As someone who has worked in the digital industry for the last seven years, I’ve always been fascinated with emerging tech, especially the likes of virtual reality (VR). Since its inception, VR has opened our eyes to what’s possible with technology. VR lets us think well beyond the human experience and immerses us in a digital world that almost feels real. It takes us to places we’ve always wanted to go and helps to provide solutions to industry challenges like never before.
Before we go any further, let’s talk a bit about what VR is, as there are lots of ways to think about this emerging technology.
VR creates environments, experiences and interactions that look and seem real. When they wear a VR headset, users are transported into a three-dimensional, interactive world that can be explored and manipulated. This digital environment is designed to engage multiple senses, including sight, sound, touch and movement.
Immersive content is just as important as the hardware. Without it, there isn’t a “simulated environment” that can be brought to life. Content creation comes in many forms—from gaming, training and experiences to education and travel. The space for content creators in the VR world is expansive.
The History Of Virtual Reality
It’s important to understand how VR began to see how far we’ve progressed. Today, we are seeing a resurgence when it comes to VR, as it certainly has seen its fair share of up-and-down moments.
In 1968, Ivan Sutherland introduced the world to what is commonly considered the first head-mounted augmented reality display, known as „The Sword of Damocles.“This groundbreaking invention laid the foundation for the virtual reality devices we use today.
Over the decades, tech advancements have accelerated the development of VR. In the 1980s and 1990s, companies like Sega and Nintendo developed VR gaming systems, albeit generally with limited success. It wasn’t until the 2010s when companies like Oculus and HTC Vive introduced high-quality VR headsets that leveraged powerful graphics and motion tracking technology.
Virtual Reality Today
Recently, Apple’s Vision Pro made headlines, putting VR back on the map as „the tech to watch.“ Meta’s entry into the market with the Oculus Go headset made a similar headline splash.
While gaming has been a driving force behind VR’s popularity, its uses are not limited to this space. Various industries, such as healthcare, education, architecture and engineering, have embraced VR as a powerful tool. Surgeons can use it to prepare for complex procedures, students can explore ancient civilizations and architects can create virtual walkthroughs of buildings before construction even begins.
Today, it’s becoming easier for consumers to leverage VR—which hasn’t always been the case. Historically, the VR headset was equal parts bulky and uncomfortable. The hardware is getting better, albeit not entirely there yet (at least in my opinion.) Mega-companies are doubling down on consumer-based VR, such as Meta, Sony and Samsung.
While it is one of many players in the market, Apple’s expertise in user experience and ecosystem integration could bring significant advancements to the VR space. Google, Qualcomm and Samsung have also partnered to create a mixed-reality platform.
An area that I have been personally interested in is called „VR cinema“—a method that could get more people introduced to the world of VR. As someone who has been an avid movie-goer for as long as I can remember, seeing the downturn of cinema during the pandemic was heartbreaking for me. I started to dig into what cinemas were doing to reinvent themselves, and that’s when I found a new type of medium—one that inspires people to go back to the cinema for something new and exciting.
In short, VR cinema is all about immersive experiences that can be brought to life in existing theaters. This innovative form of storytelling offers a unique and communal way to enjoy content, allowing participants to share the virtual space and collectively engage in the narrative journey—without having to spend thousands of dollars to experience VR.
With the rise of streaming services, changing customer preferences, and access to more forms of immediate content consumption, viewers are becoming more interested in shorter-form content and different experiences that fit with their lifestyles. The VR cinema concept provides an experience option for traditional cinemas.
Surround Sync (VR technology) and parent company White Spark Pictures (VR content) are two companies paving the way in this space. Surround Sync is both the hardware and software package; according to its website, it uses existing entertainment infrastructure and venues. Meanwhile, White Spark Pictures creates content that can be distributed globally in these VR-enabled theaters.
White Spark Pictures has produced two 360-degree VR films, The Antarctica Experience and Beyond the Milky Way, and both leverage the Surround Sync package. When I had the chance to experience the films in real time, it all came full circle—I felt like I was actually there.
How Businesses Can Get Started With Virtual Reality
If you are a business that is looking to integrate VR into your offering, now is the time. There are a few key points you might want to consider before delving into VR.
• What is your goal in incorporating VR into your business model? What are you aiming to achieve (e.g., product visualization or customer engagement)?
• Who is the key audience you are looking to reach? And how tech-literate are they? What will the overall user experience be like?
• What content will you need, use or create as part of this effort? Does this need to be developed, or is it out there in the world already? How big is the content lift?
• Will you need hardware and software? How will VR integrate with current operations and your existing tech stack?
• How much budget is allocated to this effort? Are there other administrative considerations in areas such as legal, safety and compliance?
With such interesting advancements upon us, it’s a pivotal moment, regardless of the industry you are in. This convergence of technologies and content opens up new avenues for work, play and creative expression.