Consumer VR Shipping This Week Amid Big Investments
The Gear VR phone-based headset will lose its “Innovator Edition” moniker this week when a redesigned version, compatible with several Samsung phones, starts shipping. The $100 accessory aimed at a broader set of buyers arrives after a year-long push by Oculus to spur mobile VR app development. Those apps and games have been hitting the Oculus Store in recent weeks. Turret space-fighter Gunjack from Iceland-based CCP Games is among them, launching this week alongside the new headset. The company (creator of EVE Online) is also building space-fighter EVE: Valkyrie for the Rift and PlayStation VR and got a $30 million investment to strengthen its VR development slate.
In other investment news, cable giants Comcast and Time Warner invested $30.5 million into Laguna Beach live-streaming company NextVR, which recently streamed the Democratic Presidential Debate and the NBA season opener. Milpitas-based eye-tracking company Eyefluence raised $14 million (2-minute video explainer). Sólfar Studios, which raised $2.1 million in a seed round, is recreating Everest (1-minute trailer) in VR using 300,000 photos of the mountain. Actor Kevin Spacey invested in Woofbert, another startup which launched an app this week on Gear VR allowing wearers to explore an art gallery.
360 videos subject of debate
Will Smith, formerly of Tested and founder of a VR startup, wrote an editorial for Wired about the limitations of 360 video: “It isn’t really good, though. This is just the latest example of content creators shoehorning old formats into new technologies.” The comments come after the high-profile launch of New York Times 360-degree documentary The Displaced, which saw Times public editor Margaret Sullivan respond to critics questioning the way the footage was captured with subjects who might’ve been asked to repeat an action.
“In traditional photo or video, they stand behind their camera and craft scenes so they do not appear to be present,” videographer Ben C. Solomon said. “We had to hide.”
A 72-page book about this kind of VR journalism looking at a PBS case study is free and downloadable. Facebook expanded its support for 360-degree videos to iPhones and added new partners, like Buzzfeed, which debuted a video looking at the aftermath of a California fire. Also, 360-degree video hosting service Vrideo launched its iPhone app.
Hand tracking company Leap Motion hosted a 3D Jam competition and more than 180 apps were entered. A post on UploadVR singled out apps with videos showing interesting concepts for interacting with software using finger and hand movements.