NYT The Daily 360 Website Review

New York Times Daily 360 Video is a website users can visit to receive a 360-degree experience of the news they are hearing about. NYT creates these experiences by recording with Samsung technology to deliver our news of worldly events, political discussions, and intriguing stories. With the growth of 360-degree videos on the web, NYT strived to bring the readers as close to the stories as realistically possible. They deliver this experience to online readers, but also to those who have downloaded their app (NYT VR) that is available to Android and iOS users. Through the site, NYT delivers realistic news videos that allow their viewers to experience the story being told.

They use this site to post a daily video of an event that would be relatable and/or interesting to experience for readers. For instance, when the women’s marches across our country were happening in February 2017, NYT posted a 360-degree video of the march in New York.

Women’s March in Washington, DC 360-degree video available on New York Times Daily 360.

Readers were emerged into the experience of hearing chants and being surrounded by marchers. They have a range of topics that are covered, such as politics, travel, culture, science, and the world. These stories come from multiple publishers, however, the videos have similar techniques. The videos are short lived with only lasting for less than 3 minutes. The reader is placed into the location of the story to where they can see what is happening, hear the surroundings, and overall realistically experience the story. The downside of the experience is that it is extremely short lived. For example, the story “A Standing Rock Camp Is Burned” lasts for one minute where you are experiencing a camp in Standing Rock being burned. You see protesters marching, hear them chanting and witness the smoke from the burning land. This is a story that readers would like to experience. However, the story last for a minute and they are unable to fully grasp everything that is happening. The NYT 360-degree videos are entirely too short for readers and they use subtitles. While you’re trying to see everything, you’re also having to read the text. The combination of the short-lived video and having to read quickly while taking in the visuals becomes difficult.

The most significant benefit of this website and the daily videos is that the audience can experience various places and events. This use of virtual reality is successful in the way it brings users closer to something they care about. It is important for 360-degree videos to place the user into a believable environment and I think the NYT’s The Daily 360 does that. This is a highly appropriate use of virtual reality by bringing users as face-to-event as possible. The site is used to place New York Times’ existing audience into the stories they are being told, but also to bring in a new audience: the audience of those who are currently exploring virtual reality storytelling. New York Times is ahead of many other news sites by making this experience achievable for users. There are aspects of the technique used that can be improved, such as having a narrator and extending the video time. However, it brings an advanced and futuristic way to tell stories that will emerge the audience into the stories. NYT can not only tell the worldly stories, but also get the viewer more involved by activating more emotions towards what is happening.

Merge VR: Finally, a VR Headset for Glasses-Wearers

When I decided to take this VR Storytelling class, I had one big concern. There had always been something that’s prevented me from enjoying VR in the past, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a way around it for this class.

I wear glasses. Big glasses, with big plastic frames that have never fit into a VR headset before. Without them, I’m barely able to see a foot in front of me – and even that’s blurry. I made the switch from contacts to glasses a year and a half ago, and I’ve reached a point now where wearing contacts is uncomfortable for me. So, when I started searching for a headset to use in this class, my #1 criteria was that it could fit over glasses. I searched for days trying to find one before finally settling on one and purchasing it.

I ended up selecting the Merge VR headset, available on Amazon or on Merge’s website. The headset is made of a durable foam, and now comes in several different colors. It has two buttons on top for inputs that can also be slid left and right to adjust the lenses for better focus.

The headset has a strap, and is used basically the same way as any other smartphone VR headset – the phone simply slides into the top. Additionally, the headset has a small piece on the front that can pop out in order to allow accessibility to the phone’s camera, which could allow for augmented reality use in the future.

I can’t speak for all phones, but on my phone, the headphone jack is easily accessible while the phone is in the headset. The headset is made to fit any phone from the past two years. I have an iPhone 5C that’s almost 3 years old now, and it’s a bit small; you can see around the edges of the phone a bit sometimes. However, after using the headset a few times, I’ve adjusted more and have found myself not noticing this, so it’s no longer an issue for me.

PROS:

Fit: This headset fit easily over my glasses (which have large plastic frames), with plenty of extra room. The straps are easily adjustable and the soft foam can bend to fit different facial contours.

Lenses: The first time I tried to watch a video with this headset, I was a bit disoriented because of how blurry things were. However, adjusting the lenses was easy to figure out, and now I have no problem getting a clear picture.

Controls: The buttons make this headset super easy to use. I love being able to pull up a YouTube video, get it into Cardboard mode, pause it, and put it in my headset. I can then use the buttons on top to hit play again, which helps make sure I don’t miss any of the video, even the very beginning.

Durability: This headset can really take a beating. Mine has been hurriedly thrown into a backpack many times with no signs of damage.

CONS:

Weight: This headset is very comfortable for the most part, but it’s a bit heavy, so using it for a long time can be a bit uncomfortable.

Price: The Merge VR headset is $59.99. While this is much less expensive than a gaming headset like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, as a college student on a limited budget, I still found myself longing for the $15 price tag of the Google Cardboard.

AR capability: While it’s great that the Merge allows access to the camera for AR, the way they do it is a bit frustrating. The small piece that pops out of the front tends to pop out accidentally while I’m viewing VR videos, and then when I finish viewing, I notice it’s gone and end up scrambling to look for it. This is a fairly small issue, really, but it is something that gets a bit annoying.

OVERALL:

Overall, the Merge VR headset exceeded my expectations. It’s fairly comfortable and easily fits over glasses, and the foam is extremely durable. The controls, both for adjusting the lenses and for interacting with VR content, are easy to learn and to use. Though the headset can get a bit heavy after a while, it hasn’t been an issue very much for me because most VR videos I’ve seen are fairly short. The price is a bit high, but for me (and likely for many other glasses-wearing VR lovers) it’s entirely worth it.

The Sony Playstation VR Headset

 

 

The item that I chose to review is the Sony Playstation VR. It was released in October of 2016. The availability of the product depends on what you want. On the Playstation website, you are offered two different options. Option one is just the headset, retailing for $399.99 and available for purchase through every retailer. Option two is the VR Launch Bundle and comes with the PlayStation Camera, 2 PlayStation Move motion controllers, PlayStation VR Worlds Game Disc and their core bundle, which includes the VR headset, processor unit, VR headset connection cable, HDMI cable, USB cable, stereo headphones, AC power cord, AC adaptor and the PlayStation VR Demo Disc. This package retails for $499.99, but that is the listing price for stores that are sold out. If you want it bad enough, you can go onto Wal-Mart or Amazon and purchase the bundle for a whopping $654.97. But it is worth it?

I think many people would say yes but I would have to say no. I enjoyed playing with this headset and getting to experience some of the games it had to offer, but I would much rather wait for the stores to restock and purchase the bundle for the $499.99 (this is only because I am a cheapskate).

Now, as far as how it works. The headset was a little tricky at first to get on, especially if you have big, curly hair like mine. But once it was on, I had to make very few minor adjustments to see clearly. The headset was slightly heavy but you could barely tell you were really wearing anything once you got it on and were focused on gaming. The headset is designed so there are these little flaps (very technological term, I know) that block out light from the outside and make wearing the headset that much more immersive. Getting set up, you have to make sure you’re sitting in a certain position relative to the Playstation camera but after that, you can adjust how the picture looks depending on how you’re sitting with just the press of a button. Definitely a pro to this thing. The Playstation website also recommends that you charge the headset before using it because then you can go cord free and not look like your brain is being plugged into to some technological machine from the future. You can play some games with just the headset and others require you to hold the controller to things. Games like Resident Evil 7 require you to use the controller as if you were playing a regular video game but then also allow you the freedom of using your body to look around corners.

Some cons to the Playstation VR would have to be the price but that is to be expected. It is almost like buying the new Xbox. It was fun to get to play with on different platforms but I found myself sickly nauseous and had a slight headache after playing with it for about 30 minutes. A great toy for those who also enjoy 3D movies and probably don’t have bad vision, unlike me. Unless the price was significantly reduced, I was left thinking, “Man that was fun, but I wouldn’t pay to buy that because I wouldn’t play that all the time”. I feel for me, personally, the novelty of it would wear off after a while. It would be fun to show others when I have company but it wouldn’t be integrated into the systems of gaming equipment that I currently own. I think those who also love gaming and are ready for the next big thing but can’t afford an Oculus Rift would love this.

-By Kaitlyn

 

How to Watch VR Videos BEFORE Uploading Them

I like for things to be the best they can, especially before they are published. When starting this Virtual Reality storytelling class, one of my initial questions was “Are we going to have to upload all these videos just to test them and see if they worked?” The answer is no, thankfully. This post looks at an app that allows you to view your 360 video (and regular media) within a virtual player for free.

The application is called “Mobile VR Station” for iOS by Michael Fuller. The app is free with in-app purchases available, but they are not required. Basically, it allows you to view media (in your photos app) within this kind of virtual world. When first opened, it is very crude and has a decent learning curve, but if you sit down and devote 5-10 minutes going through the settings, you will get the hang of it.

You can choose your media to play from the home screen or within the VR environment, whichever you prefer. I usually like to select my video with my hands before putting my headset on. When you play a video, a bar across the top/bottom (customizable) appears. You look at the button you want to select for a certain period of time and then its function is activated. So when you look at the play button for 3 seconds, the video starts playing. You can visually see how long you have to look at the button because there is a loading graphic that play over top of the button. You can also change how you are viewing the media. For example, sometimes the player will default to a 2D screen. You can go into the settings (with the headset on) and change it to be 360 degrees.

PROS:

Straight forward; it does exactly what you tell it to. You can have a video playing in under 20 seconds if it is on your phone.

Reliable; I haven’t had to force restart this app once yet.

Customizable; Any and every detail of this app experience is customizable. Timing, phone orientation, visual aesthetics, you name it.

Free; For everything I use it for (testing VR videos before uploading them), I had to pay zero dollars.

CONS:

Rough; It is kind of ugly and needs some fine tuning. It could be more user friendly, but it gets the job done. There is definitely a learning curve. It takes some getting used to.

No DRM; This app can only display personal media. Anything that is protected by DRM (iTunes movies, etc.) cannot be displayed. Not a big deal if you are just using to testing out your own content.

5 Minute Limit; You can only play videos up to five minutes long (without an in-app purchase of $2.99 or an Ultimate Edition purchase of $5.99). You can buy the ability to watch longer videos, but in my experience five minutes of VR is pushing people’s attention span. Most of the videos I have watched/made have been closer to 2.5/3 minutes, which feels more appropriate.

So what is the purpose of this app? Why do you need it? Truthfully, you don’t. If editing in Premiere Pro, there is a VR viewer built in. You can upload it to YouTube and watch it as soon as your done editing if you want. I just like being able to see what users will experience when they put the headset on before putting it out in the public. Plus, it’s free. I know it is very confusing to read about an app like this, so below is a video demonstrating how to watch a 360 video using the app.

But the best way to learn is to try it yourself.  You can download the app yourself by clicking HERE. Thanks for reading!

VeeR: VR Community

VR is gaining steam… among a niche market.  It’s hard to sell VR to the public because to truly experience it you have to put on a headset, only a few can or are willing to do this.  But that doesn’t stop the creators.  So how do the creators get their creations to their niche market (people willing to look silly in headsets)? Youtube and Facebook are of course options but there is still another, VeeR.  VeeR is a “360 VR video platform designed and built around social networking features.” They’ve been around since August 2016 but, if you’re like me this may be the first time you’re hearing about them… and perhaps with good reason.  VeeR is a noble idea, a free community for VR, where content creators can find and be inspired by other creators.  It sounds like a dream no more scouring youtube for 360 videos you simply log on and low and behold hundreds of editor picked videos show up instantly and an easy to use search feature as well as customization for your feed.  Where it breaks down is the app. The VeeR community is accessible through their website (veer.tv) and a mobile app.  The website works well, or as well as a website for VR can. -At this current moment in time, VR is best utilized through a phone and headset.-  It’s disappointing that the app doesn’t work well, or at least not well for me.  Whenever I try to play a video on my ios device the app shuts down immediately.  

However, I have to assume this is not the case for everyone because I personally have a video (http://veer.tv/videos/7137) on this site that has been up for a little less than a month and it has over 1,000 views.  And the reason I have over 1,000 views in less than a month is because I was featured.  I uploaded some test footage of the inside of my hamster’s cage to Youtube and then the next day I received an email.  The youtube video had around 10 views at the time I received the email asking permission to 1 create and account for me on their site and, 2 feature my video.  While there may be some playback error on certain devices I will say that their recruitment is impressive, they know who their audience is and they are not afraid to reach out to them.  I’d mark this young Chinese company down as one to watch for VR creators and I hope to see an update for the app because the website certainly is promising.

Below you will find the pdf they sent as an introduction to me.  This pdf includes more details on the company and their mission as well as links to some of their featured videos.

Introduction on VeeR VR

UPDATE: Tried the app on my roommate’s android phone and it worked perfectly.  One point for android!