With 2016 marking the year when virtual reality finally entered the mainstream consciousness, through the consumer releases of the Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, it is unquestionable that “immersive technology” has been one of the hot topics in the tech industry over the past 12 months, with the market seeing a meteoric rise. According to research compiled by Statista, the number of VR hardware sales reached approximately 6.31 million by the end of 2016 – up from 1.43 million and 0.14 million in 2015 and 2014, respectively.
With hardware and software developers allowing users to immerse themselves in their products to a greater extent than ever before, the next couple of years is set to play host to a number of exciting developments as the VR hardware market looks set to reach $15.9 billion worldwide by 2020. That being said, virtual reality isn’t the only immersive technology seeing a rise, with augmented reality (AR), haptic communication and 3D audio also proving essential in stimulating a user’s senses. With that in mind, we’ve put together a selection of some of the best immersive applications you can download and use right now alongside your visual or audio-related hardware.
While most of the major uses of virtual reality are tailored to sports, entertainment and gaming content, that’s not to say all of them are. California-based “immersive media” company RYOT was one of the first journalistic companies to embrace the technology, with its ethos being to shine the spotlight on key global crises by immersing viewers as close to the action as possible.
The studio is renowned for producing a variety of 360-degree and VR documentary films which users can watch with their VR headset of choice, focusing on humanitarian and social issues such as the impact of the Syrian Civil War and the Nepal earthquake of 2015. Verizon’s AOL saw the value of the start-up, acquiring the company and making it part of its Huffington Post group last year.
Founded by humanitarian aid workers, first responders and filmmakers Bryn Mooser, David Darg and Martha Rogers, RYOT proclaims: “We don’t pretend to hide behind neutrality. We care about what happens to the world.” Social issues aside, the company’s brand of “earthy,” VR documentaries have an authenticity and immersion to them the likes of which the media has never seen before.
With leading music streaming service Spotify attracting 100 million worldwide users as of July 2016 – a year-on-year increase of 25% – it’s inevitable that music app developers would look to immersive technologies in an attempt to bring users closer than ever to their music, and thus gain a foothold in what is becoming a very lucrative market. Music discovery crossed with video-sharing app Mindie was arguably way ahead of its time upon its release in 2013, providing users with an immersive way of sharing short video clips set to their favorite tracks.
Fast forward a few years, and with the rise of virtual reality and other immersive technologies, we are starting to see more contemporary music applications come to the fore. Virtual reality startup NextVR announced a partnership with Citi and Live Nation last year to live stream ten music concerts in 360-degree VR, but perhaps the most immersive music experience of all has come from a single video, created by a one-man studio in the form of Dutch animator and musician Arjan van Meerten.
Surge is available as a free download via Oculus Home, and presents a gripping fusion of music with three-dimensional visualization effects, allowing users to “see” as well as listen to the electronic, experimental music track. The surreal short video is a leading example of an application being able to immerse multiple senses, and is set to receive a “sequel” in the form of Apex, which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival this month.
Online casino gaming is an industry whose rapid rise can be compared directly to that of virtual reality. The total iGaming market size is set to reach $56.05 billion by 2018 – more than doubling since 2009. In order to continue to immerse their players in the action, iGaming developers have constantly sought to keep up with technological trends such as live streaming to emulate the experience of stepping foot into a real-life casino.
The Evolution Gaming-developed Immersive Roulette Live, for instance, forms part of online casino 32Red’s selection of roulette games and is also available from other operators such as Royal Panda. The title offers players an immersive live gaming experience through the use of a live human dealer, a multi-camera set-up, 200-frames-per-second HD video and slow-motion replays of every wheel stop.
Immersive Roulette Live lends itself well to user interaction, with most operators including the aforementioned 32Red being amongst those to allow their players to chat live with their dealer. Such titles are a far cry from early live casino games, such as those formerly hosted by Dublin Bet, which often featured lower resolution video quality, as well as a single camera and host.
2016 may have been the year that VR entered the mainstream consciousness, but on the basis of the above three applications and those like them, 2017 could well end up being the year that propels the technology to new heights.