While the overwhelming trend in virtual reality centers around head mounted displays, companies with years of VR-related experience use projection-based systems and other technology to transform physical spaces for immersion.
At NAB 2016, virtual reality stepped out of the shadows and took center stage, as big and small brands alike vied for their stakes in the burgeoning industry. The VR and AR Pavilion was bursting with 360 video camera rigs, leveraging GoPros or Blackmagic Studio Cameras, dedicated VR-camera solutions, like those from Nokia, Sphericam and Kodak (or whichever entity that's renting the name), VR software workflow tools, live stich and live streaming presentations and showcases from VR production companies.
For the most part, these companies and products have one thing in common: they all anticipate end use of content on a virtual reality head mounted display. However, a handful of exhibitors bucked the trend and debuted offerings that don't rely on an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR or any of the other HMDs set to ship later this year.
The Shanghai Shizhun Electronic Science Technology Company was on-hand to show off its 'honest' 4K UHD glasses-free 3D smart TV. The occasion of NAB Show 2016 was actually the second time I've run into this technology, the first being a Siggraph in Los Angeles back in 2012. Siggraph is to the computer graphics industry what NAB Show is to film and broadcast, namely a giant convention of product makers and tech exhibitors, showcasing the latest innovations and workflow enhancements.
At Siggraph 2012, the Shanghai Shizhun's presentation left a little to be desired, although the technology doesn't appear to have changed much, aside from the extra resolution afforded by the jump from HD to 4K-UHD. The problem with the 2012 presentation was largely one of content, as composition of the video image made it appear as if looking through a window, meaning there was no conveyance of Z-axis depth that bridged the distance between screen and viewer. This year, the videos used to highlight this glasses free 3D were better conceived, with floating foreground elements that came close to appearing to break the physical boundary of the screen.
It might be a stretch to call this tech "virtual reality," but it's interesting that the company saw NAB's VR And AR Pavilion as fitting environs for its product, although it can also be seen as an attempt to salvage something from the 3D TV craze that never happened.
The Elumenati Projection
Going beyond the 2D screen, The Elumenati, a Milwaukee-based design and engineering firm, has a rich history of crafting immersive experiences that stretches back to virtual reality's inception in the 1990s. Instead of relying on the rudimentary and borderline-unusable systems of that era, the company forged its own path, developing sophisticated projection systems for environmental immersion. The company's booth at NAB Show 2016 consisted of a walk-in semi-dome, with an architectural video projected on exhibit's circular surface. While the video played and the perspective shifted, I actually got the sense of my stomach dropping, which was surprising, given the amount of light leak in the less-than-ideal conditions of the convention floor.
I chatted with Hilary McVicker, dubbed The Elumenati's "Communicatrix," who gave me some insight into the company and the next phase of the company's products, which will entail resolution increases for its projection-systems and content (to 4K). I also learned that the company has provided tech products and support to EON VR, another virtual reality company with decades of experience, catering to corporate and education clients, including training for deep sea oil rigs and products for major sports leagues and teams.
[Disclosure: A company that I consult for, bigSTORY, has taken meetings with EON VR to explore future collaborations.]
While Shanghai Shizhun and The Elumanti offer very different ideas for immersion, I expect to see an uptick for such products and services, as VR takes off in the consumer realm and impacts design decisions for physical environments.