Anyone old enough to remember the 1990s can be forgiven for suppressing a cynical yawn when talk of virtual reality comes up. That was when the technology was last a hot topic of conversation, but it never resulted in a consumer entertainment technology with commercial appeal.
Today, VR is once again a trending topic but now the technology has caught up with the expectations. Facebook has swooped to buy Oculus Rift, the tech startup behind the self-titled affordable virtual reality headset, and Sony has announced a similar product – codenamed Project Morpheus – for its PlayStation 4 console.
Virtual reality is once again a trending topic but now the technology has caught up with the expectations.
These are heavyweight investments, ensuring that VR is going to get the mainstream push it lacked first time around. It’s unclear what the long term impact of this development will be on the wider entertainment industries, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities here for TV companies to seize –opportunities that don’t require extravagant investment or risky format changes.
Consider Jerry’s Place, an unauthorised VR project from Seinfeld fan Greg Miller. He painstakingly recreated the iconic apartment set from the classic sitcom so that it could be explored in virtual reality. Consider also Ascend the Wall, a more ambitious VR project that debuted at SXSW to promote Game of Thrones. Using Oculus Rift, users are taken on a simulated ride up the wall of Westeros, augmented by 3D surround sound and strategically placed fans to recreate the howling wind.
Both projects tap into something that is easy to overlook: the importance of place. This is where VR is at its most immersive, and it is also where it can overlap with TV in an affordable but effective manner. Who wouldn’t want to explore Walter White’s home from Breaking Bad? What soap fan wouldn’t love to virtually visit the homes of their favourite characters? This is bread and butter stuff for games developers – really little more than digital set building with no complex gameplay elements to balloon the cost – yet when married to the emotional attachment engendered by beloved TV shows, it can become something uniquely powerful.
There are opportunities for TV companies – opportunities that don’t require extravagant investment or risky format changes.
Rather than watching from the sidelines, wondering where it will all lead, the truly shrewd production companies and broadcasters will already be getting in touch with 3D artists and preparing to invite fans into the world of their shows.