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/ 30.05.2018

2D In VR – Bigger Than You Think

– Matthew Allen
Co-Founder/COO, REWIND

Recently, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to make 2D content work in VR. Is it a dark space with a video in the centre of your vision? An empty virtual theatre, creating a private screening room for the viewer? Or is it bespoke environments – immersive locations for particular films, designed to draw the viewer deeper into the film?

Of all the apps currently available on the Gear VR store, Netflix is the most popular, with The VR/AR Insights Consortium reporting that 22% of users have used the streaming services app. To put that in perspective, the next most used app is Minecraft VR at 20%. Showcasing traditional media in VR has become more popular as of late, thanks to the recent release of the Oculus Go’s updated Oculus Rooms, alongside apps like Bigscreen and Hulu VR gaining more prominence. These apps bring something new and fresh to the viewing experience, providing a cinema-esque space with no distractions, immersing people in the content, so I thought I’d dig a bit into why 2D in VR works, and why it’s only going to get more popular.

Event Viewing – The Future of 2D In VR?

VR is at its best when it places people in the moment itself – giving them a chance to experience something first hand, in the centre of the action. Apps like Oculus Venues, Oculus TV and Bigscreen are bringing event viewing to VR in a major way – we first got a look at Oculus Venues at 2017’s Oculus Connect, and it has a lot of potential. A new experience for Oculus Go and Gear VR, Venues’ hook is the ability to watch live concerts, sports, comedy and other events with your friends and potentially thousands of other people in VR.

Live events in VR is nothing new – NextVR have been giving people access to sports, music and entertainment immersive experiences in VR, but they’re short-form slices of content, with minimal interaction. The promise of Oculus Venues, which NextVR is involved with, includes full Major League Baseball games, live music from emerging artists, and stand-up comedy from Gotham Comedy Club. The key differentiator here is the social element – Oculus Venues has been built with the goal of providing social engagement in VR, on a massive scale, and they have the platform and infrastructure to do exactly that.

Social viewing isn’t limited to just live events though – Bigscreen have been a big proponent of 2D in VR since they first launched, allowing a single user to share their virtual space with up to 12 people, streaming out their desktop to a group of friends and family in VR. Bigscreen are also making some moves into event viewing, with their recent screening of Top Gun. Interestingly, Bigscreen and Paramount chose to offer the 3D version of Top Gun, as apparently the 3D effects in VR no longer felt gimmicky, they just felt like a natural extension of the immersive experience! This is a great point – if a 3D version of a film already exists, then using that version in VR is a great way of enhancing the 2D cinema experience. Becoming immersed in a world is a big part of why VR works so well, so creating a viewing experience that’s part 2D content, part immersive experience seems like a natural fit for the medium.

On the other end of presenting 2D content in VR – Coco VR, developed by our friends over at Mognopus, brings the world of Pixar’s latest film to life in stunning detail. However, the experience also features the trailer for the film, playing within the world you’re exploring, placing the 2D media in the context of the world itself. This is an important point to bear – by immersing people in the world of the film, allowing them to explore the environment and get a feel it, you giving them a sense of presence. Once you place them in front of the film itself, they’ll have gained a greater appreciation for the world before even viewing a second of 2D content. Coco VR isn’t just a solitary experience either – you can go through the whole thing with friends, making for a more social activity where you and your friends have fun in the land of the dead, before watching the trailer together and deciding if you’d like to see the film. Social elements are only going to become a bigger part of viewing 2D content in VR, and Oculus are leading the pack when it comes to social viewing.

Social Viewing – Because Everything’s Better With Friends

Oculus TV, launching exclusively on the Oculus Go, does a lot of things similarly to Bigscreen – a 3D environment with a seating area, perfect for watching videos with friends in VR. However, where Oculus has an advantage here is through the App serving as a launchpad for VR streaming – Netflix, Hulu, SHOWTIME and other streaming video services are going to be integrated into the app, with more to come later this year. Hulu already have a VR app, allowing paid subscribers to watch 2D content together on the big screen, but Oculus TV is going to act as a hub for more than just one platform, meaning that users won’t have to dive through multiple user interfaces in order to watch content together with their families and friends. On the wilder side of social viewing in VR – VR Chat has shown that there is a player thirst for social 2D content. Recently, players have begun to create movie theatres, allowing people to gather in the app and then travel to the theater, a truly social experience mimicking reality.

Indeed, the true magic of lower-cost headsets like the Oculus Go lie in their ability to bring VR to a wider audience, but not necessarily in the sense that people are expecting – by allowing these headsets to proliferate throughout a family, VR can be used to bring people together regardless of their location, allowing for cross-coast experiences. The whole family, gathered on a virtual sofa, chatting and joking away as a favourite film plays on the screen in front of them.

The Go is remarkably easy to set up and use, and apps like Oculus TV, Venues and Bigscreen are readily available for the platform, making it the perfect way to bring people together. Plex also plans on bringing their ‘Watch Together’ to Oculus Go and Gear VR soon, meaning that, soon, no matter where your media of choice is stored, you’ll be able to gather people together and watch it in VR. 2D viewing in VR is still in the early stages, where people are experimenting with how best to use the medium, but there’s room for all manner of 2D experiences – from Coco VR’s immersive environments through to Oculus TV’s virtual living rooms. I’m confident that these kinds of experiences will continue to grow as more headsets make their way into people’s homes – after all, it’s a new platform to showcase content on. Just like DVD, Blu Ray and 4K, VR can be a new platform for studios to distribute their content on – it’s up to them to decide how best to showcase it.

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