New Media Interchange #022

VR News Abounds + More


This is New Media Interchange where we talk about the media world beyond mainstream television and radio, including podcasting, YouTube, live streaming, gaming and more.

NMI is Hosted by Douglas E. Welch, pioneer podcaster, blogger and writer.



In today’ show…

  • Benefiting from the “New Media Multiplier”

IN THE NEWS

The VR world continues to dominate the New Media news this week as commercial products inch closer and closer to being available to the average consumer. VR is all that anyone seems to be talking about, even if they aren’t quite sure what exactly what it is. For myself, in an effort to experience at least some low end VR content, I picked up a Google Cardboard viewer via Amazon.com this week so that I could check out a few sites for VR Content, including Jaunt VRs extensive, app-based, portal of Google Cardboard content. So far, it is looking pretty interesting, even using the relatively low-res iPhone 6 as the display. I can only imagine how impressive something like Samsung’s Gear VR or the Oculus Rift must be with its high-res, high quality displays. I am working on getting some hands-on experience with those devices as soon as I can.

That might not be far off either, as the Gear VR is set to become one of the first consumer-level VR headsets to become available and it’s cost will be well-within my personal technology “pain threshold”, being priced at only $100. I find that a bit amazing, really. I think this pricing will make it a go-to device for those who want to dabble and try out VR without making the big price jump to Oculus Rift or other more expensive, if more fully featured, devices.

According to a recent article in The Verge, the Gear VR will ship in November in the US, ahead of the post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sales and into the holiday season. I think this availability and price point could make it one of the biggest technology sellers this year. Sure, you still need a Samsung tablet or smartphone to drive the device, but there are several million of those already in the hands of customers and the Gear VR will also be supported by all 2015 model devices by Samsung.

I wonder if any such phone-based VR experience can match the higher-resolution of devices like the Oculus Rift, Hololens or Sony’s Project Morpheus, but it’s “good enough” design and first mover availability could be enough to help it act as a bit of a “gateway drug” for VR, even if it doesn’t provide an optimal VR experience. Will people run out to by a Samsung phone just in order to use Gear VR? That remains to be seen. I think some of the more dedicated technophiles might do that, but most Gear VR users are going to come from the ranks of those that already own compatible Samsung devices.

It will be quite interesting to see how the Gear VR accepted and reviewed by regular consumers. I hope that expectations haven’t been set too high by the industry, but some disillusionment by new customers is sure to be felt. It isn’t just the VR devices themselves that are new, but VR content is in its very infancy. Sure, studios around the world are gearing up production of VR content, but it current state of the industry still reminds me of the transition from silent films to sound. Content creators have to learn the vocabulary of how to best tell a story — whether news or narrative content — in the world of VR. There is sure to be lots of content equivalent to the jabbing spears of early 3D movies or the ransom note look of early Macintosh desktop publishing. It is going to take a while for the industry to settle out and back away from the geez whiz features and get back to telling a compelling story.

The new Gear VR will work with any new Samsung phone and cost $99

The $100 Samsung Gear VR Is Going to Change Everything


Of course, with the greater availability of consumer VR equipment will come an even great need for VR content. People will be eager for new and better content to justify their purchases, or possible purchase, of a VR headset. Nothing is worse than buying a new device and find a dearth of content for it. This has happened will all new technologies like vide0 cassette recroders, CDs, Bluray DVDs and more and will probably continue to happen to all new technologies in the future. Content always lags behind hardware for a variety of reasons. Developers don’t necessarily want to commit large resources to a new technology until its success as a standard is assured. This is a chicken and the egg problem that will probably be with us for the foreseeable future.

Still, there are several companies focusing on VR content creation, including JauntVR, mentioned here before, who recently received $65 million in funding from Disney and other Hollywood studios. Not only did Jaunt create some of the hardware needed for 360 degree and 3D VR content, they are also at the forefront of creating content using those devices. The Jaunt VR app hosts some of the most popular VR examples available including a live, VR, video of Sir Paul McCartney performing “Live and Let Die” on stage.

Disney Invests in Jaunt as Part of $65 Million Round That Makes It Highest-Funded VR Startup


Of course, our New Media world isn’t just made up of content produced by big name, deep pockets companies like Disney. The force of user generated is not going to go away and will instead be applied to VR, too. There is a place in the VR world for user-generated content, just as there was on YouTube and with podcasting. There will be those people who will reach out to this new world and might even create very successful careers providing some sort of VR content.

One company, Voxelus, is betting on the history of user-generated content by developing software to allow anyone to create VR content and deliver it to the consumer.

In an article in Fast Company, author Daniel Terdiman, said,

“Voxelus announced its end-to-end VR content creation and distribution system. I got a firsthand look at the Voxelus platform, and it’s for real: It’s possible for anyone, from novice to expert, to quickly build a simple VR game, upload it, and have it running on hardware like a Gear VR shortly thereafter.”

The goal of Voxelus is to make VR content creation open to anyone who wants to try their hand at it. As with many content creations, pre-built assets and objects help jumpstart user’s building.

“At launch, Voxelus is providing 250 free objects, and plans on adding more every week. Over time, however, it hopes to vastly expand the offerings by allowing anyone to make their own objects and sell them in a content marketplace: a VR app store, if you will, that can accept existing 3-D objects created using industry-standard software.”

Sure, not all user generated content is exceptional, but tools like Voxelus could open up the world of VR creation to nearly everything. If there is one thing I have learned in my time in New Media, you can never be quite sure what or who will resonate with an audience. Success in New Media often requires “throwing content against the wall and seeing what sticks.” VR creation tools give content creators the ability to create and innovate quickly and find an audience for their content, even if they didn’t know that audience even existed.

You can try out Voxelus for yourself via a free download from their site. It is available for both Mac and Windows. You’ll find a link in the show notes.

With Voxelus, The Age of User-Generated Virtual Reality Content Is Upon Us


As a Minecraft player myself, I have long wondered over the possibilities for Minecraft in a VR world — something Microsoft was also thinking when it decided to acquire Minecraft’s parent company, Mojang last year.

On of the highlights of this year’s E3 conference was a demo of Minecraft using Microsoft’s own VR product, Hololens. One might think that since they are developing their own VR device, Microsoft might be reticent to allow Minecraft to work on other VR platforms. That fear was dispelled a bit when, last week at the Oculus Connect 2 conference, Microsoft announced that Minecraft Windows 10 version will be available for the Oculus Rift VR system when it launched in Spring 2016.

This is welcome news for both the VR and Minecraft communities, as it seems to show that Microsoft will continue to support a variety of multiple platforms as Mojang did originally. Minecraft can be played on Windows and Mac PCs, in a mobile device “Pocket Edition” for iOS and Android and even on Microsoft’s own xBox systems. I hope they continue to support a wide variety of VR devices in the future.

Minecraft seems like a great entry-level VR creation system and one that has a long history and a strong community. Robust creative tools for Minecraft already exist and are used heavily by existing Minecraft players and creators. MC Edit allows for deep control of the development of Minecraft worlds beyond the standard interface and others product, like VoxelSniper (http://dev.bukkit.org/bukkit-plugins/voxelsniper/) takes world design to even more amazing heights. It seems to me that Minecraft, using these tools and more, could become one of the foremost VR creation tools as headsets and other hardware become available. These highly developed creation tools, along with creators existing deep knowledge of them could produce some amazing worlds to start our VR adventures with Oculus Rift and beyond.

Minecraft coming for Oculus Rift this spring


In other New Media news, Facebook has announced it will now support VR-style 360 degree video in user’s timelines. While other sites, such as YouTube have provided support for 360 degree videos already, this is Facebook’s first entry into the world. This follows close on the heels of expanded support for videos on Facebook and also possibly shows some of the benefits of Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift.

One of Facebooks examples for this announcement of 360 degree video was

“an exclusive 360 experience from [the] upcoming movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, bringing fans inside the beloved Star Wars universe.”

Additional 360 degree content is also being shared by other large companies such as GoPro, Discovery Channel and Saturday Night Live.

360 degree video us currently supported on the desktop by using the mouse to change your view as the video plays and on Android devices by moving your phone around in 3-D space to see more of the video. iOS support is not yet available, but Facebook says that it will be provided in the next few months.

One could imagine in the future, once the Oculus Rift is available, a Facebook virtual environment where you seamlessly move from reading your Facebook time into a VR video, photo or even an interactive VR world with just a click. Today such things might seem a bit like Alice going down the rabbit hole, but the feasibility and implementation of systems like this grow closer every day.

You can watch the Star Wars demo mentioned above and get more information directly from Facebook using the link in the show notes.

Facebook Brings VR-Style 360-Degree Video To News Feed


Followups

In followups to previous New Media Interchange stories, it seems like competition is a good thing for online gaming content providers. At last week’s first TwitchCon, hosted by the well-known live streaming site now owned by Amazon, the company announced a number of changes to their service, including Playlists, so Streamers can stream past broadcasts when they aren’t online live, the ability to directly upload content recorded elsewhere to their Twitch Channel — much as they would upload a recorded video to YouTube and a new HTML5-based video player which replaces the requirement for Adobe’s Flash player — a move the YouTube took a month or so ago.

In fact, Engadget author Jessica Conditt think that Twitch learned a lot from YouTube’s recent roll out of their YouTube Gaming site and apps. In her article, Twitch Learned a Lot from YouTube Gaming she says,

“Twitch’s new Playlist and video-on-demand options attempt to close the gap between its live and archived content, highlighting previous broadcasts as well as live shows. Video uploads allow streamers to plan more organized segments with higher production values, just like YouTube has for years. Switching to HTML5 should modernize Twitch’s video quality and its embed options, an essential part of YouTube’s own success. “

I think this is a clear example of how a little competition can help all the players in a market step up their game. Without it, too many companies — and frankly, too many people — will simply operate under the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” rule, which quickly brings innovation to a halt. I don’t think we need to have the Highlander-like competition we often see in the technology world of “There can be only one!”, but small, healthy competition that brings real, concrete, advantages to the customer will always be welcome.

Conditt goes on to say,
“YouTube Gaming clearly learned a ton from Twitch’s experiments in video game streaming, and this time around, Twitch is taking some lessons from YouTube.”

Twitch learned a lot from YouTube Gaming


As rumored in the last episode, Google did indeed introduce 2 new Chromecast products during an event this week. The new Chromecast 2.0 keeps the original $35 USD price but is said to improve the quality of both interaction with the device from your smartphone and also the quality of the streamed video. One welcome physical addiction is an integral short cable which makes it much easier to plug into your television’s HDMI ports without interfering with other cables or devices you might have. This has been a small issue with my own TV here, as the old Chromecast was right at the limits on width. Any wider and I wouldn’t have been able to use the adjacent HDMI port.

A new device, Chromecast Audio will allow users to turn any speakers with a standard ⅛” audio jack into a networked audio player. You can send audio from any Chromecast compatible app to the new device or mirror audio from your laptop, using the Chrome browser or from your Android phone or tablet. Chromecast Audio carries the same $35 price of the Chromecast 2.0. Both devices are now available from the Google Store online or your local Best Buy store.

SFX: Clip from NCIX Tech Tips video — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw-6983idOo

Google takes on Apple TV with revamped Chromecast 2.0

Google’s Chromecast 2.0 is faster more colorful and still just $35


Hardware Hotlist

In the Hardware Hotlist this episode is the Sennheiser AVX digital wireless microphone system. The Sennheiser AVX costs around around $800 in various configurations and while not cheap, this system, available in both handheld mic and lavalier options, can be a great, problem free solution for gathering great audio, at significant distances, with enhanced reliability.

SFX: Audio clip from Linus Tech Tips review video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ogIXf0xPRg

The system receiver supports balanced XLR connection directly to your camera or external recorder for the best sound possible. It can also be mounted to your camera’s hot shoe for optimal positioning and ease of use.

This system uses the 1900 Mhz wireless band and also includes automatic adjustment of frequency and signal strength to maintain the best sound quality possible.

You can watch a detailed review of the Sennheiser AVX digital microphone from Linus Tech Tips on YouTube. You’ll find a link in the show notes.

Sennheiser AVX at Amazon.com


In The Classroom

Today, In The Classroom is a short 5 min video with Saschka Unseld, Creative Director at Oculus Story Studio. As I have mentioned before, finding the vocabulary and methods of VR Storytelling is still in its infancy. People like Unseld are seeking to find the balance and the differences between traditional filmmaking and VR.

In the video, he speaks of many of the differences between traditional and VR characters, scenes and settings including how closeups need to be handled, the 4th wall — or lack thereof — comedy and empathy and much more. There is a lot packed into this video that any VR content creator should see. It gives a good starting point for further exploration.

Saschka Unseld — Uncovering the Grammar of VR



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