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NAGRA Blog: Putting the R in VR - A virtual reality evolution, not revolution

By Ivan Verbesselt, Senior Vice President Group Marketing

The VR hype is intensifying.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle listed it as one of the trends to be "of the highest priority" in the next few years. And according to CCS Insight, consumers will be buying 97 million headsets by 2020.

Despite Gartner describing VR as only just recently making it to the "slope of enlightenment" (meaning businesses are starting to see how it can really benefit them), serious discussion about VR and its various applications has, in fact, abounded for years.

As the discussion of VR evolved from the stuff of sci-fi fantasy into the realms of academia, attempts at taxonomy inevitably surfaced. Most of them revolved around the input and output mechanisms of a VR system – take M.K.D. Coomans’ and H.J.P Timmermans’ model from 1997, for example.

But today, given VR is now a serious prospect for the TV industry, it’s surely sensible to take a more consumer-centric approach. We should look to create something that can categorise the degree to which a certain behaviour or perception is facilitated.

A new taxonomy for VR

The main axes we should employ for a new taxonomy are the degree of immersion (with sub-categories visual, aural and sensory, or haptic) along with the degree of interaction.

Within this, we should also distinguish between selection of content (what we’re watching) and actual interaction with objects within the content (what’s happening, or the course of actions). This basically divides VR for TV into four categories (see figure 1). 

Now this is by no means exhaustive (nor should it be), but it should nonetheless enable us to create a clearer road map for the development of VR in TV.

Where do things sit right now? Well, mainstream DTV in 2017 would sit in the bottom left of the diagram. In contrast, the ultimate of goal of truly immersive and interactive content – what we’ll call programmatic storytelling – where the story itself reacts to actions triggered by the viewer who themselves become part of the story, would sit in the top right. Basically, we’re still some way off from achieving that goal.

If we look for a catalyst to ever achieving that goal, the gaming industry is not only the obvious but also the most credible candidate. It can add its story telling expertise, allowing consumers to interact with (albeit simple) storylines.

So what until then?

Firstly, we shouldn’t be too disheartened. This kind of exercise isn’t meant to be pessimistic – it should rather help the TV industry think of the long-term future of VR and TV.

But until then, the immediate question is surely: what does the timeline look like as we cross from the bottom left of that map through to the top right?

Well, in the next five years, it’s likely that virtual reality will remain a niche practice restricted to short-form content, likely increasingly packaged as complements to long-form content. But within that timeframe, there is some (fairly) low-hanging fruit for the industry.

For example, manufacturers could use existing content and make it available for consumption in a VR setting (we could call this “virtual cinema”). They could also leverage 360-degree TV (consumable on a VR headset in an inherently immersive way – although they could also view it in a non-immersive way by panning the image on a regular TV set). They could also use virtual presence, where the place is the story – static spaces, events, simple scenes with basic storylines and more. In the interim, it’s promising to note how many smaller innovations the industry can explore. 

By employing this kind of taxonomy, manufacturers can surely better identify their own targets, and work towards their goals with purpose, rather than simply waiting for innovations to appear.

The industry can’t make huge leaps overnight, so it will be beneficial to take advantage of the available shorter-term solutions to help bridge the gap – both for manufacturers and consumers! 

If you wish to know more about the solutions and services we offer to help service providers deliver to their consumers a compelling, frictionless access to all content on all screens, please contact us at dtv@nagra.com.