Mainstream VR is Here

The New York Times (NYT) has launched a major initiative to integrate VR (short for “virtual reality”) into their digital news coverage.

Their first big reporting series with VR has been the stories of three refugee children.

bbv-HanaTheir stories are part of a larger series titled “The Displaced” that the NYT has been running for more than a week.

I’d seen the heavily promoted VR component to the story, but simply hadn’t taken the time to try it.

If you’re like me, VR has been something that you’ve been hearing about for so long that it seems too (1) time-consuming, (2) complicated (3) slow (4) or gamer-ish.

My opinion has changed.

Our NYT subscription includes the digital edition and the Sunday print edition.

IMG_8510So, this past weekend, we received – as we assume tens of thousands of others did – a Google cardboard VR viewer bundled in with the newspaper’s protective plastic wrapper.

It was sheathed with a nice GE-branded container and came with a small 1-page instruction sheet.

IMG_8511The VR viewer came pre-assembled and the instructions to download the iPhone app were straightforward.

The app downloaded rapidly from iTunes and its set-up instructions were simple.

However, there is an easy to reach FAQ section, just in case a little extra hand-holding is required.

IMG_8513The app and “The Displaced” story series were produced in partnership with VRSE, a VR high-end production company, specializing in VR films.

Each VR movie downloads to your smartphone, before playing.

So, ideally, you’ll want to be connected to a broadband wi-fi or hardwired network when you download the films.

With each movie, there is a bit of information, displaying its run-length, as well as its file size.

There is also a direct link to the New York Times “print” article for which the VR film is a companion.

IMG_8512REMEMBER: the NYT is a paywall publication that allows 10 free article views per month, after which a valid account is required.

Sidenote: the paywall seems to be working, as the company recently announced that its online subscription base had passed the one million subscriber mark. (Gee: it only took nearly 20 years to navigate that disruption!)

This was the first time I’d really used a VR viewer and I found the production values to be quite good.

The filmmaking itself was compelling, with the pacing and choice of shots, dramatic.

You are truly transported to another part of the world, instantly.

A few tips to optimize your experience, should you try it:

  1. Use headphones or earbuds to get the accompanying sound – it’s essential to the stories.
  2. Sit down when you use the VR viewer. Sitting will prevent you from losing your balance or accidentally running into something or someone.
  3. IMG_8516Use a swivel chair, when sitting. The filmmakers have packed so much into the story of each of the three children that you will want to take it all in, as a full 360-degree experience. A swivel chair will allow you to move in every direction.
  4. Dim or turn off your room or your office lights, if you can, to reduce the glare and get more of the full picture and color of the story.

Finally, VR seems to be hitting a mainstream tipping point.

With Youtube updating its flagship Android app to switch videos to a VR mode, it’s only a matter of time – months perhaps – when more and more of us will be choosing to watch our VR videos.

You know what that means, right?

bbv-mcflyThat Bob Zemeckis’s comedic-dystopian view of 2015 in Back to the Future II only missed its timing by a few months!

Who could forget the scene of Marty McFly’s future teenage son, outlandishly captured in full VR-viewing twitchiness at the dinner table!

God (and New York Times) help us!!

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