TORONTO – Virtual reality (VR) has been touted as one of the top future technologies, but one expert at the Be3D: Think Forward event, held in Toronto on Mar. 9 by Think2Thing and Ryerson University, disagrees.
Barry Sandrew, founder of Augmented Vision Works and a board member of Alashic VR, predicts that going forward, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) will become the experience of choice for most consumers.
“AR will become ubiquitous in all of our lives – it’ll be used in cars with heads up displays, and in the gaming and entertainment industry for sure,” he tells the crowd. “VR will take a backseat to all of this. I predict that when CES 2018 rolls around, we’ll see a lot more money and effort going into developing more productive AR and MR experiences.”
The 3D visual effects pioneer, who invented the first all-digital technology and process for colourizing black and white films, explains that for the last few years, AR and MR have been afterthoughts that no one paid attention to because they didn’t involve groundbreaking or fancy headsets. But especially following the huge success of Pokémon Go, an AR/MR mobile phone game launched in July 2016, the technology has taken on a new life as tech enterprises realized they could give consumers an exciting experience without needing costly headsets.
“Anyone with a phone can experience AR, and that’s really opened up some doors,” Sandrew says, adding that this has contributed to a decline in the excitement around VR. “Two years ago, everyone and their mother was developing and releasing their own VR headset, but just last week at Mobile World Congress, VR was pretty much absent.”
Sandrew says that 2017 is the moment of truth for VR and its potential commercial success. He believes its growth will be significantly hindered because of its need for a headset, of which there is no industry standard and are often expensive (for high quality sets) or low quality (for cheap prices).
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s a broad spectrum of VR applications and it has a bright future in gaming, but there’s a lot of doubt around whether it’s appropriate for the mass market,” he continues.
Within the entertainment industry, Sandrews says that he’s heard people “whispering” that beyond gaming, “immersive VR storytelling could be over before it begins.”
“I don’t know whether people will accept [VR films] in the long run, after its novelty has worn off. Can it attract a broad enough audience to make it viable, and, the most important thing, can it be monetized?” he questions. “Because if it can’t, it’s just an academic exercise.”
He points out that major directors such as George Lucas, Robert Redford and Ang Lee have made it clear that while VR films are interesting and have all the elements of a movie (“scripts, actors, visual effects, dynamic environments”), they generally lack good stories and director control.
“Most top directors recognize right away that, like the porn industry, VR isn’t about the story, it’s about visuals. But directors are master storytellers and when they have an audience that has a short attention span, or would spend much of the time in a VR movie looking all over the place instead of following the story they’re trying to tell, it’s not going to work,” he concludes.