I've experienced my fair share of virtual tours around the world. And as a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm especially critical when it comes to the particular manner of the way that my home is portrayed to the outside world.
Naturally, I was curious when I heard that Verizon remodeled its downtown San Francisco flagship store and designated an area just for virtual reality, complete with Pixel smartphones and Daydream View headsets for tourists and passersby to try out on their way towards transit or one of the many museums clustered in the area. It's a genius outreach strategy; what better way to sell people on what your available library of smartphones can do than by exhibiting their prowess in a high-traffic area?
I took a little field trip from my small fortress in the suburbs to the foggy abyss of San Francisco to try out one of the new VR experiences on display at Verizon's Market Street location. To commemorate the grand re-opening of the store, the company tapped RYOT, a VR content creation studio, to develop three different virtual reality experiences as a proper demonstration for the Pixel phones.
"As Verizon was thinking about their new store experience, they wanted to show off some new technology," explained Bryn Mooser, RYOT's co-founder. One of those experiences includes A Love Letter to San Francisco, a short and succinct fly-by of some of the city's most frequented places and some of its less-explored monuments. "Our hope is that it encourages people to go out and see it in the real world," added Mooser. "We even worked with the city of San Francisco, which gave us some great access "
Soaring through San Francisco
A Love Letter to San Francisco starts with you soaring high above the Golden Gate Bridge before it rapidly transitions into scenes elsewhere around the city. The usual suspects are all there, including Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, Haight Street, and Lombard Street. There's even a quick ride on a cable car, followed by a stellar shot that looks as if someone launched the camera out of North Beach's Coit Tower and then hovered it above the eastern part of the city.
As Mooser explained it, the RYOT team used a combination of drones and helicopter shots to capture the scenes around San Francisco. The hardware included the Jaunt camera and a few Sony A7s. All the video content was shot in 8K resolution, too, to ensure the utmost quality. "We wanted to make sure it was at the highest possible frame rate," said Mooser. And it certainly appears high-res, as you can hardly see the stitching in any of the scenes. I even made sure to look down every once in a while to see if there was a line distinguishing the different halves of the 360-degree video.
What impressed me most about A Love Letter to San Francisco were the subjects represented in each scene. In one shot, there's a cluster of mothers — residents of San Francisco, as it were — presiding over their children enjoying themselves on the Seward Streets Slides. Then, there's a quick jaunt inside La Taqueria, a long time staple in the Mission District and a popular place to get a burrito after an evening of bar hopping and general debauchery. Even the Haight Street scene didn't default to the corner of Haight and Ashbury, where most stock shots do; instead, it took us right in front of Amoeba Records, one of the last remaining record stores in the Bay Area.
A Love Letter pays homage to the oft-forgotten foggy west side and its historical landmarks.
The addition of the neighborhood shots makes A Love Letter to San Francisco an authentic piece of content. Typically, tours of San Francisco tend to preside around tourist attractions, like Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf, mentioned above. They hardly ever delve into the outskirts of the city, like the Sunset and Richmond districts, where a majority of San Francisco's populace resides. But A Love Letter pays homage to the oft-forgotten foggy west side and its historical landmarks, and it feels as if someone mapped out their San Francisco love story for the rest of us to experience first hand.
Where you can try it for yourself
Verizon has published a preview of A Love Letter to San Francisco to YouTube, but it's not the entire story. If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can check out the virtual reality experience at Verizon's downtown San Francisco locale at 786 Market Street.