Outlook 2019: Creating a VR tipping point
Issue: December 1, 2018

Outlook 2019: Creating a VR tipping point

For many in VR, Spheres represents a validation of the art form. Debuting at Sundance last year, writer/director Eliza McNitt’s ambitious VR project about outer space created massive buzz, and for good reason. The project was acquired for an unprecedented seven figure sum, showing that VR has a place in the film festival market. And, the involvement of marquee names like Darren Aronofsky and Jessica Chastain signaled a buy-in from Hollywood, exciting immersive filmmakers with dreams of big budget projects. But, core questions still remain: how do we bring VR to global audiences and empower creators to experiment with the medium on a mass scale? 

VR needs a democratizing moment that makes it overwhelmingly accessible to create and consume. At Adobe, we believe that VR180 can create it. VR180 is well positioned to create a tipping point for VR because it represents software and hardware that facilitates, rather than complicates. 

Much of this complication comes from the lack of industry standards. VR workflows, file formats, robust distribution channels, and reliable monetization methods are still cloudy. VR production is cost prohibitive and technically challenging for filmmakers who want to experiment with telling immersive stories, creating a void for high-quality, long-form, engaging VR content. This technical complexity is stealing time that can be spent on artistic decisions, crafting narratives and developing characters who feel as complex as those in our favorite television shows. Simply put, we need to get out of the way and enable creators to do what they do best: tell stories.

The first step is to create better and more accessible software and hardware solutions. This will come from strong collaboration in the tech industry, and we’re starting to see it happen. For example, Google/YouTube and Facebook/Oculus are supporting the same format for VR180 and are heavily promoting it to their creator communities. Oculus announced support for YouTube in their platform and are including it in the new standalone Oculus Go headset, putting VR180 in the hands of the consumer audience. For creators, various manufacturers, including Insta360, Kan Dao, Kodak, Lucid, Lenovo, and Z Cam have released VR180 cameras, with more to follow. And at Adobe, we’ve built an optimized VR180 workflow within Premiere Pro, making it the first and only NLE to support the format. It’s now available to Creative Cloud users in the most recent update. 

Now that we have the tools, we need creators to use them. Working in VR180 is much more intuitive than working in 360, as the VR180 workflow is similar to editing in 2D. Stitching and managing large assets — chores that are necessary in a 360 workflow — eat up valuable time and money. VR180 content requires neither. The 180 field of view gives creators more power to direct and control the viewers' attention, where 360 inherently lacks perspective. In this way, VR180 enables more traditional narrative structures. It’s expanding what’s possible in VR by shrinking it.
For consumers, the novelty of VR often isn’t enough for them to commit; the content needs to be consumer friendly, accessible and reach a certain caliber of quality. And from the creator’s perspective, the constraints in tech, time, resources and distribution inherent in VR filmmaking has made it difficult to invest in these projects. VR180 bridges this gap by making it possible to create longer form, higher quality VR content with less expense. Additionally, moving to a longer form factor of 30 minutes or more makes for a comfortably passive experience for the consumer that is more akin to cinematic experiences, versus a VR game or 360 video that compels interaction. The longer form also mirrors the runtimes of television shows and movies, placing VR in a familiar context for audiences. Through VR180, we can empower a new generation of VR filmmakers.

The progress that was made in VR hardware in 2018 was fascinating to watch, and popular commercial applications like VR games (such as Sairento VR) and out-of-home VR experiences from new companies like Dreamscape Immersive, TeamLab and Nomadic are spurring consumer interest. If collaboration on standards remains strong, and we put the best tools in the hands of creators, we can bring VR’s future fully into focus. 
Chris Bobotis is director of immersive at Adobe, overseeing the company’s Immersive Media efforts. He is the software architect for the SkyBox suite of 360-degree video and cinematic VR tools, which Adobe acquired from his company Mettle. He co-founded Mettle in 1992 and was a co-founder & creative director. Bobotis is an advocate for immersive storytelling, and a regular presenter at the SIGGRAPH, NAB and IBC conferences. He grew up in Montréal, and previously worked as a creative director, art director, illustrator and production manager.