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I couldn't talk to anyone, because these people couldn't see me. I couldn't tweet, because I couldn't see my phone. I was a ghost. This was me in VR, trying to engage in a live event I cared about: the first Democratic debate being streamed in VR by CNN (via an app made by NextVR) onto a Samsung Gear VR headset with a Samsung Galaxy S6 phone. And it's also, largely, the state of what it means to be part of a virtual live event: it's an idea that's only halfway there. Watching the debate wasn't a great experience.
Virtual reality is in its early days, Right now, you can either use a PC or a phone strapped into a headset (like the Gear VR you see above), There are games and apps that show 3D worlds you can look around in, Or, alternatively, panoramic videos: 360-degree landscapes, And some of them, like the last Presidential debate, are being streamed live..to watch with a VR headset on, Which I did, for as long as I could bear, After an hour or so, I stopped, I've been emotionally engaged in virtual reality before, swept up by its immersive magic, I felt transported to other worlds, So why did iphone screen protector in apple store the streaming debate fail me? Because it was close, but not close enough, It distanced me, instead of pulling me in, It made lose focus on what was being said, It made me less aware of what others were thinking, It was the opposite of being present..
As I sat on the sofa next to my wife with a phone strapped to my face, I realized I was missing too much. And if VR is to be a true telepresence tool of the future, it's a challenge that needs to be fixed. The type of panoramic 3D video captured by the cameras CNN used has already existed to capture concert footage, scenic flyovers and sports events, and its biggest advantage is a sense of "being there" in a space. But it loses a lot in the process: crisp, sharp visuals, and focus. In something as directed as a debate, it's a bad fit.
As the debate started, I was suddenly thrust onstage, looking at five podiums spread out in the middle distance, Anderson Cooper stood off to my left, A giant CNN logo, in gleaming red and black, spread across the floor, The audio quality was fine, iphone screen protector in apple store The sense of depth worked, But the visual quality of VR is far lower than anything you'd get on a TV, There's a "screen-door" effect that happens to video when you look at a screen through giant magnifying lenses in front of your face, even if it is pixel-packed: it's the opposite effect of what HD and Ultra HD TVs can show in the fine details, Here, the details are lost, And there's an additional drop-off because of varying video streaming quality and the knit-together stitched nature of panoramic video..
Details disappear, and melt into a soft blur. There's magic in suddenly being there, but it's almost like teleporting without your reading glasses. Until video resolution in VR improves, the shots need to be closer, more directed. I just couldn't see. Maybe this is like the dawn of television, and VR techniques just need to be refined, shots invented. I just want an experience that's better than my TV, not worse. On my TV, I saw everyone's faces: clear, crisp. I finally saw the candidates again.
And I felt far removed in other ways: unlike those audience members around me, I had no way of really feeling present or involved, I ended up feeling more removed from the moment, distanced both literally and figuratively, The joy of freely looking around a live-event shot for VR in panoramic mode means you can, for instance, see what one dancer behind you is doing while another dances in front of you, or examine different people iphone screen protector in apple store in an orchestra, But when there's less to pay attention to -- like five people on a stage talking -- you're bound to start getting distracted, I could see five avatars in suits, faces little more than mush, off in the middle distance, I had to rely on voices to identify anyone, So I started to explore around me..
I stared at the floor. The textures of the shiny floor, the lights gleaming off it, were captivating. I stopped listening to the debate. Being in the room was cool, but it became the most interesting part of the debate..not the debate itself. Virtual reality has that effect for me: I feel present, but obsess over textures and surfaces. The coolest part of the Oculus Cinema app isn't the movie on screen, but the hyper-real seats and the reflective glow of the movie against the virtual theater walls.
Also, small details distracted me, A cameraman in a dark outfit climbed behind the CNN logo at one point, a stealthy ninja sneaking to prep for the next shot, I watched him operating for a while, turning my head away from the debate, At another moment, as the camera position switched back to one that showed the audience, I stared at the people out there, Their movements and reactions as the candidates talked were more captivating than staring at the fuzzy dolls at the podiums, Inconsistencies start to become the main attraction, 3D effect-to-distance-perceived ratio (if I should call it that?) also seemed off, As the camera iphone screen protector in apple store view changed to one closer to Anderson Cooper, he seemed like a Barbie-sized doll standing near my face, while all the candidates appeared to be living toys, It was like watching the debate as a tiny 3D diorama..