👓👓What next for #virtualreality, filmmaking, Disney and HTC?

This week sees virtual reality in focus - specifically in filmmaking, theme parks and arcades as well
👓👓What next for #virtualreality, filmmaking, Disney and HTC?
By Connected Paths (Riaz Kanani) • Issue #32
This week sees virtual reality in focus - specifically in filmmaking, theme parks and arcades as well as Disney’s perspective and what is happening with HTC - the unexpected leader in virtual reality headsets. 
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Film will never be the same again.
Shane Wall, HP – Photography by Tom Atkinson at R3Digital
Shane Wall, HP – Photography by Tom Atkinson at R3Digital
We are the very beginning of both virtual reality and augmented reality. That much is very clear. Where it ends up is less clear though there are some obvious candidates.
At Cannes recently, HP Labs took a good look at whether film is the future of filmmaking here and is worth the read. 
Right now we are suffering from a dearth of great content and the technology is very early. The Avatar for virtual reality. Avatar was so hyped that it created an industry for 3D film and television that probably shouldn’t have existed. It did and all that investment in 3D cameras and 3D content will have helped virtual reality get to market faster. Not completely pointless then.
At one of the sessions at Cannes and within the same article, Marcie Jastrow, SVP Immersive Media at Technicolor highlighted six key factors she believed would converge to make VR into the mass-market entertainment experiences of the future. These included creating high-quality native content, a strong storytelling backbone, was disruptive, encouraged a desire for more and provided a user experience that is both intuitive and comfortable. We are not there yet.
On an aside, and hardly enough to create a mass market industry, but one of my biggest surprises was watching a 2D movie with a VR headset. It transformed the experience into one similar to the cinema rather than just being in front of the TV.
HTC leading the way
HTC Viveland
HTC Viveland
With all the major tech companies playing with virtual (or augmented) reality, the surprise success story is Vive. Made by HTC it seemed to hit a sweet spot that the others didn’t and now they have reduced it by $200 to compete more closely with Oculus. A big (brave?) move given Oculus is owned by Facebook and heavily subsidising its price.
HTC was of course one of the early leaders in the smartphone market before losing its way. So how to not repeat this again? According to Bloomberg, they are looking at all the options: spinning it out into a separate entity, taking on strategic investment, partnering with Google or staying as is.
HTC continues to struggle in its core mobile phone business and seems to have lost its way. It isn’t easy to differentiate yourself today and margins are thin (unless you are Apple).
Virtual reality on the other hand offers significant growth potential but for all their early success, it is not mainstream yet and asking HTC to out-innovate the big tech players head to head and year on year is a big ask. They have a pre-existing relationship with Google (they manufactured its Pixel phones last year), so working with Google on Google branded virtual reality headsets made by HTC could be an option though I think the market is still too early for such a venture.
The other challenge for HTC is that the market is focused on augmented reality right now, which HTC is not strong in, but Google is, so again there may be another opportunity to work together. Does Google really need HTC beyond manufacturing capabilities though? Other than any patents HTC owns, probably not.
A strategic investor is more likely at this point I think. Maybe HTC can do something with Softbank, who are spending plenty of money on investments today.
Theme parks to become one big arcade?
Another area where Vive is strong is in theme parks. It has its own VR theme park in Taiwan and is set up like an arcade. I suspect the arcades from our childhood will be making a return here in the UK as well. Thorpe Park in the UK has also kitted out Vive headsets for their Ghost train ride. 
Vive doesn’t have the market all to itself with Gear VR, Samsung’s headset also being used. Alton Towers, the UK’s largest theme park has also recently upgraded their VR space ride to use Pico headsets.
Part of the fun of theme parks is the environment - the noise and the people. The danger is that this can get lost as the experience moves into the virtual world. Will we end up hearing recorded screams and other background noises similar to an electric car’s virtual engine noises?
Disney has talked about being against the idea of using virtual reality headsets inside its parks, suggesting it ruins the Disney experience. Their new Star Wars land points to some of how augmented reality and robotics can be used to elevate the real world experience. Within this is a new multiplayer Star Wars experience at both US Disney resorts using augmented reality headsets to power lightsabre battles (mongst other things?). Details are still thin on the ground but there is more here.
Source: ILMxLab
Source: ILMxLab
It seems Disney is still keen on losing the headsets eventually though and a research project  showcased a magic bench which brought virtual reality to you when you sat on the bench. Still very early but a really interesting read and shows one avenue where virtual reality could go. The article is well worth a read. More here.
Magic Bench - YouTube
Magic Bench - YouTube
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Connected Paths (Riaz Kanani)
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