HTC will launch its own Virtual Reality headset – the Vive – in collaboration with Valve gaming, and with content deals lined up with Lionsgate, HBO and Google. The format that this content will take remains unspecified, although it is likely that the Lionsgate’s deal will include promotional material to immerse fans in the world of ‘Divergent’, the studio’s young-adult franchise of the moment.
HTC’s Vive is largely PC-based, as is the Oculus system, but has created a lot of buzz due to its positional tracking feature that allows users to walk around the virtual reality world, while other systems support predominately sit-down, head-tracking experiences. Given that Valve is the main partner in this headset effort, it is clear the device is aimed primarily at gamers. All the same, the devices’ media content partnerships show other applications have been taken into account in its design.
Headsets have resurged in 2015, and a plethora of devices and systems are now on-offer, spanning virtual reality to augmented reality. In addition to HTC’s Vive, we now have Facebook’s Oculus – a PC-based system with its roots in gaming; Microsoft’s Hololens – an augmented reality headset that uses a transparent head- up display to overlay graphics; Sony’s Morpheus – a very game-centric device designed for the PlayStation 4; Razer’s OSVR – an open source headset effort with a modular hardware approach; and finally, Samsung’s Gear VR, which acts a wearable adapters for a mobile phone.
Although current headsets revolve around, and have largely emerged from the world of immersive gaming, it is far too restrictive to see these devices as exclusively germane to the gaming environment. For the wearables category as a whole – be it a smartwatch or a headset – wearables are creeping into the video consumption experience, and video consumption is itself creeping toward wearables.
The past decade of screen proliferation, coupled with the increasingly interactive nature of video media, dovetails terrifically with wearables’ consumption, feedback and input capabilities. Indeed, we’ve already been presented with early examples of how consumption experiences and wearables may mesh. Today, Netflix relies upon the Android Wear smartwatch platform to push unprompted recommendations, as well as notifications, to viewers. More speculatively, these devices may facilitate entirely new forms of media, or act as a new medium in their own right, over the longer term. In the present however, the main takeaway is that the UI and UX are set for major changes, and wearables will play a large role in leading the charge.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 provides a compelling example of a software ecosystem that places a wide range of devices – and not simply PC, tablet, and smartphone ‘usual suspects’ – atop a single platform, and in so doing, seeks to enable new media experiences. By integrating tablets, smartphones, game consoles, PCs, and an as-yet-unannounced smartwatch into one software environment, and baking HoloLens APIs directly into this environment, the upcoming Windows platform will allow media companies to reach viewers across, and push content discovery experiences to, nearly any device a consumer may own.
Nonetheless, a number of hurdles lay ahead before wearables become mass market devices. Headsets, for their part, can be awkward to wear, and suffer from many of the attributes that served to marginalize 3D glasses. More generally, wearables may need to develop their own, independent, command-and-control interface. In the same manner that mobile phones borrowed a button interface from their landline ancestors, but did not truly revolutionize consumption until the adoption of a touch interface, wearables may too require their own interface paradigm. The rise of motion controlled UIs, and voice-activated interfaces, may offer promise as wearables strive to cultivate a UI and UX that is optimal suited to the form-factor.
While uncertainty clearly surrounds the exact applications that will make their way onto wearables, the devices’ role in the multiscreen universe is assured.