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Virtual reality: look beyond the goggles

Picture: Holovis

ISE is an ideal opportunity to scope out the latest in new virtual reality applications, and how they can be of benefit to your business. Steve Montgomery explores the new reality of VR for AV companies

Virtual reality applications are receiving a lot of attention at the moment and the technology looks like it is here to stay. The majority of applications rely on head-mounted goggles or smartphones and are primarily aimed at consumers. Futuresource forecasts high sales of personal VR devices this year.  “2019 will see global head-mounted display sales hit 72 million units of which mobile and head-mounted units will represent 88%,” said Carl Hibbert.

As with other mainstream consumer products, there is a spin-off into the Pro AV market that opens up new opportunities for system designers, integrators and content creators. Virtual reality applications using goggles are starting to appear in retail, museums and other AV sectors.

Exciting new VR applications are appearing that are not constricted to enclosed head-mounted displays. Virtual reality applications can be considered to be any situation that attempts to simulate a real or fantasy world to a viewer; no matter how it is presented. This can be a large LCD wall, bank of video screens, curved projection surface or an all-encompassing CAVE facility.

Some of the latest collaboration and conferencing systems are picking up on this idea: by placing images of remote attendees at the end of a conference table so that they appear to be present in the same meeting. Others allow distant users to interact on a touchscreen in an office thousands of miles away as though they were standing alongside local users.

As audiovisual professionals searching for business, we should be looking further afield; to address market sectors beyond our normal sphere of activity. For example, the oil and construction industries and the military use projected virtual reality systems to train staff in situations that are difficult to simulate physically, or do not yet exist. These are often formed from extensive multi-projector installations in dedicated buildings.

In the broadcast industry, many studio sets are virtual creations, existing only within the computers that generate the graphics and the minds of the creatives producing them. ITV’s ‘Cathedral of Football’ studio in Red Square was largely created by moveable backdrop LED panels to ‘transport’ pundits instantly from central Moscow to football stadiums around the country and back again. Virtual images on the screens change in response to camera movements to create a realistic three-dimensional transmission.

The world’s largest automotive manufacturers are switching away from expensive life-size clay models of concept cars, preferring to share and alter new car designs on massive, narrow-pitch, LED walls; collaboratively and in real time.

The air traffic industry is transforming operations through the use of remote towers. Controllers watch live images from unmanned airports hundreds of kilometres away on 3,60o displays and speak to pilots to guide them into the skies.

Many of the companies that create hardware, software and applications for these applications operate outside the core AV sector and won’t be exhibiting at ISE. Several are multinational organisations, but many are small, niche and highly creative start-ups. There will be many commercial opportunities open to professional AV practitioners who seek them out.

Others will be present. These include companies like Holovis with projection CAVEs; Christie who build massive flight simulators for Boeing; 7thSense, and Green Hippo who make the powerful media servers needed for real-time visualisation; Viscon immersive projection systems; and Immersive Studio for VR content.

It is well worth taking time at the show to search them out, talk through the possibilities and win new business in virtual reality applications; not just beyond the goggles, but beyond our normal sphere of activity.