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Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality as Storytelling Platforms: A Critical Assessment

On May 19, 2016 I gave an invited key note address in Auckland kicking off Magnify, the first South Pacific Conference on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality as part of New Zealand’s Tech Week. Sponsors for the event included Air New Zealand and Sky City Entertainment.  The conference attracted over 1,500 attendees that packed the house for both of the two days. Dignitaries from the New Zealand Government were in attendance along with a full slate of exceptional speakers. Read More

How virtual reality gaming is blowing its big chance in 2016
The year's biggest games show put every headset's weak points on display

This year’s E3, the gaming world’s annual marquee show, was virtual reality’s chance to shine. Two high-end headsets — the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — are on sale already, although they serve only a small market. We’re four months from the launch of PlayStation VR, which will open up the medium to potentially tens of millions of PlayStation 4 owners. And Oculus is supposedly releasing its Touch motion controllers by the end of the year, making the headset significantly more attractive. All three platforms are established enough that developers are starting to take notice, but they still desperately need games. There’s never been a better time for a blitz of good VR news — or a worse time to get bad news. Read More

Women in VR talk business and diversity in a burgeoning tech industry

Sports and education are two of the key areas in which both individuals and companies can become successful in virtual
reality today, ahead of the impending launch of the major headsets later this year, according to a panel of VR experts.

“An easy concept for the mainstream to grasp is the power to teleport or to time travel,” explained Helen Situ, Virtual Reality Evangelist at NextVR, at a panel titled "Women Lead VR: Executives Discuss Content Creation and Diversity" at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this morning. “People want premium seat tickets to major sporting events. They want to be able to join in wherever they were in the world, so long as they’re online. Read More

The Netherlands is a serious hotbed for virtual reality content
The Netherlands is already known as an innovation hub. Indeed, this past April the European Commission awarded the European Capital of Innovation (iCapital) to Amsterdam.

The country has built an outstanding infrastructure for facilitating innovation. The government has made it easy and affordable for companies to incorporate, and recently instituted the startup visa scheme as a way to attract foreign entrepreneurs. It is always in the top 10 rankings for countries with the fastest Internet speeds. And the educational system, particularly the polytechnic institutions, churns out a steady supply of creative problem-solvers.

And now the country is emerging as an epicenter for virtual reality (VR) innovation. While Dutch startups have sprung up only very recently in this space, they’ve done so in large numbers — and they’re highly concentrated in the content creation end of the supply chain. Read More

While Virtual Reality has taken the tech world by storm, it has its skeptics. One of them is Barry Sandrew, founder of Legend 3D and one who has been around the entertainment industry for a long time. Sandrew invented the colorization process used in updating many black and white films and was a pioneer in 3D conversion of films as recently as 2007.

VR will be used in surgery and have applications, principally in gaming and, perhaps, in education, but, says Sandrew: “I am giving a different
perspective after working in the trenches of Hollywood…Investment interest peaked but is now diminishing…People want to be witness to a movie and not a participant,” said Sandrew, citing surveys that indicate a lack of interest by the general public. Just like colorization, he added, it is “not everyone’s cup of tea.”

Sandrew’s views were part of the first presentation of its kind in San Diego that looked at the future of virtual reality. The conference at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice attracted VR enthusiasts as well as many who came to hear about its prospects in storytelling, health, education and other applications.

Unlike Sandrew, Brian Levine, founder of the local VR Startup group, sees VR taking off in the near future among the general public because components, such as goggles used for viewing, are coming down in price. Also, he demonstrated how the general public, including his parents and son, have acclimated themselves to the technology.

The conference spent a considerable amount of time reviewing how VR is used in narrative storytelling, including journalism. Matt DeJohn of VRTUL Inc. demonstrated how he and the Asian Heritage Society produced a historical documentation in VR of the Vietnamese-American experience, in marking 41 years since the fall of Saigon. The audience also viewed a Ted Talk presentation by journalist Nonny dela Pena, who showed how she captured two events, including a bombing in Syria, by replicating it digitally. Dean Nelson, professor of journalism at Point Loma Nazarene University, questioned whether this was true journalism.

“The word ‘virtual’ (means) it’s not literally true. Journalism is what literally happens, not a recreation or retelling,” Nelson said, also questioning whether a digital representation of an event used to raise money for a cause, as the Syria documentation did, should be branded as “advocacy journalism.” By “trying to move you to care or give money, it just isn’t telling you the truth…but multiple truths,” Nelson added.

Other uses of VR in health and education were discussed, including the treatment of emotional disorders such as post-traumatic stress. Arno Hartholt, one of the founders of the USC Institute of Creative Technologies, demonstrated the creation of digital characters that actually interact with humans, saying he sees that as “a leading force in creating experiences how we teach, train and help.” The institute has worked closely with the U.S. Army on several training projects.

How to make money with VR was also explored by a panel that included SDSU professor Bernie Dodge and branding expert Bennett Peji. Everyone agreed that despite some of the limitations of VR, it is an “immersive experience that can excite kids,”  in Dodge’s words.

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