locations, watching Cirque du Soleil shows, etc. Whilst lovely and sometimes amazing, they’re not touching on the area that most excites us – emotional content. You experience VR differently to normal video. You’re immersed. You’re present. You decide where you look so it’s your experience not the director’s. The brain absorbs what it’s viewing more fully – something I’ll touch on more in another post. This means that if you produce powerful emotional content, your audience is going to experience it far more powerfully.

So to content…

My view is that it’s an irresistible option for employee induction, graduate recruitment and training. It’s also a powerful sales tool for emotive products.

Imagine taking prospective and new recruits on a virtual tour of your company: maybe a factory tour, branch tour, greetings by the CEO and Leadership Team, etc. Need to convince people that they need household insurance? Take them into a house that has just been trashed by burglars and get the owner to stand next to them and explain how they feel. It is also a powerful tool for embedding company culture too. And, if you want powerful training, let’s say in the area of workplace bullying, harassment or anything that can stir an emotional response, VR will come into its own.

And consider this, if you’re a trainer, I bet you’re sick to the back teeth with your audience sneaking a look at their phones every two minutes. Those Millennials just can’t help themselves! This is where VR excels. Why? Because the phone is stuck right in front of their face and they can’t see out to access their own phone. They’re stuck being immersed in your training!!! How great is that?!

So, for us, it’s the emotional engagement VR offers that most entices us as content producers.

And here’s my earlier caveat about it being too soon to dive in for professional producers. The one problem with the multi-camera rigs is that you’re advised to keep the camera a minimum of 4 feet away from the subject otherwise you hit “parallax errors” you stitch the videos together in post. Basically, when the subjects move across the seams, you see the joins. That distance is a problem if you want your viewer to see the emotion on people’s faces and so lessens the emotional power. Fortunately, we’ve now found a solution whereby we can virtually get you so close that you’ll think you’re touching the other person so what we were thinking was a major limitation has now been overcome. And new high quality 360 cameras and rigs are coming out by the day so it won’t be long before more and more of the current difficulties vanish.

Now, this is an ever changing field with lots of viewpoints. It’s also quite technical to get your head around and with an endless stream of innovations seeming to appear almost daily. So, to help you better understand and keep abreast of this exciting new medium, we’re going to start to produce a regular blog about all things 360 VR from a corporate communication perspective. If you’re interested, just sign up to our “360 VR Insights” to receive updates. And if you’ve seen any emotionally powerful 360 VR content, we’d love to hear from you.

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Post author

Nigel has been working as producer/director in the corporate video, event and television field for nearly thirty years with experience in both London and Australia. He is also the co-founder of The ROAD to RETAIL - an online retail education business.

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