Virtual reality gets jolt with YouTube app, free Google Cardboard

7 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

New York Times Magazine Leaps Into Virtual Reality.

YouTube announced two new features Thursday for its Android app that expand the video site’s use of virtual reality, giving the new technology its biggest platform yet. You won’t have to travel to war-torn places for this, thanks to the New York Times’ new virtual reality app that transports the readers(virtually only) to the story locales. To view it, a user would call up a virtual reality video on the YouTube app, click a button on the video for VR mode, and place the phone in Alphabet Inc’s “Cardboard” device, a handheld gadget made from the standard box material that creates a VR viewing experience.

That night, the Times celebrated the launch with a screening in Manhattan — if you’re wondering what a VR screening party looks like, imagine several dozen people grabbing a phone, sticking it in Google Cardboard, and moving their heads around silently while sneaking glances at the rest of the audience. The magic of emerging virtual reality technology is that it takes viewers close, very close, to the children — and the world — that are the subjects of the film. It’s the panel discussion afterwards, though, that proved more interesting, providing a deeper look at how the Times and Vrse approach VR — a look that’s alternately informative, thoughtful, bombastic, and strangely unreflective of how The Displaced actually takes advantage of the medium’s limits and potential. The app debuted with two feature films, one titled “The Displaced” tells the story of three children swept up in the world’s refugee crisis, and the other shows making of a recent Times Magazine cover.

It’s one thing to read about the refugee crisis, but being placed right in these war-torn worlds, able to look around at the people and the environment, changes your perspective substantially. You might expect the experience from watching news in virtual reality uninteresting and disappointing, but you would be surprised as to how powerful and moving news become with virtual reality, like the film The Displaced, which was incredibly moving. Similarly, it’s easy to admire Times Magazine “Walking New York” cover, but seeing the artist photograph from a helicopter above Manhattan will take away your breath. In effect, reading news off paper, sometimes poignant, does not produce the emotions needed to fully understand the gravity of what is being reported, but watching the same news by being placed in those locations is an entirely different experience, like in the case of the refugee crisis: reading about refugees is one thing, but watching it in first person through virtual reality is a whole different experience. Neil Schneider, executive director of VR trade organization Immersive Technology Alliance, noted that YouTube introduced 3D video in 2009 and was also an early adopter of high-definition video. “It’s not surprising they would take the angle of adding virtual reality,” he said.

Vrse CEO Chris Milk outright called it “the last medium” — the ultimate step in human communication, bridging the gap between representation and reality. “We started in caves and we moved to tribes and towns and villages and cities, but we still care about the things that are in our immediate vicinity. Schneider said the public can expect to see an explosion of high quality content, but said amateur content might be more difficult to come by because the gear to create VR content is typically expensive. Silverstein talks about a new kind of storytelling and the logistics involved in distributing more than a million pieces of Google Cardboard to Times subscribers across the globe.

But Jay Iorio, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers who has created films for Cardboard and Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, said he would not be surprised to see VR recording capabilities on smartphones. “The equipment I have right now, people will probably have on their phones in a couple years,” he said. There was a weird moment where Times photographer Lynsey Addario said she felt “almost obsolete” when she started shooting the accompanying still images. “I look at this technology and I think, wow, this is so incredible. They’re never going to speak to an audience in the way that virtual reality does.” She said she still sees power in photographs, though, and all the Times staff there agreed that VR is ultimately another tool in a large arsenal of storytelling options. But unless you read the written profile, you won’t connect it to the long, punishing seasons of fruit, nut, and vegetable picking she describes, or the comparatively luxurious life her family left behind in Syria. Google Cardboard’s unique properties, like the way it demands someone’s full attention, vividly illustrate the children’s experiences in a way text can’t.

The short film is most powerful, though, when you’ve read the more complex written story of their lives as refugees, getting context that pure immersive video can’t deliver.

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