Research - VR

Ongoing notes regarding UX for Virtual Reality

Just a collection of observations for reference. Work in progress.

Updated July 23, 2019

I am just doing some initial research regarding VR. I haven’t used VR in a while but wanted to experience a proper headset that wasn’t a Cardboard box with a phone thrown into it. While not the higher-end model, the Oculus Go represents the headset that most people have if they own a VR headset.

Oculus Go

I received the Go after a few shipping delays. Unboxing was relatively straightforward. The device paired quickly with my phone, which is how you set up the Wifi for the device. Not sure how you change the wifi connection for the device when you move from one location to the next.

Observations

The best VR doesn’t try to do too much. It follows a logical progression and doesn’t try to overwhelm the user. National Geographic “Sharks,” Disney’s “Coco,” and some of the content found some excellent content on YouTube VR. However, most work I found is over-produced and pushed the user to reorient themselves as the content galloped past.

VR is a self-guided pursuit. The broadcast mentality and timing does poorly here. Movement in a consistent direction or no movement at all on behalf of the user is ideal. This changes when the user can control where they move, but that is not an option on the Go.

Watching TV shows on the Go is a waste. Inferior to watching TV on your tablet or phone.

The battery doesn’t last long. Not sure I could watch a full football match on the Go — which is a problem because the “person in the stands” aspect of VR is incredibly interesting. Instead of watching sporting events, you could go to them with friends? That’s nuts. Unfortunately, you could only watch 70% of a match because the battery would die.

Clear Pains

Motion sickness is real There is a difference between good VR and bad VR. Unfortunately, much of the current content falls into the latter category. The glut of bad content means that many potential VR fans are likely being chased off by a poor initial experience.

Authentication Signing into services not associated with Facebook can be a chore. YouTube VR requires Google authentication, which then requires you type in a code into a web browser on your phone or computer. Mind you that you can only see the nine-digit code while wearing the headset. :(

Glasses required This issue was prominent upon putting on the headset that either the visuals were less than high definition or my eyesight was worse than I realized. I have a slight vision issue, but nothing that requires my glasses for everyday tasks like reading. To get the most out of the Go, you to either wear your glasses or have excellent eyesight. The Go comes with a special adapter to allow you to wear your glasses while wearing the device. For this reason, if I were using VR to perform a public demonstration, I would want to have two headsets available for people with and without glasses.

Fidelity 2 Some videos, particularly those involving speed were pixelated inside of the Go. When displayed on an external monitor, they appeared higher quality, so perhaps it is the Go and not the feed itself.

Sharing limited One of the things I was excited about was the ability to share what I saw in the headset onto screens so people could follow along. While this is possible, there are some constraints. I found several apps that will not allow you to stream to another screen. So while I was able to share to my phone and then to the TV via the Apple TV, most of the apps did not allow content to be showing in simulcast mode.

Clear opportunities

VR could be great This is the flip side of the content problem identified above. When VR is good, it’s excellent — but greatness is only possible if we embrace VR for what it is. Try to recreate a TV experience in VR is a tendency that popped up in many examples. Rapid transitions and movements that do not flow from one shot to the next are unsettling for viewers. Think of VR as life at a live event for the person. The user gets to drive, and we get to ride along.

Pathway to exclusivity There is something very unique about VR and the immersive experience it provides. You can’t replicate a VR experience in print, on TV, or online. People pay for exclusive content, but there aren’t enough headsets to warrant the investment — yet.

Time to collaborate The idea that every media organization should build its VR team is laughable. The fragmented approach would mean that everyone is making something, but nobody has enough to establish themselves. However, if a group of media organizations built a shared team that could produce this content full-time and provides each organization with several exclusive bits of VR content. This shared approach would allow companies to unlock the power of VR storytelling at a fraction of the cost.

Breakout ahead?

While researching the sales and forecasts for headsets globally, the industry is poised to grow significantly over the next five years — most notably in the business sector. For VR to gain more traction with consumers, three things need to happen, and at least two of the three are already underway.

Faster connection via 5G Even over a good broadband connection, there are hiccups in the feed from live events. These hiccups are likely an issue that impacts intense, multi-player games as well. 5G is the next generation of connectivity and will probably allow broadband speeds to reach many households for the first time. This change is coming; the only question is how soon.

Better hardware, cheaper hardware Higher-resolution screens and gear that is more comfortable to wear will go a long way to pushing adopting forward — but only if the improved headsets are affordable. Headset makers could offset the hardware costs by making headsets at a loss to grow the funnel of potential app purchasers as high as possible.

...but will the content arrive Sony’s senior vice president of R&D mentioned that great content is already available for VR — but that headset makers need a lot more of it. Few new users become superusers because of the content issue. So the platform has great potential if only it had more content. Chicken, meet the egg.

What about the gear?

If you’re getting into the field, I can say that the Oculus Go is a massive upgrade on anything involving a phone sitting inside of a headset. The phone + headset model was fine when there wasn’t another option that didn’t involve a PC. Now, you have better options — like the Go. If you end up enjoying VR, then invest in a higher caliber headset.

For those wanting to make content, it is a must that you have a 360 camera at your disposal. The camera of the moment is the Insta 360 ONE X. It gets rave reviews and shoots 5.7K video while being supported by a great mobile app for editing.

The recommendations above are for people just getting started. You obviously can and will spend more, but you should try your hand at simple capture, editing, and content review first before investing more. Having a $10k camera won’t turn you into Martin Scorsese, and I’m not even sure that Scorsese would know what to do with VR yet.

Building on your own

There are many options for building out VR applications that require far more research on my behalf. I am listing them here for later review.

Things to avoid in production

This list is a list of observed production issues that I experienced while using the Go that should be avoided on any platform.

Pointless movement

I was watching a Frontline video on the Chinese Uighur population and the user was continually asked to turn to view additional content that was displayed as a series of text messages. This was a ploy simply making use of the fact that I was wearing a VR headset. When the user is told to turn, they anticipate seeing something unique to that environment not a display of text messages that could have been displayed without the movement. If you ask someone to move, make it count.

Edit the controls

Much smaller issue that the movement item, but some apps are cross platform — meaning that they are meant to work on the Go, Gear VR, etc. However, the controls were not remapped to the Go, so I was getting requests for actions that I could not perform because my headset was missing those features.

Text too close

If the viewer has to pan off screen to read the text being shown, it is very likely that the text is too close to the user in frame. A rare call to adjust the size smaller to make the text appear just slightly further away.

Stories of note... https://sensortower.com/blog/harry-potter-wizards-first-month

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