Ever wonder why we like watching movies rather than go thru a novel and seeing an event in person rather than read about it? Likewise, it’s also a proven fact that visual information is share a lot more on social sites such as Facebook than textual content.
We humans are intensely visual creatures. In fact, 90% of all the information that is processed by our brains is visual. So, why is this important? Because it points to what we want - our need to create as exacting a replica of our experiences as possible, which is what VR/AR/360 are attempting right now.
There has been a lot that has been said about how VR is nothing more than a fad and how it will go the way of the 3D TV, but even a passing look at current events will tell that this is simply not true.
Where is VR/360 Right Now?
AR/VR saw an 85% increase in funding over 2015 and this trend is expected to continue in 2017 as well. If we plotted the path of VR on the Technology Adoption Lifecycle, we will find that we are right now in the early adopters category right now, preparing to make the jump across the chasm towards mass market acceptance. When might this happen? It’s hard to say. At current pace, VR may make this leap in about 3 years time as better, more affordable headsets and more content becomes available.
That being said, VR still needs a breakthrough product that can reach more people. While Samsung’s Gear VR and the new Google Daydream View have made acceptable quality VR accessible to everyone, the products are still a step away from perfection. Apple is thought to be working on a new platform and its addition to the VR space will definitely drive greater adoption.
On the content side of things, today’s 360 videos are deemed impressive primarily due to their immersive nature, but they still appear pixelated. An image in 360 is split into two, one for each eye, so a 1080p video is presented as 640p per eye. However, as the image is stretched across 180 degrees and a VR viewer typically displays 90 degrees, we only see 320p per eye at any given time. This is primarily why 360 videos appear so blurry.
VR needs SIGNIFICANTLY higher resolution to be viewed properly and 4K is just the starting point. The hardware and streaming capability needed to present such dense content is still under development as well.
Where are VR and 360 Heading?
These challenges are no doubt daunting but are to be expected since we are still at first Gen VR. That being said, there are some really interesting developments in the works too. Here are a few that will revolutionise how we will be consuming 360 content in times to come…
VR capable mobile devices: Jaw-dropping content is quite pointless if there is nothing to view it on. Today, mobile devices lack the screen quality and processing power to run quality VR content. However, the new generation of VR-ready smartphones will overcome this issue.
Sony’s Xperia Z5 come with 4K displays that is ideal for VR and 360. Other brands are also gearing up to bring phones with 4K display out this year. Likewise, new processors such as the Snapdragon 835 are being made specifically taking VR into account.
Faster, better VR cameras:
While we already have quite a few 4K 360 cameras (Kodak’s PixPro, 360Fly, Samsung Gear 360) in 2016, the first 8K 360 cameras also rolled out. Insta360 announced their first 8K camera that can capture 360 videos, images and can stream at 8K as well. Similarly, Gopro’s Odyssey provides 8K output and is designed to work with Google Jump, their proprietary stitching software.
But this is merely the beginning, we are already getting our first glimpse into 16K 360 photography. The Panono Camera can take 16K 360 photographs, stitch them up on the fly, and save them directly to the Panomo cloud. In times to come, 12K and 16K 360 cameras will become more widespread that will lower the entry barrier, enabling more people to produce and share high quality 360 content.
Likewise, more advanced computational photography will slowly replace traditional image stitching that is known to create visual distortions such as parallax.
While a lot of work is being done on creating high quality 360 content, distributing it will require next generation streaming technology. View-optimized streaming is an exciting solution where content within the viewer’s visible field of view (typically 90 degrees) is streamed instead of the entire 360 degrees. As they move their head, the image is updated on the fly enabling us to consume 4K 360 content.
Internet bandwidths are on the rise as well. AT&T has already started installing their Gigapower 1 gigabit/second fiber-optic lines in about 100 US cities for $90 a month. Google has also installed their Fiber Network in 9 cities and has plans to do so in 3 more soon.
Finally, even though 4G mobile internet (LTE) already has the potential to provide internet speeds in the 100s of Mbps, the upcoming 5G will allow us to tap into the Gigabit range.
Exciting Times Ahead!
For all the speculation, it’s hard to predict where VR as an industry will be in 10 years time. But at the current rate of progress, we can expect some very exciting technologies to emerge. Current 360 content is essentially the VHS of virtual reality. The good news however is that we won’t have to wait nearly as long for the transition to BluRay quality!
As many manufacturers are trying to integrate different solutions into one package, future 360, VR and AR content will be viewed on a single sleek, stylish device. People will be able to toggle between different modes with a switch and content producers will even be able to superimpose CG render directly on top of live events to give viewers a more immersive experience. The future of VR and 360 looks very bright indeed!