Virtual is set to become reality at trend-setting tech fest the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, with numerous companies set to exhibit market-bound headsets.
Despite games makers taking the lead in VR technology, various industries are slowly grasping the potential applications that lie waiting in the virtual world.
At the offices of London-based virtual reality filmmakers Visualise, the most trusty tool in producers’ lockers is a virtual reality (VR) headset.
Founded in 2012, the 360-degree content producers have worked with sports stars, carmakers, rock bands and even travel agencies, demonstrating the varied and far-reaching applications of VR.
Visualise co-founder, Henry Stuart worked as a photographer before discovering the far-reaching possibilities of virtual reality.
“We as a company specialise in VR video, 360-degree video,” he says.
“And we capture that by using 360-degree cameras that are essentially balls of cameras, different kinds of cameras for different jobs, and these all capture video at once.
“We then synchronise the cameras, stitch and blend all the content and produce a sphere which you can then put into virtual reality in a virtual reality headset and immerse yourself in it and look around.”
In late 2014, Visualise teamed up with O2 and Columbia Records to make some rock fans’ dreams come true by creating an onstage VR experience of a concert by British rockers, Kasabian.
Using a series of 360-degree camera rigs and binaural audio microphones, the Visualise team captured the rock gig from places fans would never have access to.
They even placed one camera rig in the middle of the rowdy, beer-swilling crowd.
“It’s a VIP position you get. You’re on stage, you’re in front of the crowd, they’re behind you, the band’s right there, you have to look up at certain points to see the different band members as they’re above you,” says Stuart.
“And then we also take you backstage at the beginning and you get to see the band as they’re warming up going past you onstage, they slap your hand as you go past.
“It’s a really magic and very special experience that you could never get in the real world.”
Stuart says virtual reality concerts present a unique and profitable opportunity for the struggling music industry.
As digital downloads squeeze physical music sales, touring and live performances are becoming increasingly profitable – a virtual reality concert offers musicians an awaiting arena with an unlimited capacity.
But it’s not just entertainment, Visaulise also teamed up with Samsung and Lamborghini to offer a test drive like no other – in the Italian sports carmaker’s new Huracan car, winding along the Amalfi coastline.
Viewers sit in the passenger seat, by the roadside or even high above the road while a professional super car test driver puts the Lamborghini Huracan through its paces.
“It was a really thrilling experience and really exciting. You get to sit in this incredible car with one of the Top Gear test drivers and just thrash it around the place,” says Stuart.
“We did some shots inside the car so you felt like you were a passenger there, and then we did some on the sides of the street as the car flies by you, and some even from drones in the air where you got this 360 view of the Amalfi Coast and you see the car pass underneath you.”
According to Stuart, carmakers are increasingly adopting VR technology to market their newest vehicles, including creating virtual reality showrooms to exhibit their latest full-throttle creations.
Another potential application is tourism. Visualise worked with London skyscraper The Shard’s viewing platform to showcase the experience of hanging from the top of one of Europe’s tallest buildings.
The team placed a camera rig at its 308-metre (1010.5 foot) peak, capturing 36 hours of time-lapse footage and turning it into a two-minute virtual experience.
It’s described as ‘Europe’s Highest Virtual Reality Experience’ and was first unveiled at a world travel and tourism event in London.
“So, you’ve got this 36-hour time-lapse looking over London, seeing clouds rush in, seeing the weather change, seeing the day and the night cycle and it’s really stunning,” says Stuart.
“And so for The Shard it means that they can go to tourism expos around the world and encourage tourism to visit and see this incredible view for yourself.”
Visualise also worked in South Africa to create a virtual reality tourism experience, including kite-surfing, abseiling, feeding elephants and shark cage diving.
VR technology is set to become a reality for consumers in 2016. Headsets by the likes of Oculus, HTC and Sony are all set to hit store shelves.
At Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show (CES), over 40 exhibitors are expected to showcase technologies related to VR, a 77 percent increase in comparison to 2015’s event.
According to CEA research, VR headsets are expected to take off this year with projected sales to increase by 500 percent over 2015, reaching 1.2 million units sold.
Total revenues are projected to reach $540 million, a 440 percent increase by the end of 2015.
That’s before Microsoft even release their much-anticipated HoloLens headset, previewed at September’s E3.
Using augmented reality technology, the HoloLens headset placed an interactive Minecraft game onto an empty table.
“Augmented reality actually integrates the current world that you live in and enhances that so you’re able to see everything around you, but augmented reality overlays interesting information, user interfaces and additional content onto the world that you’re living in,” explains technology expert, Ernest Doku.
“Virtual reality actually transports you to another world. You put the headset on and you actually can’t see the world around you. It can project you on a beach, on top of a mountain in Japan, in the far flung future, virtual reality is a whole other experience.”
“To see 2016 and CES be the home of multiple manufacturers announcing and releasing timings for their VR to come onto the market, the competition makes a really exciting space. To have Facebook and Oculus, to have HTC’s Vive, to have PlayStation VR be realistic things that people will be able to buy in 2016 makes for an incredibly exciting time,” he adds.
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will run 6-9 January 2015 in Las Vegas, U.S.
Over 3,600 exhibitors are expected to unveil their latest consumer tech products and services.
Key VR-related exhibitors include Oculus VR, Virtuix and Sphero.
Story from The Associated Press.