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Everyone has heard of virtual reality. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, goofy movies featuring strange conceptualizations of the technology spread the idea around, and for some time, people thought of it as just a passing trend.
But VR is no longer seen as a gimmicky children’s toy. These days, with companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google spending huge amounts on developing the technology, our future looks to be dominated by virtual experiences.
And one of the key areas where VR will make the most impact is — you guessed it — journalism. Forget about merely hearing the news. Soon, you’ll be able to live the news.
Living the News
As we move forward in 2016, the wide availability of VR headsets alongside high definition simulation software will make the virtual experience a part of the average household’s living room. And when you see a story on the Internet or network TV news, you’ll be able to put your headset on and see it all firsthand.
The Associated Press has chosen to partner with chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to produce content for news stories and documentaries that can be experienced in a lifelike environment. AP plans to use the graphics technology and hardware platforms developed by AMD to support their VR-based content, which will be controlled entirely by AP editors as they curate a new virtual reality channel.
“By transporting viewers and giving them increased control, virtual reality helps build the emotional connection to the story,” documentary filmmaker Dalton Bennett wrote on AP’s site in November.
Former Newsweek reporter Nonny de la Peña, the so-called ‘Godmother of VR’, has even gone so far as to create an experience in VR that you can see for yourself today. She created an immersive reconstruction of the events surrounding the controversial death of Travyon Martin.
“It creates a real sense of being present on the scene,” she told The Guardian last March. “It puts the audience in a place where they can experience the sights, sounds, and even emotions as events unfold. This is unlike any other medium.”
Today, we’ve grown accustomed to clicking on videos embedded in news stories and on our social media feeds. These typically depict a 2-dimensional representation of events as recorded on someone’s smartphone or from the sidelines where a camera crew was filming.
But De la Peña reckons that soon, news events will be filmed with 3D, 360-degree cameras that will allow you to step inside the scenes and witness from every angle. And if the only available recordings of an event come from cellphone video, as is the case with another project of De la Peña’s called Project Syria, journalists will be able to piece together the different perspectives into a unified whole.
Because the majority of consumers haven’t gotten their hands on VR headsets just yet, the technology is still in its first stages. But brands like HTC, Sony, Samsung, and possibly even Apple will be duking it out for the next few years to set industry standards, and that competition can only lead to great things for future buyers everywhere.
There are some minor hurdles to jump for VR technology, though — and VR journalism is taking them in stride. While VR video games can be cartoony and lack any sense of realism, a user looking for a true reproduction of real-world events will demand far more authenticity. Audio and video alike must be high-quality, or the participant will be torn out of the experience. As a result, journalists have taken great measures to provide a genuine experience for users.
Documentary productions like Frontline regularly send their reporters around the world to record global news and could benefit greatly from VR. “Our reporters go to places where few venture or get inside,” Raney Aronson-Rath, deputy executive producer at Frontline told the Columbia Journalism Review. “I’ve long held a curiosity about how we might take our viewers with us in a more visceral way, so that they can feel what it’s like to actually be there.”
Aronson-Rath sees the incredible potential for VR technology to work alongside traditional journalism: “That’s crucial to understanding my vision — I don’t see these as an either/or, but rather as an important exploration for myself and Frontline creatively and journalistically.”
And it isn’t just big name media outlets who have the capabilities necessary to produce VR content. All you need to produce a fully immersive experience through image or video is 6 GoPro cameras and a 360 mount and any of the numerous software suites that make stitching together and editing the virtual world possible. Couple these with a little know-how, and you can start publishing virtual reality experiences on platforms like YouTube or VRideo.
However, if you want to create create VR content that rivals the biggest industry names, you’ll probably need some outside help. Choose a professional partner with the necessary expertise (like RenderThat) if you want your amateur production to feel like an expertly crafted, high-end VR simulation.
Another notable example of the real-world applications for VR can be seen in 2014, when people rallied around the sky-high potential for the technology to help combat epidemics. A team of 20 volunteer game developers built a full-scale virtual reality training simulation to help healthcare workers learn how to treat sufferers of the Ebola virus for the first time.
And guess what? it only took them two days.
Soon, virtual reality will be in the hands of people around the world. Already, the European market for VR has exploded, leading the planet with $1.9 billion already spent on the technology. This trend will only continue to grow, with a predicted $12.3 billion in global sales reached by 2018, and each new user will have access to VR news events. The American news network CNN, for instance, has even started broadcasting live presidential debates for the 2016 election season.
This widespread access to virtual representations of real-world events for those of us who want to keep up with the news will likely have serious effects on the ways we understand the world around us. And as the technology matures, our ability to empathize with others through “shared” experiences could increase exponentially.
Yes, it may take some time for everyone to accept VR as the next big thing in news and entertainment media, but at this point, there’s no doubt that it’s right around the corner. Millennials, who are already digital natives, will quickly grow accustomed to these changes. And for everyone else, all they have to do is put on a VR headset and see for themselves.