Understanding Virtual Reality – Part 1
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
A short-hand introductory guide to virtual reality for business
The world of virtual reality is growing at an exponential rate with both business and consumers finding amazing, immersive ways to use the technology. From architectural previsualisation of buildings, where you can walk around a complex architectural structure before a single foundation has ever been laid, or to virtually visit Scotland and experience a VR whisky tasting in a genuine scotch whisky distillery (no need to learn to wear a kilt here), to battling Darth Vader in space ships across multiple interplanetary bases, there is very little that virtual reality cannot present in the most immersive way we have ever experienced, beyond reality itself of course.
As a business perhaps considering dipping your toes into the virtual world, or even one having already made those first steps and wanting to expand, there are a myriad of questions: How do you logically judge concepts and ideas? What factors will affect the budget you may require in delivering your project? What is the best technology choice? How can we be sure that consumers won’t be overwhelmed and suffer side effects? Will my consumers have access to appropriate hardware or do I need to provide this? And many, many more.
In this series of posts, we’re going to cover as much as possible, as concisely as possible, trying to impart the types of VR, the benefits, process and associated costs whilst being considerate of the time constraints a typical business owner has in researching such projects. I hope by presenting a short-hand introductory guide to virtual reality for business, to empower business owners to ask the right questions and to consider as wide a range options and scenarios as possible, whilst providing tools that may help to understand the typical budgetary requirements.
The benefits are fortunately shared no matter which route you choose – producing the sensation to varying degrees, referred to academically as “place illusion”, that you’ve just “been” to the location in the VR headset. Logically you know you haven’t but whilst immersed in the experience you suspend disbelief just as you do when watching a play or a film and this provides a tangible experience more akin to a real experience than a simple screen-based film or application. This is more likely then to create empathy with others in the scenario for example, or to imprint a fairly vivid experiential memory with the user.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is defined as "the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors."
Virtual Reality Creation
From the outset we should consider that although the most accurate definition of VR relates to a “computer generated simulation”, there are actually currently two common approaches to creating virtual reality content: Cinematic Virtual Reality (360 Video) which is filmed using specialist 360 degree cameras or rigs, in some cases in 3d too and Programmatic Virtual Reality (Model based) where the environment is computer generated using many of the same programming tools as used in game development. Static 360 photography is also an option for delivering a virtual reality experience, but as it’s fairly simple, it’s not covered to any great depth in this post.
In either cinematic or programmatic VR, the power of the medium is to fully immerse the viewer/user in a 360-degree environment and to produce the effect somewhat akin to being transported into a different environment, location or even time. We are all aware in our conscious mind that it’s not real, but when well created the place illusion persists and the best VR experiences engage at a much deeper level than any screen based experience – it’s an experience unlike most others, perhaps the closest thing to maybe visiting a theme park without the associated travel overhead.
Virtual Reality Uses
As with any emerging technology, there are a wide range of use cases although it’s important to consider that there’s equally many areas where it’s definitely not the best option. Over the years many technologies have had tremendous damage done to them by having gimmick driven content thrown at them, with little real concern for the quality of the user’s experience. For example, a number of films jumped on the 3D bandwagon post-Avatar with poorly converted content which actively did harm to the medium. Anyone experiencing one of these poor conversions left with having watched a substandard product and quite often a pulsing headache.
Similarly, a poor VR experience can definitely put people off for life, as the ability to make users nauseous is an almost instantaneous side-effect of poorly created content. In fact, the reverse approach must be taken in this type of production, starting from the point that the user will almost certainly be made nauseas and doing everything in your power to minimise the possibility of this happening.
In terms of how VR can be used there are so many positive use cases that I’ll outline just a few below.
Virtual Tours & Travel
One of the most obvious uses of VR is to allow guests to virtually visit a location without the need to travel. Whether this is as a sales tool to promote a virtual whisky tasting experience prior to a booking, or this becomes the experience itself, for example a virtual Nessie dive to the depths of Loch Ness where perhaps we'd catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness Moster - intrinsically virtually visiting a real or imagined location which is difficult or even impossible to actually reach. You wouldn't even have to learn how to wear a kilt to experience this!
Training & Education
It has been suggested that the immersive nature of VR creates more vivid memories, so users retention of information from a VR session, is likely to be higher than traditional methods. This can also be used to train individuals where there may be some risk involved such as fire safety training, medical training or flight training.
Museums & Heritage Sites
Recreating scenes and locations from time gone by allow users to experience history as if they’ve just stepped through time in a virtual time machine. Imagine being able to virtually visit Scotland to watch the construction of Hadrian's Wall or to visit the plague ridden streets and closes of Auld Edinburgh. There’s already a vast list of museums and heritage sites that have custom created VR content to strengthen the engagement with their visitors.
Construction & Architecture
The ability to virtually visit a building prior to it being physically built and to get a greater understanding of the space is a powerful tool for anyone in the construction and architecture business. At the other end of the scale there is already a huge market of providers creating photographic virtual tours for real estate sales and marketing, holiday providers and a whole host of others.
Brands were some of the earliest adopters of VR technology by creating promotional content that would allow consumers to peek behind the scenes at their factories, experience fighter jet flights or to visit Scotland and have a virtual whisky tasting session in a Scottish Distillery with a master blender. This list is virtually endless, the likelihood is there will be a worthwhile use for virtual reality no matter what field you are in.
What next? Understanding Virtual Reality – Part 2
In Understanding Virtual Reality - Part Two we cover VR hardware, HMDs and Computer Systems.
GO TO PART TWO >
Andrew Murchie is a creative technology consultant based in Edinburgh, Scotland specialising in VR, AR and stereoscopic 3d video. He has produced & directed innovative immersive AR/VR/XR content for clients & brands including Dynamic Earth, The Real Mary Kings Close, Huggies, Heinz, Glen Scotia Whisky, Highland Spring and Menabrea Birra.
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