Google has been partnering with assorted production and sporting companies to produce VR content for its Daydream Viewer. I think the idea is to show what can be done to improve on normal TV formulas and how companies can enhance peoples viewing with VR. Some of their attempts fall wildly short of "enhancing". Let's take a look at some of the examples.
Note: I will be critiquing this content by it's use of VR first and foremost. The actual content is secondary to how the content uses VR to enhance the experience. If it wasn't then all the sportsball stuff would instantly be the worst, I don't like sport so will concentrate on the VR instead.
Confessionals is a collaboration with Youtube VR and Felix & Paul Studios. The first episode features a comedian named Lilly Singh, sitting in a confessional booth, telling you about being a virgin later in life. Now let me says from the outset Lilly is extremely funny, and if you get a chance check out her stand-up, but Lilly isn't the problem with this show.
The issue with this is the VR, and thats why we are here right? The VR in this consists of sitting in a confessional booth, so as you can imagine there is very little going on. Oh sure you can look all around you but that doesn't matter when all around you is a wooden box. There is simply no reason to make this a 360 experience. Looking around gives you no added content or even pleasure. There is if you look closely an out of focus Stain glass window through the door but at no point do you see anything worth your time other than Lilly. Because Lilly is speaking directly to you why would you look around? The intimate nature of the setting made me feel uncomfortable looking away, after all it's rude isn't it? If Lilly was talking to someone else and we were there, say at a cocktail party then we would feel comfortable in taking in the scenery but when you are stuck in the role of priest hearing a confession you are focused on the confessor. It's weird, it's poorly executed and simply doesn't make sense in VR.
NBA VR: App
NBA VR is a standalone app by Digital Domain for an ongoing series of interviews with Basketball stars. The experience is set up to feel like a threeway, fireside conversation between you, the Host, and the NBA star and you can easily look around and enjoy the details in the house Digital Domain have made for you.
The VR in this is fairly basic. It feels a lot like the chalet where you watch Netflix but with the added bonus of basketball posters and signed basketballs to look at. The 2 people you are watching sit far enough apart so you have to move your head to see each them, much like a real conversation, and as you aren't the center of focus you can choose who to look at whenever you like. The show also has a cool pop up vid screen that lets all 3 of you watch videos of the guests games and get a play by play experience of it straight from the horses mouth. I am not a sports fan at all but i can see how people would get a real kick out of such an intimate setting.
The Female Planet, Gina Rodriguez: Youtube
This was a much better outing than the last. Aside from Gina being an interesting person and her message being positive, there is some actual VR here! This video has you as the part of an interviewer, walking around with Ms Rodriguez as she explains her early career and the choices she has made. It is shot in different locations and plenty to look at.
The opening scene sets up the VR experience. While Gina speaks of being a boxer she is shadow boxing with you. moving around the screen making you engage with her by physically moving your head. This kind of camera work is consistent all through the video with tracking shots that make you turn your head and new scenes starting with the camera pointing away from Gina. Unlike the Confessional video, Gina isn't always focused on you. There is a great part where she is talking to you while driving a car, and although she glances over to you most of her attention is on the road. This allows you to look around and enjoy the L.A. scenery, while still listing to her, just like you would in a real car. Another nice addition is the voice over parts. There are a few moments where you spend your time flying over L.A. beaches and high rises as Gina speaks about her life. These give you a chance to enjoy the 360 experience fully and they are a welcome addition to the video.
Another sports App, NFL VR takes a slightly different approach than the NBA one. The NFL give you 3 rooms to check out in their daydream app and each one does something a little different. The first room is simply for choosing your teams colors. You walk in, pick a hat and the rest of the app changes to match that teams color scheme, my Father in Law is a Raiders fan so I chose the old Black and Grays for my theme.
The 3rd room is a Netflix style video room for you to watch great plays and touchdowns from the Football season. As video viewers go this on is pretty sweet. The screen is large and curved making it feel like a theater while the decor is full of huge footballs to make a sports fan grin. The 2nd room is the most VR of the bunch. Inside it has documentaries filmed with a VR camera that gives you that immersive, 360 experience that you always wants. Currently there are two videos, one of a team of cheerleaders and one of an actual team. You get to watch them practice and get short interviews with the important people on each team. The interviews are a nice touch as two people sit opposite each other so you can listen to one then turn and listen to each other. There is some excellent VR work going on here and for an NFL nerd I imagine it's great to see the team close up.
So whats the Future?
Will VR become the new normal for consuming content? Have you tried any of this content and did you like it? We are always interested in hearing from you so please, let us know in the comments.