Technophiles the world over are looking forward to a day when all forms of content are freed from its present confinement within the four edges of a screen; to be fully multi-sensory, 360-immersive, and at some point beyond the far off horizon, indistinguishable from the real world. The message will not be contained by the medium.
How far are we from such a horizon, and are we sprinting or strolling there are questions that a lot of clever people in white lab coats are posing.
VR may take us a few tantalising strides closer. Some will groan heavily at yet another mention of this particular tech, but if we move our focus away from the headsets and instead look at how the content can be deployed and enjoyed, then interesting signposts emerge.
Earlier this year I was at the launch of the Allianz-sponsored Drone Racing League. A world championship heat will be taking place in the capital as part of London Tech Week this June. Sky were also present to announce their ownership of the broadcast rights. They intend to show the proceedings from an entirely different perspective; those with a heavy dispensation towards all things geek will already know that drone racers pilot their craft through goggles linked to a Go-Pro camera mounted on the drone. This means that home viewers with a Sky package and VR headsets can get closer into the action in an immersive sense – a pilot’s eye view.
Such an approach could have big implications for all large-scale event occasions in the future.
Can’t get a ticket to the Champions League Final? Experience it at home through the headsets from multiple immersive perspectives; as a player, the referee, from the dug out, in the crowd.
Home viewing of sports is set to become a little less passive. It should also open up new channels for a broadcaster to sell to individual brands. A brand taking a behind the scenes approach may wish to sponsor the home dug-out experience for instance. Another, wishing to build on their brand ambassador program may look to extend their sponsorship rights to create an immersive viewing experience using the footage from a micro camera mounted on their player.
Such a way of viewing sport would be very intriguing technologically as you could mix live footage with VR as an exclusive to the home viewer: One could easily imagine Antonio Conte virtually tapping you on the shoulder during a live broadcast telling you to get your boots on.
Meanwhile, there are tech companies who have taken an active dislike to those clunky goggles. Globally there are circa 200 companies developing goggles-free VR to achieve a more inclusive, mass participatory approach.
Dassault Systèmes has long been a pioneer in 3D experience. At its Paris HQ, the Cubic Immersion Room offers an experience where every surface, including the floor, is a screen. The technology, known in the business as a "Cave" (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), required that users wore a headset featuring several antennae which calibrated the graphic render on the screens with every movement around the room to more accurately create the illusion of perspective. When I visited, I was able to walk, with several other colleagues, around an unfolding render of Paris, stroll up any boulevard, go into any building, take the stairs or lift and walk into any room – the experience fell just short of being able to order a croissant.
Fast-forward to the present day, and the French giant has been doing interesting integrations with VR headsets and Immersion Rooms. This includes advancements that are far superior to commercially available VR such as the ability to see your own body. Users can recognise and interact with other people also wearing the headsets in the Cave. Not in an atavistic sense either; you can meet a colleague in the room and recognize that it is your colleague and not a graphic construct.
The practical application of this technology is being used in a myriad ways; an architect through to a product designer can construct, test and more importantly collaborate and discuss their grand vision with their colleagues in the Cave before a single foundation stone is laid, or a patent applied for.
This is all very well for the present day, but there is an emerging technology whose potential has had VC investors and technology gurus foaming with enthusiasm: Lightvert’s Echo technology is a light-triggered illusion capable of creating large scale graphics, seemingly in empty space. The images exist only in the user’s eye and not in reality.
The roll out of Echo displays is not limited by user uptake of wearable and mobile tech, or in fact the current planning laws and policies that currently govern Lightvert’s primary target customer; the out-of-home advertising industry.
Chief executive Daniel Sidden believes the world is now ready for Echo, citing that emerging mobile tech will enable interaction with the digital realm on a more natural and fluent level.
Sidden argues that: "Visual and audio based mixed reality technologies, such as HoloLens and Google's new audio assistant technology will become ubiquitous and the opportunities for digital OOH in this area alone are clearly phenomenal."
As this technology becomes yet more sophisticated, we should begin to see exciting developments for advertising. Technically any surface, or gesture, or motion sensor could be used to trigger content while people are out and about in the built environment or any open space.
That content might be an evolution of Echo’s static graphic renders into moving imagery, and from there, a further evolution into 360-immersive micro experiences. Sidden is unequivocal about the ability of content to break out from its present day limitations. "Media that was once previously confined to screens will be integrated into our every day actions and be capable of working with us and for us at all times, eliminating the barrier between physical and digital engagement."
There you have it folks: the day is not far off when all advertising will be experienced.
Michael Brown is managing director of MKTG