Virtual reality took center stage at SXSW Interactive. We reflect on what we heard, saw and experienced.
Much like the conference’s host city, Las Vegas, CES 2017 was a sensory overload of gadgets and devices promising to simplify and/or improve your life. Among all the talking refrigerators and flat/flatter/flattest screen TVs was technology’s buzziest powerhouse: virtual reality.
If 2015 and 2016 were virtual reality’s years to crawl, 2017 is the year for it to walk. VR is gaining traction, from cinematic journalism to e-commerce applications, and the power for brands and businesses to utilize the technology has never been stronger. After setting time aside for digital digestion, we break down three key takeaways in and outside the headset.
This Isn’t VR’s First Rodeo
Ask any CES attendee if they’ve tried virtual reality, and you’re likely to hear a slightly offended laugh followed with, “Of course I have.” Paul James lays out a great timeline of VR at CES, noting Oculus Rift’s first attendance in 2013 “to show off their pre-production Rift headset prototype…followed by their wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.” My, how far we’ve come. 2017 marked the year virtual reality made a major appearance in the mainstream, with non-VR booths using the technology for marketing purposes, and more consumers owning headsets. Google’s Pixel and Daydream package made its debut among a handful of HTC Vive brand-focused marketing demonstrations, along with the opportunity to watch the CNET stage live in 360? streaming. VR is no longer a gimmick, but a tool in its own right.
Software Takes Center Stage
2016’s conference boasted headsets and hardware: Oculus Rift, Gear VR, HTC Vive, and a dozen more device prototypes. This year’s focus went deeper, with software development capturing everyone’s attention. As Changyin (CY) Zhou observed, “some core technologies are now more realistic,” bringing “inside-out tracking, wireless headsets, foveated streaming, spatial audio, hand-tracking, 4k or 8k VR cameras [and] real-time VR video stitching.” The fast pace of technology allows us to not only welcome a new focal point, but to simultaneously evaluate it. The average engagement time for 360 videos is only one minute, with more advanced, interactive experiences boasting a 10-minute view time. Your basic 360? video simply won’t cut it any longer. Users are already pining for more, whether it be smoother stitching, more crisp and realistic surroundings, or immersion within an experience.
Making Noise Isn’t Enough – We Have to Fine-Tune Our Sound
As David Shing recently wrote in AdWeek, the “side effect of disruptivity is that it temporarily blinds us to the quality of the experience from those technologies.” Virtual reality can no longer stand on novelty alone, and must begin to showcase meaningful, tech-advanced experiences. What good is a medium if the quality, and the message itself, is poor? CES 2017 left us with a more critical approach to what we’re seeing in headsets, and prompted a call to not only create something, but to do it well. Businesses and brands embracing VR must evaluate the deeper points of those campaigns: Is it telling a story? Is there a call to action? And most importantly, is it generating revenue? , brands and businesses must think in terms of content and conversions to truly utilize VR’s full potential.
Now that CES is over, attendees are left feeling wide-eyed, and a little worried. Alexa has the potential to replace everything people depend on. Consumers need to make room for self direction and exploration amidst all the gadgets driving our lives. With better software and more interactivity, CES displayed how virtual reality campaigns are allowing consumers to experience a brand’s story while taking the wheel for a bit, ultimately increasing engagement for both users and businesses. We’re excited to see how things evolve by 2018. See you next year, Las Vegas!