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The Market Hall and VRWC 2017

By 14th June 2017 No Comments
Market Hall - VR goggles

How is the VR (Virtual Reality) market evolving and where does the Market Hall fit into this emerging trend?

I had the pleasure of visiting the VRWC 2017 (Virtual Reality World Congress) conference, last month in Bristol. It was amazing experience filled with talks by industry experts, workshops centred around an expo demonstrating some of the leading technology in the industry. So where are we with virtual reality, where is the technology going and what will this mean for The Market Hall?

Virtual reality (VR),  refers to an immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, that replicates an environment, that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or an imagined world, allowing the user to interact in that world.

The conference was described to me as another wave to pushing VR up the beach of mainstream adoption. That statement fascinated me, it was true.  Like virtual worlds before it back in 2007 you got the sense that things had evolved; there was still a lot of hype and positive speculation for the future.  With the release of HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR, these HUDs (heads up displays) have appealed to early adopters, however they have been prohibitively expensive (with the exception of Gear VR), and a cumbersome, solitary way to experience VR. At the moment the gaming and entertainment industry are driving mainstream adoption. However, looking at the adoption in a little more detail, it is clear that the VR trend is steadily increasing, with Gear VR leading the way in tech sales. Putting that into perspective we saw 5.2 million VR headset sales in 2016. Gartner’s yearly hype cycle puts VR a good way up the slope of enlightenment. In plain English, that means VR is beginning to be widely understood by the general public, it’s here to stay, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a mainstream technology.

This raises the question; where will see VR make an appearance in our daily lives?

Reference: Gartner Hype Cycle 2016.

What was on offer at VRWC?

VR has the ability to revolutionise many different industries, including but not exclusively; education and training, health care, entertainment and gaming, to name a few. There was so much on offer during the expo that it is hard to describe all of it here. What was clear; a lot of companies were still exploring the technology applying it in unique ways to solve real life problems. One such company pushing the boundary of VR and its use is Plymouth’s own Truvision, who were at VRWC – they use Virtual Reality to sell dream homes off-plan. Their work allows potential buyers to customise and explore their future homes using VR. This VR application, of allowing people to understand, share, create, and in this case, buy technical 3D design is just one example of where VR is being used to drive industry and markets.

What is the Market Hall and why is VR important?

The Market Hall is a £5million scheme in Devonport, Plymouth, which will redevelop a Grade II listed building to create a new world-class space for the digital industries, putting Plymouth and the southwest on the map as national leaders in digital innovation; driving collaboration, experimentation, development, and play. The Market Hall represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of Digital activity in Plymouth. Plymouth’s thriving digital sector recently featured on the TechNation map, due to the activities of the wider digital community with organisations like Digital Plymouth and Truvision attracting a lot of attention from outside of the city.

The Market Hall is a new kind of digital hub. Situated in Devonport, Plymouth city’s transformational docklands, the Market Hall will be a world class centre for digital, research, enterprise and culture, drawing DNA and learning from across the globe. The finished build will house a mind blowing 210o 15m immersive dome theatre – the first of its size in the UK and a new kind of visitor experience – this ‘shared’ VR experience demands a comprehensive understanding of how people consume and interact with VR technologies.

At this stage I use the term VR in its broadest sense, for us it’s about “immersive experience” that sense of authentic embodiment and ‘presence’ that transports you to a different reality, which is the main aspiration of the 15m Dome. With this in mind there were four key themes that caught my attention at VRWC.

Out-of-home; Location based VR experiences

A number of speakers at VRWC, including Kevin Williams and AMD’s Roy Taylor both stated that by 2020 we will see a massive rise in location based VR experiences. Location-based VR is a VR experience where a user is physically located in a room equipped with high-end VR devices. Sometimes location-based VR is referred to as ‘Arcade 2.0’, ‘Digital Out-of-Home Entertainment or DOE for short’. Just looking around the globe you can see the emergence of VR gaming facilities and VR attractions in malls, cinemas and amusement parks. This is going to become a billion dollar industry and a trend we are watching very closely.

mk2 VR ©Crédit photo: Benoit Florençon (www.benoitflorencon.com)”

Experiential – live sports & cultural events in 360°

Imagine walking into live sports 360° viewing of your favourite team, providing the best seat in the house, made social as you are sharing that experience with others in an immersive, wrap around dome cinema.  With the likes of Sky and BBC making investment here, 360° content is going to be big. This new ability to transport people to the very heart of sporting, cultural events or current affairs will transform the entertainment industry.  Completely new forms of sports like drone racing are being developed thanks to VR. And the Super Bowl saw huge investment by companies into VR ads. It’s not going to be long before we actually see our favourite sports as 360° videos. But making these events social, beyond the limits of an isolated HUD headset will be the key to its success.

Content is king

Whilst the different technology and sheer variety of devices and platforms on offer was fascinating, it is content that will drive growth in this sector. Companies such as NSC Creative are developing fantastic content, but it is the big players such as Sky, BBC and even tech firms like google creating the experiences that will drive the market forward.

For VR to join the ranks of mainstream technology, the VR market needs the major franchises to come on board and justify the purchase of an HMD (Head Mounted Display). At the moment there is little reason to buy one other than its mere novelty and some cool applications. One announcement last week by AMD’s Roy Taylor was that Bethesda’s: Fallout 4 was coming to VR. As the Sonic or Mario of the VR generation, this was considered groundbreaking. Content really is king and will drive sales of this expensive hardware. I’m looking forward to the coming years and seeing some of VR’s first “killer content”.

Mixed Reality

One final piece of technology worth mentioning that deviates from the traditional definition of VR is Mixed Reality. Defined as a merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. The example on offer at VRWC was Microsoft’s Hololens a headset that mixed the physical environment with a virtual one. This to me seems like a small step towards the next wave of engaging technology that will captivate the attention of the consumer. From exploring an annotated human body or fighting killer machines as they explode through the walls of your living room, the future of mixed reality VR looks set to be phenomenal evolution of the way we use technology. Whilst the future is bright for this iteration of VR, the aesthetical, financial and practical limimations of investing in bulky, expensive technology currently hold little appeal.

For me the potential in this technology is in data visualisation and, seeing data in new ways. Imagine combining this approach and leveraging the capabilities of an immersive dome theatre – walking into a visualisation of the universe where you can interact with planets or view the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) as it sails across the Atlantic, then sharing that experience with a wider audience. It will be exciting to see how this technology can be delivered in these shared environments, however the content really needs to be engaging to be successful.

In conclusion

VR has the potential to revolutionise many industries but it is the gaming industry that is really making headway in driving this technology into people’s homes, while brands look to extend their reach and engagement through VR. Issues such as cost, bandwidth speeds and processing power still persist, restraining the technology but these will be overcome simply by time, and sooner than we think. Out of home VR experiences will be the next stepping stone in driving VR technology towards mainstream adoption; a fact that the Market Hall will be mindful of as it seeks to become a leader in digital technology and innovation.

For us it will be about harnessing the technology and killer content, creating an unforgettable experience when visitors venture into the Market Hall’s immersive Dome. Where we differentiate ourselves is in making the experience social and shared, this has great potential for learning as well as entertainment. We look forward to seeing how VR evolves and what content becomes available, allowing us to explore how it can be harnessed in Devonport at the Market Hall.

At this time we’re keen to develop a network of friends, supporters, and corporate partners to ensure the Market Hall delivers real value across the city and the region; from business and R&D, to education, skills and learning. Get in touch if you want to hear more about VR, the Market Hall or RIO’s other work in this sector.

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