Posted by Simon Lumb on , last updated

It's been a big year for Virtual Reality, and in the first of series of posts from the BBC R&D family looking back over the last twelve months, Simon Lumb reviews VR in 2016.

At BBC R&D, 2016 ended in a similar way to how it begain - in our welcome area in the North Lab, helping a colleague affix a headset and take a look into another world. And, as usual, the reaction was the same as I’m sure many young faces will have been on Christmas Day: full of wonder. That’s the joy of VR for me – that it evokes a reaction of surprise and delight in so many first timers. And so my 2016 closed that same way, with more wonder from people as they look through and step into some other reality.

It’s been a big year for BBC R&D in VR as we seek to try and understand the potential of the technology in delivering the BBC’s public purposes. There’s still more to be done and we’ve learned a lot. I hope you’ve found the opportunity to try some of our experiments – and if you’re lucky enough to be the recipient of a device or have a friend or family member who does, please do try our work and let us know what you think? We want to learn as much as we can.

Across the VR and 360 video industry we’ve seen so much happen in such a short time – with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launching to consumers in early April to the PlayStation VR and Google Daydream headsets in Autumn. We’ve gone from experimental hardware on very expensive custom PCs to more accessible solutions and consumer-ready first generation devices in a matter of months. The innovation seems only to be accelerating as more people experience the intrigue of VR and want to push it forward. In the summer new graphics chipsets doubled performance and halved costsa trend that should continue in 2017 as economies of scale make things even more accessible. Microsoft promises to treat headsets a bit like monitors, with standards and performance minimums set – and who knows what the CES circus will bring? I can’t wait! We’ve heard talk of rendering enhancements in the form of foveated rendering, eye tracking, demonstrations of wireless headset solutions and even more controller and haptic innovation. One of my colleagues, Matt Brooks, played a game in a full bodysuit – are we about to have a new lycra revolution?

And outside of the innovation in content that we’ve seen there are plenty of other interesting things popping up that perhaps you wouldn’t expect which are inspired by - or benefit from - VR technology. I’m particularly excited by mixed reality filming – the use of the VR tracking technologies and green screens coupled with game engines. The possibilities for the YouTube generation to experiment with this is brilliant – and we’re looking into what it means for our work as part of our research on new production workflows.

Watch producers talk about their Virtual Reality work for BBC Connected Studio

The game engines – or should we call them “realtime renderers” – are also providing rapid updates to take advantage of the exciting new frontier of immersive 3D editing tooling. You can create experiences for VR while in VR now – that’s a huge leap forward in thinking for user experience. What does true presence in 3D environments mean for productivity and production? We are looking forward to finding out. I’ve often said that the next generation of creators will be 3D thinkers – we’re going to see that accelerate. Not just practical things either - you only have to look at the amazing works created in SculptVR, Google’s Tiltbrush and Oculus’s Medium or Quill to see what the potential is and what incredible new forms of art we might experience in the coming years.

A screenshot from the virtual world in the Trainee's first project.

How all of this experimentation builds to new content formats and changes established forms and methods is a huge part of why we are looking and experimenting with the technology. Early next year we are taking more of the content from BBC departments that launched on Taster in the early summer and we will be making it available on the headset stores where it will join The Turning Forest (Daydream) and We Wait (Oculus). Do look out for our VR experiences on tour too as we know that getting content to places like the National Theatre and Imperial War Museum is really important. We are also going to continue to provide our 360 video content on a wide range of platforms for compatible smartphones and headsets.

I hope you’ve found the chance to take a look at a range of VR and 360 and make your own mind up on its potential – and if you’re yet to try it then do seek it out. I’m sure my first week of 2017 will have another queue of curious people waiting to look up in wonder at another sky.

More on Virtual Reality and 360 Video:

BBC Connected Studio - Watch 20 minute talks from our experts on Virtual Reality and 360 Video from #BBCVR day

BBC R&D - 8 Tips for Producing VR Projects

BBC R&D - Factual Storytelling Tips for 360 Video

BBC News Labs - 5 Lessons in VR

BBC R&D - 360 Video & Virtual Reality

BBC R&D - Why is BBC R&D interested in Virtual Reality?

About the BBC - Exploring VR and immersive video

BBC R&D - Virtual Reality Sound in the Turning Forest

BBC R&D - A Virtual Reality Fairy Tale Premiered at Tribecca Film Festival

BBC R&D - Immersed in a virtual reality… and that’s before you even put a headset on

This post is part of the Immersive and Interactive Content section