Why is Virtual Reality is so hot right now?

Its proverbial Big Bang began in the 19th century, with long intricate panoramic paintings and sometime later William Gruber’s view masters.

But never mind all that! The real catalyst was a Kickstarter from a nerdy 19-year-old kid from Cali, Palmer Luckey.

Frustrated with the lack of existing head-mounted displays, Luckey created a prototype at 17 and launched his Kickstarter Campaign for the Oculus at 19. He became an overnight success Facebook bought his company for $2 billion dollars and since then the brand, and riding on its coattails the rest of Virtual Reality industry, has expanded and improved at a phenomenal rate.

If you’ve been following our Virtual journey here at Raindance you’ll have seen we’ve been running a Saturday VR Film School, a VR weekend workshop, and even included seminars and an arcade during our festival, all in 2016 alone. Suffice to say – we love VR, and when we fall in love we don’t tip toe; we backflip right in there!

Why, after 2016 being the worst year in all of recorded history (I mean we just can’t even), do we still love this new, fragile and previously laughed-at subsection of technology’s greatest novelty? Because in as little as 12 months the product is more accessible, marketable and frankly as impressive as ever.

VR’s Tech Boom

First up on the development list – Go Pro; they’ve finally clocked that their cameras are being used as the leaders for cheap and cheerful VR productions. This company has pulled up its extreme culottes and created a camera rig that would allow that precious simultaneous sync between 6 cameras.

The omni rig allows “precise, pixel-level synchronisation [that] makes stitching in Post Production easier and more exact – especially when compared to unsynchronised camera arrays.” The whole package costs around $5000, including professional stitching software, smart remote, cables and memory cards, but with results like this one can hardly wonder where it all goes.?

The perfect collaborator for this is a stitching software for the new iPad Pro; Teradek’s Sphere 360. This incredible app that allows for real-time viewing including monitoring whilst filming and giving you the ability to live-stream wirelessly.

This can support up both Omni and custom rigs (up to 8 cameras) and contains numerous parameters for tweaking 360 footage, such as ISO and stitch lines.

Even VR drones have come on the market this year; on the back of the Omni, the Janus 360 drone is a balanced, two-headed mythical machine that creates in flight VR footage. Dimitri Batsis, President of Drone Volt states that: “One of the major strengths of our model is the ability to shoot in the air at 360 ° without any elements of the drone, such as propellers or landing gear appearing in the image”.

Go Pro’s Omni not doing it for you? Well, there wouldn’t be a bar to raise without some competition. The iZugar 3D 360 is the little camera rig that could. With a little bit of tweaking, regular Go Pro cameras on this bad boy can create a 3D Virtual Reality experience. This thing will shoot better than a Nokia OZO for 1/10th of the price. 3D printing has allowed iZugar to create an ‘affordable’ versatile rig which allows for stereo filming.

Of course, you may be asking – where do I start my career in VR? And yes, 2016 has an answer for that too. Samsung, after partnering with Oculus has created their consumer kit with the Samsung Gear VR 360.

The workflow is simple, sharing is easy and the camera itself is light and adorable, just like their advertising. We were gifted with a prototype for the first VR Weekend and have used it every session since, with any Samsung S6 phone or later, live monitoring and recording is easy. No Go Pro’s required, and its simplicity and overall quality surpasses that of competitors Richo Theta S (which objectively does take nice 360 photos).

Samsung isn’t the only tech company to dip its toes into the Virtually Real, Google’s own Google Cardboard is still going strong. Through a HTC Vive + Steam setup you get access to their spectacular Google Tilt Brush, for which there is sure to be a gallery opening any day now. Whether it’ll be real or not is another matter.

Competing with Oculus they’ve released their own headsets DayDream to be used in tandem with the Pixel phone. Both setups allow you to use services such as educational Teleportation app called Google Expeditions, and they’ve even developed a platform for sharing VR and are chomping at the bit for new developers and creators.

The year in review wouldn’t be complete without Oculus’ own contribution to VR tech.

The Oculus Rift came out early this year in March, having used one at Raindance’s inaugural Virtual Reality Arcade it is a truly immersive experience. Not only does the visual quality surpass any other, it’s perception tracking abilities (created via infrared link from the sensor and headset) allows you to literally look around corners within the infrared field. Being able to move around in that Virtual Reality brings us that much closer to a Black Mirror-esque world where we can easily look around the cloud, (no spoilers!) and then sufficiently ruin our lives in it!?

I for one cannot wait.

Who wants content?

Who doesn’t! Raindance isn’t the only Film Festival after quality, story-lead virtual reality films; the likes of TIFF, Sundance and Sheffield – yes Sheffield! All have Virtual Reality categories just begging to give out awards?

If glory doesn’t grab you, both Google and GoPro have created platforms for VR video sharing, as has YouTube?

Many tech savvy car companies are creating more and more experiences to help advertise their brand, Lexus sponsored our VR Arcade this year and Mini have created a series of oddly engaging shorts loosely linking to their cars.

The New York Times has dedicated content creators banging out a 360 video a day!

The NBA is partnering with NextVR, to broadcast live 180 virtual reality one game every week of the season; giving viewers courtside seats without spending a dime on a plane.

VR near me?

Outside of Raindance events – the VR community has blossomed this past year on both the internet and the outernet.

Sisters doing it for themselves! VR Girls UK is a London organisation hosts VR events and seminars, possess and online platform nurturing and appreciating female VR talent. Find out more about them on twitter @VRGirlsUK.

In its 2nd year in 2017, VR World Event is coming back, the 2-day conference on augmented, mixed, and virtual reality and its impact beyond gaming is happening 16th and 17th of May at Olympia, London, and anyone with a business brain should come along. Find them here at http://vrworldevent.com/

Augmenting Reality is a FREE meetup, arranged on EventBrite and based on the Google Campus to meet to talk about, demonstrate and try out the latest innovations in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and related technologies.

Pop-ups, café’s and installations are rife in all major cities; for gamers and filmmakers alike Virtually Reality in Camden, Tension VR in Lincoln and Inition VR in Shoreditch are just some of the permanent VR installations providing experiences per paid session on a variety of machines.

I am so mad I missed The Royal Academy of Arts hosting an exhibition of virtually real works this January! A HTC Vive Pop-Up project that allowed ticket holders to create artworks in Google Tilt which are then 3D Printed and exhibited! (Hopefully, they’ll do another one, Royal Academy if you’re reading this please – DO ANOTHER ONE!)

When a door closes, another one opens – tickets are on sale for mixed theatre and virtual reality horror experience Virtually Dead. Taking place at a secret east London location for 2 weeks only, ticket holders will be invited to experience a post-apocalyptic world, interacting with the locals and finally “commence training” with Vive, the new VR headset from HTC, which promises to “blow people’s minds”. http://virtuallydead.co.uk/ 19th of March til the 3rd of April.

In conclusion, Virtual Reality is awesome and it’s only going to get better. You can enjoy it for virtually nothing and making it isn’t as hard as it may seem, in fact as time goes on it’s becoming even easier.

Interested in learning the basics? Come along to the Raindance VR Weekend and we can show you everything you need to get started through the medium of practical skits; beginner camera’s, scripting and storyboarding, to marketing and selling your final product.

“You can build any building you want if you know how to lay bricks!” Elliot Grove – CEO of Raindance.

Led by VR Evangelist Johnny Johnson, myself, Raindance Technical Genie Harvey Puttock, and a woman who literally saved my life Denise Foley; we look forward to seeing what you might add to 2017’s list of incredible Virtual Reality achievements.