As CES Asia has made clear, there truly is no shortage of new technologies to amuse and entertain. From augmented reality to interactive gaming consoles, consumers have endless options these days when it comes to content.
Even so, I still find myself wondering how influential emerging technologies will really be with respect to the way we actually consume entertainment. Take TVs. Over the past 50 years, the hardware has become clearer, slicker and certainly more portable. But at the end of the day, most of us still like the comfort of curling up on a couch to watch our favorite shows on a home TV.
There’s also this: Whilst much of the VR on display at CES Asia is technically impressive, it often falls short as a creative experience. For these and other reasons, it’s tempting to dismiss emerging technologies like VR as a mere novelty.
But as business history has taught us, it can often take decades for new tools to gain traction. Film projection was invented in the 1890s, for example, but it took decades before filmmakers began experimenting with cuts and montages – this would usher in a new era for cinema, which in turn paved the way for the “Golden Age” of movies that would come to define Hollywood. VR and other modern-day innovations are simply a continuation of the content innovation progression.
To be sure, VR has many challenges right now. VR content production currently relies on traditional filmmaking techniques, which often aren’t suitable for the medium. The 360-degree nature of VR, and the nausea that can sometimes follow, is also a challenge. At a more foundational level, filmmakers are trying to figure out the best ways to use VR to convey a first-person narrative. This will require an adaptation of conventional visual storytelling techniques, which aren’t particularly useful for the unique environment of VR.
The answers to these and other questions are not yet clear, but as prices fall and VR equipment becomes more readily available, smart creatives will no doubt figure it out, much as TV producers, in an earlier era, figured out how to compete with the then-dominant medium of radio, which TV would overtake and eventually eclipse.
CES Asia offers a few clues as to how this transformation may evolve. In one demonstration, by Chinese streaming service IQIYI, users can watch a movie through a VR headset that simulates the in-the-room feeling of a cinema. This clever approach avoids some of the pitfalls of VR by contextualizing the user’s location as a static one, and the effect is far more enjoyable than, say, watching a movie on a mobile phone. Other VR demos similarly trick the user’s senses.
Ultimately, as with so many content innovations, VR progress is likely to be more incremental than revolutionary. The hype around VR has certainly lessened in recent years, but the serious work of making it a viable mass medium continues. It may take a while for the results of these efforts to bubble up, but if history is any indicator, the final results will be well worth the wait.
H+K Strategies Asia
Hong Kong Technology Lead, Asia Pacific Technology Practice Director