A production and development house from Ballarat has set its eyes on the emerging market of virtual reality services for the enterprise.
Only a year old, Virtual Reality Ventures has already received support from Samsung, with the hardware maker naming the four-person shop as its first virtual reality services partner in the world.
The agency is courting big customers, too. One of its first in Australia is the REA Group, which is exploring virtual reality applications for Realestate.com.au.
In an interview with Computerworld Australia, Virtual Reality Ventures managing director Stefan Pernar said there are other creative agencies looking to do virtual reality content, but it is rare for an agency to be focussed purely on VR.
He thinks that it will be consumers, and in particular gamers, who will drive adoption of virtual reality in the near term. But Pernar, who is also the president of the Australian Virtual Reality Industry Association, believes businesses will embrace VR over time.
“Once it is out in people’s homes, it can be used by corporates for marketing, consumer engagement and all these kind of things,” he said.
Pernar identified nine core industries that he believes will be most impacted by VR. At the top of the list is real estate, which could use VR to provide remote viewings of properties. In the future, people could use 3D digital scanners to quickly create VR experiences of available properties and upload them to real estate websites, he said.
“Imagine just as you’re taking a video of a place, you’re also recording the 3D information of a space. Instead of just having pictures … you can have an immersive walkthrough.”
Marketing is another big area for VR, and it’s happening already, he said. “At the moment we are in the stunt marketing phase of VR. You can create an experience and put it at the point of sale where you expect the customer will be,” he said.
He also cited opportunities for tourism, retail, healthcare, events, education, data visualisation, and construction and engineering.
An array of tech companies are involved with virtual reality hardware, including Samsung, Facebook through its subsidiary Oculus VR, Google and Sony, with the first two working together.
“The Samsung, Oculus, Facebook triangle at the moment is a real killer,” said Pernar. He said he is still a bit sceptical about the optics and the resolution on the Oculus Rift, but the headset has improved so much over time that he’s betting on a polished final version.
Even Google Cardboard — an inexpensive headset literally constructed out of cardboard that users can fold together and stick a smartphone inside — “gives people a really good experience as well,” he said.
It's been “super successful” for a piece of cardboard, he said. Google allows people to download blueprints for the device so it can be assembled at home, and it also allows third parties to sell and ship Google Cardboard kits. More than half a million Google Cardboard kits have been shipped, according to Google.
Pernar has also tried the Sony Morpheus headset and feels that Sony has “really nailed the optics.” In addition, he said the integration of the PlayStation Move controller is well done.
Virtual Reality Ventures plans to be hardware agnostic, because different hardware may best serve one client’s needs compared to another, he said.
For a client that wants to get 10,000 people into VR, Pernar said he will probably recommend Google Cardboard.
“It’s not going to be a perfect experience, but you’re spending $20,000 for 10,000 Google Cardboards that are going to be branded and then another $25,000 to $30,000 for a companion app.”
For a small sales team that is on the move a lot, the Samsung Gear VR makes sense because it’s portable, he said. The device is small and requires the user to plug in a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 to function.
If a company has a serious engineering application, or just needs one headset to set up in a fixed location like a point-of-sale, Pernar recommends the full Oculus Rift headset because it will provide the best experience.
Designing a virtual fashion show
One of Virtual Reality Ventures’ first clients is Sydney Street, a women’s fashion store based in Adelaide that also operates three online stores.
Pernar’s company developed a demo for a Sydney Street virtual fashion show. When a customer straps on the Oculus Rift headset, they can see avatars do a virtual runway walk wearing different designs sold in the store.
Pernar had helped Sydney Street with its websites and introduced the store’s managing director, Brett Partington, to the possibilities of virtual reality. Partington suggested creating a fashion show.
Virtual Reality Ventures used 3D garment design software MarvelousDesigner to create the demo, said Pernar. The software was used in the recent The Great Gatsby film, which won an Oscar for costume design.
It took some time to get the visuals right, said Partington.
“When I saw the first avatar actually walking with the clothing on, I didn’t like it,” he said. “It wasn’t natural. We had to actually work on the way she walks to get it as real as possible.”
Also, limitations of the Oculus Rift meant the visuals were low resolution, he said. However, this is something that has improved with each new iteration of the Oculus Rift hardware, he said.
“I get excited every time something new comes out because our project looks better.”
The virtual fashion show has yet to drive customer sales, but has received interest from fashion wholesalers, said Partington. “The brands are the ones that are starting to circle and show some interest,” he said.
The wholesalers see it as a tool to showcase collections to potential buyers while reducing costs, he explained. Today, big fashion brands spend vast amounts of money hiring models and flying people around the world to see their ranges, he said. “Now it can be done at a computer.”
In the future, if VR headsets become more common in homes, Partington predicted virtual reality could be the new 360-degree view for online retailers.
Partington sees virtual reality as a promising way to stand out in a competitive market.
“Retail is all about the experience, and we have to become a bit more engaging,” he said. “I think that’s where virtual reality can be really exciting.”
This is especially important for an independent retailer like Sydney Street, which must work with a limited budget, he said.
“It shows customers that we’re progressive,” he said. “We can still cut through and do something that’s unique and positive.”