You may or may not be aware of Google’s foray in the world of virtual reality. ‘Cardboard’ is the tech giant’s commercial equivalent to the Oculus Rift headset, and arguably the descendent of such delightfully daring computer game accessories as the 1991 Sega VR.
The instrument itself however is simply a foldable cardboard lens rig to fit your smartphone and costs around £5 – approximately 1% of its gaming-focused equivalent. Unlike the Oculus Rift however, Cardboard’s content is not reserved solely for high-budget game developers; anyone who can source the required equipment and programming expertise can create content for the platform.
Games and apps are admittedly fairly basic, although fun-looking! – being powered by a smartphone limits how you can interact with what you’re viewing, but 360° videos are shot using an array of 16 circle-mounted cameras such as the GoPro Odyssey. These videos are viewable on computers as a sort of live action Google Maps and so far mainly seem to be used as such. A few people have made music videos in this format such as the live video of Bastille below – impressively fluid despite the bafflingly terrible sound. (Steer clear of the Avicii offering)
Although still in it’s infancy, this technology has been around long enough now to be taken seriously as a new media form and we’ve already heard of ad agencies getting stuck in to experiments with these immersive experiences. The most exciting news for us was this week’s announcement that Cardboard will now support spatial audio.
From Google’s blog:
Many apps create simple versions of spatial audio—by playing sounds from the left and right in separate speakers. But with today’s SDK [software development kits] updates, your app can produce sound the same way humans actually hear it. For example:
The SDK combines the physiology of a listener’s head with the positions of virtual sound sources to determine what users hear. For example: sounds that come from the right will reach a user’s left ear with a slight delay, and with fewer high frequency elements (which are normally dampened by the skull).
The SDK lets you specify the size and material of your virtual environment, both of which contribute to the quality of a given sound. So you can make a conversation in a tight spaceship sound very different than one in a large, underground (and still virtual) cave.
How common this hardware will be in households still remains to be seen, but what can be said for sure is that the possibilities for creators of 360° content are increasing rapidly and the application of these innovations undoubtedly holds immense creative potential.
You could get gloriously carried away with ideas for this. Suggestions anyone?