Bringing immersive video to the masses
Today I am excited to announce that Highland Capital is leading a $28 million financing of Jaunt and that I am joining the company’s Board of Directors.
Experiencing Jaunt in person is hard to describe in words. My first thought was, “This must be what teleportation feels like.” I was watching full 360 degree, HD, stereoscopic videos of nature scenes, concerts, sporting events, and first-person narratives. In all of these, I had a strong feeling of presence and “place shifting.” As I moved my head around in space, both the visuals and audio moved with me, as they would in the real world. While I had seen virtual reality (VR) simulations before, this sensation was unlike anything I had ever experienced. No uncanny valley. No simulator sickness. No visible image artifacts. Just the real world displayed as it would appear if I were actually at that place and time.
The incredible team at Jaunt has broken quite a bit of new technical ground to create these experiences. Thanks to companies like Oculus, the significant display challenges of VR are on their way to being solved. What Jaunt has invented is a fully integrated hardware and software platform to capture the real world in high fidelity, for display in VR devices like Oculus. We call it “cinematic VR,” and we think it will enable a whole new type of visual storytelling. Moreover, Jaunt as a platform for content creation marks the first truly compelling, non-gaming application of VR we have seen.
Yet, the most fascinating implication of Jaunt lies in its promise of bringing “immersive” video to the masses. The entire history of the big and small screen has been a monotonic march towards greater immersion, but with increasingly expensive and complex solutions.
That march started in 1896, when Auguste and Louis Lumière released L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, a 50-second movie depicting a steam-driven train pulling into a station in a French coastal town:
One of the first publicly exhibited films, L’arrivée was shot continuously, with no cuts, and from a fixed position (like many early Jaunt films, actually). While the film may be unremarkable to the modern eye, a popular urban legend tells the story of audience members rising from their seats and running to the back of the room in fear of the oncoming train, so powerful was the illusion of depth and dimension intentionally created by the Lumières on a 2D surface. (Nearly 40 years later, the two brothers attempted to re-create L’arrivée with stereoscopic/3D cameras, but the technology didn’t catch on at that time.)
Screens got larger and higher resolution, at the behest of an increasingly demanding general audience. At the 1974 World’s Fair, IMAX took the idea of immersion to an unforeseen extreme, by building a screen to engulf the entire forward field of view of a moviegoer for the first time. At that event, over 5 million people experienced the nature film Man Belongs to Earth, at times soaring above the planet’s surface from a first-person view:
IMAX theaters have since grown to gargantuan scales. Giant curved screens with 180 degree fields of view are not uncommon, like this IMAX Dome theater:
Later, 3D technology brought immersion to a new level. It probably owes the most to director James Cameron, who in 2003 created Ghost of the Abyss — the first full-length IMAX experience in 3D:
Six years later, he famously released Avatar, which officially brought 3D movie technology to the mainstream. Avatar also happens to be the 6th most expensive film ever, with a $237M budget:
The trend seems to be that, as consumers express their desire for more immersive experiences, the film and exhibitor industries respond with more expensive, monolithic solutions.
With Jaunt, we are breaking this dependency. Immersive video will soon be available to the mass market, to be experienced in comfort of your own home on any number of relatively cheap, VR devices. The economics of this new media format will be fundamentally different. No longer will elaborate custom rigs be required to shoot in panorama or 3D, nor will the viewing experience take place in multimillion dollar, dome-shaped exhibit halls. Instead, you will “jaunte” (c.f. The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester) from your couch to your favorite band’s concert, to the Colosseum in Rome, to a fictional WWII narrative, and be back in time for dinner.
By lowering the economic and technical barriers to both the filming and exhibition of cinematic VR, Jaunt has given the creative community a wonderful gift. I am excited to play a small role in that journey, and thank Jaunt’s co-founders Jens, Arthur, and Tom for welcoming me on board, as well as my fellow Board members, Tim Haley and Peter Gotcher.