NextVR/NBA Live Review

NextVR is a company that allows viewers to experience live events  in virtual reality, as if they were actually there. They have partnered with other companies such as the NFL, NBA, CNN, HBO, and others in order to have audiences be fully immersed in whatever event they wish. I chose to experience an NBA game live, using the NextVR app. Initially, all I had ever known about NextVR was its affiliation with the NBA live games. It wasn’t until I searched about how to watch these games did I realize what else is offered in the app. Still, it’s pretty clear that NextVR’s main concern is live sports, as you can tell from the opening menu. Before jumping to your app store, it’s important to know that this app is only available using the Samsung Gear VR or a Google Daydream–which is lame. That being said, after viewing this on the Samsung Gear, I understand why something like Google Cardboard doesn’t make sense for this platform (not yet, anyway). 

After navigating the menu, which was incredibly simple, I found the night’s live game. Since this use of technology is fairly new, the NBA only has one game available every week. Also, if you don’t have NBA League Pass, and you want to watch a game in VR, you will need to purchase it. You’ll know if it’s worth your single game subscription fee of $6.99 by the end of this review. Another quick caveat to NextVR/NBA Live, other than its headset and game price limitations, is that you will most certainly need reliable Internet. Without getting technical, I consider mine to be above average speed. However, upon clicking the play button, I got stuck with this for about 20 minutes: 

Once I finally was able to watch the game, it was actually a really neat experience–for the first 5 minutes, or so. You are placed directly behind the basket, but not at a weird, blinding angle like you may expect. You can see basically all the action happening, without feeling like you’re missing anything. As possession changes, the shot fades into the opposite side of the court. Being the NBA, this happens a lot and it quickly got dizzying. There is a scoreboard right below your line of vision so you can look down to check the time and score whenever you want.

As far as how it actually looks, it leaves a bit to be desired. If you have ever played the NBA 2k video game series, then this will seem very familiar to you. The shots aren’t close enough to see specific details, so everything looks very computer generated. One of the first things you will notice though is how enormous these guys look, compared to what you’re used to seeing on tv. Maybe it’s the virtual reality speaking, but something about being right under the basket and standing by a normal-sized referee makes the players seem even taller than you’d imagine.

The court and arena in front of you are really the only things that are visible. If you were to turn to your left with your headset on, you would see where the beginning of the intended field-of-view is, and the background starts. The background is a simple graphic of the game you’re watching.

I only ended up watching the game for around 30 minutes before I felt like I’d gotten all there was to get from the experience. The app does let you watch highlights from other games and sports though, which I actually found more interesting than the game itself. The NextVR app is really well constructed, and offers a lot of neat experiences. I didn’t think the NBA Live game was worth my 7 bucks though. I felt like I could’ve gotten the same experience had I watched a simulated game on NBA 2k17 on my PS4. It may be that basketball itself isn’t a very appropriate platform for virtual reality. Other sports that the NextVR app offers, like surfing and snowboarding seem to be perfect for VR. So, if you have an applicable virtual reality headset and fast Internet speed, and you’re debating on downloading the NextVR app…do it. It’s one of, if not the best in what it specializes in and will only improve as the technology advances. Click here for more information on the app.

 

 

Viar360

Viar360 is an editing technology
that allows the users to create interactive 360-degree stories. It is a web application created by a group of developers who want to help people explore new places. It’s free for people who sign-up for an account and want to create 360-degree stories. Viar360 allows people to distribute their stories, however, the subscription costs vary from $19/month to a custom price/month that depends on bandwidth and the number of stories published. Personally, I think the cost is quite reasonable because you can easily edit content, everything is saved through the website, and you can publish numerous interactive stories. I was initially confused by the features and how they work. Once I started watching a few of the tutorials that are provided through their support page, I got a better understanding of the editing software.

PROS:

-Has great features: Storyboard, Interactive HotSpots, POV auto direction, create information boxes
-Can save all content through the Viar360 website
-Short and understandable tutorials about every feature
-Easy to navigate through
-Interface creates a map between files to layout the edits
-Can easily switch between edit mode and preview mode

CONS:

-Previewing the panoramic content slows down computer (at least with Windows)
-Cannot edit videos to automatically transition to another
-The website could use some editing; the support section is in a light gray that makes it difficult to read.

Interface of storyboard in Viar360. It’s easy to follow, to see the edits you make between files, and what kind of file they are

Viar360 could be particularly significant to traveling and educational 360 videos. The creators of Viar360 developed the platform based on there being a lack of interactive VR content. The ability to be interactive with this content can benefit education by placing people into virtual situations. For example, doctors can look at VR human autonomy and have information boxes describing parts, or smooth transitions to another media file that places users closer to the body part. For traveling, it can allow users to be placed in any location in the world to learn, see, and interact with content based on the place. As the website stated, most customers who are using this product are tourist companies who want to create virtual tours. Viar360 can greatly impact both topics by having the interactive VR content.

On their website, it says “We are developing a cloud-based content management system for virtual reality that will empower publishers, educators, brands, and marketers. We also make and sell custom branded virtual reality googles.” I have not worn the goggles and it’s not easy to find them through the website. However, hey have succeeded this statement by providing an easy web platform that allows users to create this interactive content. It’s highly beneficial and I predict that it will grow over the next few years. It can improve virtual touring, training, journalism, and immersive storytelling.

Website: http://www.viar360.com/

Viar360 Information & Support: http://www.viar360.com/support.html

Relax VR: A Getaway In Your Living Room

Relax VR: Rest and Meditation

Relax VR: Rest and Meditation is new way to rejuvenate yourself. Quickly escape to relax on a beautiful beach, watch the clouds go by or lie in rice paddles. Listen to soft, soothing, melodic tunes while gazing over at an ocean doing a gentle meditation.

Maker, Availability and Price

NOW TECHNOLOGY PTY. LTD created Relax VR as their first Virtual Reality experience. The App falls under the category of “Health and Fitness” in the Apple iTunes store. It is approximately a 450 MB download and requires iOS 8.0 and up to run. Although many applications in the iTunes App Store are offered free, Relax VR is not one of them. It costs $1.99 to download, but that is cheaper than actually vacationing to one of these beautiful places the app offers.

Pros:

  1. Help calm down, and relax you as you escape to an exotic place.
  2. With headphones, it can allow you to have the perfect place to meditate.
  3. Spatial audio is beautiful.
  4. Besides just picking a beach, you can pick a certain destination in the world to fit your mood.
  5. Updates every month or two with new destinations.
  6. Great quality.

Cons: 

  1. $1.99 instead of it being a free app.
  2. A lot of space to download. Half a gigabyte. (500 MB)
  3. Some glitches can occur. Scene does not load properly the first time.
  4. App can crash unexpectedly.
  5.  Can run down your battery power easily.

How It Works

  • Select your scene
  • Put your phone into the VR headset (headphones are optional, but are recommended)
  • Choose between guided Yoga music, or calming, peaceful music.
  • Let the beauty of the scene, music and calmness let you slip into a soothing/meditation escape.
  • Emerge feeling rested and calm.

Audience

Relax VR is for ages 12 and up, but can be used for ages below 12. This app does not focus on a certain target audience because they want anyone/everyone to try this VR meditation escape! It’s perfect after a long stressful day, or if you are looking for your daily meditation.

Visit many places in around the world like:

  • Wineglass Bay Beach, Australia
  • Tropical Beach Escape, Phillipines
  • Northern Lights, USA
  • Forrest Creek, Germany

 

Jaunt VR App Review

Jaunt
Jaunt: Cinematic Virtual Reality

Jaunt VR claims to bring users “cinematic Virtual Reality.” And boy, do they deliver.

While other apps like NYT VR or USA Today VR are about informing viewers in a new way, Jaunt VR offers an alternative for pure entertainment (which makes sense–the dictionary definition of jaunt is “a short excursion or journey for pleasure.”) To organize this review I’ve broken it down into two categories that also describe Jaunt’s two biggest strengths: content and quality.

Jaunt VR-Clemson College Game Day
The ESPN College Game Day experience brings users in the middle of the frenzy, including a cheerleader dance-off.

Content

Think of Jaunt like as the free, VR version of Netflix. It features dozens of quality experiences that would appeal to any audience–for sports fans, Jaunt has a partnership with ESPN to show things like behind-the-scene shots of a College Game Day at Clemson, or a documentary, Jacob Jarvis: Why It Matters, on a teenage OSU fan with muscular dystrophy and special access to the team.

For the nature fans, Jaunt brings access to some of the most remote areas, from the Amazon to (my personal favorite) a tour of the beautiful Zion National Park in Utah. Not your style? Not to worry–the Jaunt Original series Invisible about a mysterious invisible kidnapper is sure to thrill. Movie fans can get an inside look into the filming and special effects behind “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,” or “Star Wars: Rogue One.” Beatle fanatics will appreciate a series on and hosted by Paul McCartney. There’s even a short called “Shaq Goes To Cuba.”

Each video is no more than 10 minutes long, important for avoiding dizziness and retaining viewer attention. Jaunt seems to really want to appeal to all audiences, which is why each summary to an experience is accompanied by a viewer age recommendation and comfort rating.

Jaunt lets users see a summary of each experience, along with the rating and age recommendation, before they choose to view it.

Quality

In terms of picture and video quality, almost all of the films seemed to be clear, especially the nature documentaries. There seemed to be minimal stitching, although they may be exacerbated if you have a slow connection. That’s important, as the app lacks the option to download a video for better quality, unlike the NYT or USA Today apps.

For a full immersion, I highly recommend using an adjustable headset and headphones or earbuds. I recommend that for all 360 and VR, but especially for those in Jaunt. The sound quality for most pieces are excellent, but especially enjoyable for the scary scenes Invisible.

The hands-free navigation within the headset is much more responsive and user friendly than lower quality players like Mobile VR Station. If the user moves their head around a lot, a dot  will appear and menu button. By resting the dot on a small menu button on the screen, a mini menu will open the video settings, although the only options to adjust volume in the headset are mute and un- mute–this may prove to be annoying if your only option is to take your phone out of your headset and manually turn the sound up or down.

 

Gaze Control
The gaze controls are useful in the headset view, but could use some work.

However, the good thing about Jaunt (and most other apps by this point) is that even if you don’t have a headset to screen the films, they’re still available in 2D mode.

 

And don’t worry about your phone’s battery life. If you’re interested in a Netflix-style binge, I found that the app was quite gracious on my phone after about an hour’s use. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re tempted to watch for longer than that.

NYT VR App

On November 8th, 2015 the New York Times partnered with Google distributed over 1.3 million Google Cardboard’s to their print subscribers intended to kick-off the VR generation of news. In conjunction with the distribution of the Cardboard the New York Times rolled out their iPhone and Android app NYT VR. Available on the Apple App Store and on the Google Play store for few the app lets user dive into immersive 360 storytelling immediately full of content and documentary style stories. Nearly a year later on November 1st, 2016, the Times announced their next level of 360 video immersion by introducing Daily 360, where they hoped to present 1 VR video experience each day based on the news the day before or the current day hosted both online and within this NYT VR app on the phone.

Design and Features: The NYT VR app features a simple and easy to use feed of stories and content. A scrolling time of the most popular and newest videos. With the new Daily 360 feed at the top with the option to see the last week and beyond of daily content. Each story is presented with a image and brief description intended to draw in the viewer and to allow for them to select what video they are looking for.

Once a specific video is selected the video opens with the description, an option to read more with links to the written story that accompanies it. After selecting to view the video you are prompted with two options, to download or stream the video. Once the download is complete, there are two options for viewing the video, Cardboard or 360.

Selecting Google Cardboard allows you to watch the two lenses through the cardboard device while selecting 360 allows for full screen mobility to move around the video by moving your phone.

Pros: The application makes it simple to use and find videos in 360 and ease of use once you select the video. It features great quality and good audio in a seamless approach to presenting 360 video. It mixes still photos from the story with external links to the written article and the ability to share what you watch on social media and beyond.

Cons:  Though the app is great and is easy to use a couple major flaws are also apparent. Each time you view a video and close the app or the story you are forced to re-download the video. For those users on data or offline it makes it near impossible to watch the video or to continuously use the app. While there is a large amount of content they haven’t accumulated lot of quite yet and is lacking content on a wide scale and you spend a lot of time looking for something that is not there.

Overall: A general consensus across the board was that this app was successful and a great tool for the readers of the NYT. Many readers were shocked to learn VR was easily accessible without the expensive viewing devices and I think this app has opened viewer’s eyes to that. The goal seems to be for the Times to get all the content in reader’s/viewer’s hands and hope the content does the rest of the work. From that standpoint and goal, the NYT VR app is a home-run, now to let the content to the rest of the job.