Virtual Reality Poised to Make an Impact

Philip Lelyveld tries out a VR headset.

Virtual reality has been bubbling in the background for several years, and the technology has evolved to the point where creating VR content with standard VR tools is becoming possible. It will be the focus of today’s Virtual Reality Summit, which begins at 1 p.m.

Virtual Reality Summit will have individual sessions on the current state of VR, audio, live streaming virtual content and the business of virtual reality.

Philip Lelyveld, program manager for the VR/AR Initiative at the University of Southern California Entertainment Technology Center, will open with the session “The Current State of Virtual Reality,” during which he will present an overview of recent developments in the technology, art and business of VR.

NAB Show attendees probably have an image in mind about how virtual reality works, but the ideal VR world is more than just images that track your eyes. For example, sound is a feature of wellmade VR presentations.

The $99 Zeiss VR One headset uses the owner’s cell phone for its display.

The $99 Zeiss VR One headset uses the owner’s cell phone for its display.

“Audio, which is more than half the VR experience, is rarely discussed at conferences,” said Lelyveld. “Everyone focuses on the headsets, screen resolution [and visual aspects]. We see in front of us, but we hear sounds from all around.”

The session “Virtual Reality Audio” will provide a better understanding of how to make the virtual more real. The one-hour session will be moderated by Jacqueline Bošnjak, CEO of New York-based music and sound design studio Q Department. Last year, Q Department launched Mach1, a sound technology company specializing in adaptation, invention and development of sound technologies for virtual reality.

“Sound creates 50 percent of the presence, and for real immersion you need to inhabit a persistent universe where there is consistency and quality control that maintains suspended disbelief,” Bošnjak said. “The world we are portraying via sensory input or implied physics needs to be above a certain threshold to be convincing, and it needs to remain consistently above that threshold.”

A panel of producers with hands-on experience in a variety of live VR streaming situations will discuss their victories, pitfalls to avoid and lessons learned in the session “Live Streaming Virtual Reality.”

Scott Lenet

Scott Lenet

Moderating the hour-long session on “The Business of Virtual Reality” will be Scott Lenet, president of venture capital company Touchdown VC.

Lenet is convinced that virtual reality is the new frontier in entertainment and learning, and is looking forward to being in the thick of the work.

“VR will be a mass medium like mobile computing, desktop computing or television,” he said. “The number and type of VR applications will carry the medium beyond a mere niche — from the obvious, like filmed entertainment, gaming, news and education, to the truly innovative, including healthcare and psychiatric solutions.”

Lenet pointed out that mainstream success has some significant requirements.

“The hurdles for mass adoption are price and a critical mass of content,” he said. “We are seeing evidence of sufficient demand for products priced for mass adoption, like the Samsung Gear VR and the Sony PlayStation VR. Content will be produced by hundreds of startups that are now entering the industry, along with established entertainment and gaming studios.”

As a player on the financial side, Lenet knows that it’s all about return on investment. He thinks VR is at that tipping point.

“This sector has all the ingredients to achieve lift-off,” he said.

Since VR deals with images and sound, the attendees at the NAB Show are the perfect audience for this material. After all, they are the ones who create the images and sound that the world already enjoys.

“Anyone who thinks their management might ask them ‘what is VR, how does it apply to our business and what should we be researching’ will get a lot of information from the Virtual Reality Summit,” Lelyveld said. “The presentation and panels will focus on recent experiences, lessons learned and what to expect in the near future.”