Facebook’s Big Challenge to Make VR a Social Experience

26 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Don’t let me hit that pole!’ Amusing video shows mum trying virtual reality gaming system Oculus Rift for the first time.

Suddenly, you’re on the roof of a skyscraper, looking down on the city below. USA TODAY editor Patty Michalski tries out an Oculus virtual reality device at the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, which took place March 13-17.(Photo: Mary Nahorniak, USATODAY) SAN FRANCISCO — One of the stars of Facebook’s two-day F8 developers’ conference — besides Mark Zuckerberg — is Oculus Rift, the futuristic virtual-reality goggle that the social networking giant bought for $2 billion.

YouTube user Jeff Cousins fitted the device to his mum, who is featured at the beginning of an amusing video commenting on the virtual characters seated beside her before cackling with laughter.Earlier this month at the Mobile World Congress, Samsung showed off the updated Gear VR Innovator Edition which also works with the newly announced Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. But while Oculus talks up 3D gaming as the device’s main purpose, other developers are exploring a whole different application for virtual reality headsets: a totally immersive pornographic experience. After the mother states that she is ready to begin the game, entitled Cyber Space, her son presses the play button and a safety bar lowers in front of her.

With few exceptions, I’ve found it takes but a quick demo on an Oculus Rift (or one of its growing number of competitors) for skeptics to realize how awesome—and awesomely immersive—the tech can be. If you’re eagerly waiting for the virtual reality headset, Gear VR, to hit retail starting March 27th at select Best Buy locations across the United States for $199.

Immediately the woman starts screaming and laughing in excitement as the giant swing ride pulls her backwards fast before virtually throwing her forwards. Five minutes, and all your held-over-from-the-nineties notions of VR (and, as the show Community recently pointed out, its disastrous effect on nineties cinema) are likely to dissolve into wide-jawed yelps of “Awesome”.

Seemingly blown away by the technology, the mother looks genuinely panicked as her son instructs her to look around to make the most of the experience. But what makes virtual reality more likely to find success where other futuristic seeming sex products (like the now defunct Real Touch (NSFW)) have failed?

Founded by Palmer Luckey, the device was released in the form of two development kits – the DK1 in 2012 and DK2 in 2014 – to give developers a chance to create content in time for its official release. At first, the Gear VR version will only work with the Galaxy Note 4, but the version compatible with the Galaxy S6 will go up for sale in the near future. Should VR porn live up to its promise, it might eventually transform the way we create and consume pornThough sex-focused technology like teledildonics may monopolize the press’s attention, it’s mainstream technologies with a secret sexual side that serve to transform the way we experience sex; VR resembles other technologies that have helped to transform adult media and sexuality in years past. During his keynote address Wednesday, Zuckerberg showed a slide that clearly indicates that he feels virtual reality ultimately is a preferable way to share experiences when compared with voice, text or photos.

VCRs allowed porn consumers to enjoy their fantasies in the privacy of their own home; the internet allowed them to access those fantasies without leaving the house; smartphones allowed for the exchange of naughty pictures. This is one reason I’m bullish on the future of podcasts: The audio-only nature of the medium makes it easy to consume while you are taking on other tasks such as hitting the gym or driving to work. Virtual reality headsets are another mainstream device positioned to upend our experience of sexuality: VR allows us to experience our sexual fantasies in a heightened, immersive manner. When my colleague Jessi Hempel entered the same virtual world yesterday morning, she stepped off the skyscraper, knowing that she was really standing in a tiny room at the back of an old maritime warehouse.

Given Facebook’s social emphasis, one can see the tech being applied to interpersonal communication in a way that could make Apple’s FaceTime conversations seem as quaint as letter writing. We’ll probably get to know more about Oculus Rift Wednesday, when Day 2 of F8 spotlights a keynote talk by Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash titled, “Why Virtual Reality Will Matter to You.” Tuesday’s press demos consisted of two parts. A self described “ladies’ porn star” who’s as likely to be found in a queer, feminist porn production as she is a more mainstream LA porn work, Darling is the opposite of Brian Shuster, who recently championed VR porn at SXSW — and she hopes her attitude towards adult content plus her team’s mastery of cutting-edge technology, will help her transform her industry. The first was a six-minute Crescent Bay experience, and the second was spending as much time as you liked with an Oculus-powered goggle made by Samsung paired to its Galaxy phone. Viewers are provided with a virtual bedroom, into which they can download packs of holographic sexual partners — along with a wide variety of scenarios.

Currently, VRTube.XXX only offers access to female holograms, but the team plans to expand include holograms of a variety of genders to appeal to users of a number of orientations. The immersive nature of VR also creates the possibility for content that consumers return to again and again, just to see all the details they may have missed the first time around. Other sites, like Virtual Real Porn, are already exploring heterosexual scenes shot from a female perspective, suggesting the VR porn market may be more eager to court a broader market than the one targeted by traditional porn. This is the gap Mark Zuckerberg must bridge in combining Facebook with virtual reality, now that his company owns the startup that built the Oculus headset. When you attend Sleep No More and Then She Fell—site-specific shows that encourage exploration of physical spaces—y0u experience different things, depending on where you find yourself and when.

Though a 360-degree head mount loaded with 12 GoPro cameras seemed like an appealing option, the 3D effect was lost when the camera came in for a close up; a serious issue in a medium that relies on close-ups. On Wednesday, during his conference keynote, Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook is now testing a kind of 360-degree video that can put you inside recreations of real places, in much the same way the Oculus demo puts you inside wholly imagined places.

User feedback suggests most sites are still perfecting the art of the virtual erotic experience There’s also the consideration of file size: on VRTube.XXX, the free demo pack runs a whopping 3.8G, an unwieldy size in an industry relies heavily on streaming video. Compression is nearly as big a concern as the creation of content itself: VR porn won’t be able to upend the industry if no one’s willing to wait for the files to download. The implication is that we’ll eventually spend our days watching not just good old-fashioned internet videos, but completely “immersive” videos streamed through something like the Oculus. Soon enough, it changed: Two robots fought over a rubber ducky, battling it out light-saber-style as sparks seemed to shower down all around me; a T-Rex charged at me from down a long, empty corridor; a big-eyed alien waved at me from his stellar landscape; and a futuristic war played out all around me, bullets cutting through the air in slow motion a la The Matrix.

Yes, the Oculus—and the Samsung Gear VR, where Facebook is already demoing its 360-degree videos—provide a far more nuanced experience than their non-immersive video counterparts. In a sense, VR porn is a natural extension of the popular POV genreLess clear is whether VR porn will pioneer a new form of highly interactive porn experience. But he hesitates when asked how much time he’s likely to spend with something like this on his head. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s a good question.” Another attendee, Hulker Heschberger, points out that 3-D movies—the theater variety—have never really succeeded because of the headwear problem. “It’s artificial,” he says.

A misstep in narrative might jolt the viewer into uncanny valley territory; too much focus on interactivity runs the risk of lessening the feeling of immersion, arguably the medium’s bigger strength. More importantly, interactive porn already exists as a genre, it’s just not very popular — certainly not as popular as the POV porn that’s served as the precursor to many immersive VR sex experiences. Haptics-enabled VR, which could allow users to feel their virtual companion in addition to seeing and hearing them, is still far in the future; virtual sex experiences that rival flesh and blood ones are even further still. Down the road, we’ll have a completely immersive way of communicating with people across the globe, but maybe something simpler is the better option—or at least the typical option. “Zuckerberg has said that VR is the most social thing,” Blau explains. “But in fact, it’s not.” Today, Facebook is about so easily sharing what you have with others. And when individuals strap on the goggles, they’re separated from those in their online social network (let alone the people standing beside them)—not drawn closer to them.

It will shrink down to something tiny, something that will fit on a pair of ordinary glasses that don’t completely separate us from this world, something like, well, Google Glass. He was stoic throughout, cracking up only when Seinfeld joked about how he and Larry David, sitting next to Sandler, had perhaps the last culturally dominant show on TV, noting, “It’s like we got the last two tickets to Disneyland before it burned down.”

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