Is VR the Ultimate Empathy Machine for 360 Storytelling? SXSW Liveblog


Another big crowd gathers for a Virtual Reality tour. This one is titled “Ultimate Empathy Machine: 360 Storytelling in VR and it features as one of the panelists a big gun from Google. Andrey Doronichev is Google’s product manager for VR apps. Other panelists are Austin Mace of SubVRsive, Jim Geduldick of GoPro and Sarah Hill of Story Up Studios VR.

If you can’t see the liveblog posts, click on the headline of this blog post. Enjoy the ride!

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Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:03 pm

Austin Mace of SubVRsive kicks it off. He’s @austinmace. Others are Andrey of Google @dobry and Sarah Hill @saramidMO . There was a substitution for the GoPro guy, I think. His name is Mansouri.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:05 pm

Google Expeditions video: You can pick anywhere in the world. Where would you like to go? A teacher asks pupils. “There are other places that you can visit.” Kids have little cardboard boxes with smartphones. Whoah! They look up and down. “This is the Great Wall of China.” More enriching than showing a picture or reading about it. “This device enables us to go places we’ve never been able to go before,” one girl says.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:07 pm

Another video, from Washington Post, I think. Jerky 360 views of somewhere in Africa. People lack wheelchairs, crawling on the ground. Vivid views of man crawling with help from a stick.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:09 pm

It’s weird watching VR on a flat screen. You sort of get the feel of it, but not really. You have to imagine having a headset on. Now we watch a GoPro 360 video of someone swimming underwater then surfacing. He’s on a surfboard. You can turn your head an see the wave he’s riding, look up and see the top of the curl. Pretty cool.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:13 pm

Is 360 video virtual reality? Sarah says yes. Anything in a headset is VR. We should be coming together now, not dividing or confusing people. Google says they debated question. VR replaces your real reality, so that involves other senses not just visual. They see it as applying to stereoscopic. I think he means audio plus video.

Mansouri adds to the confusion – spherical, other terms. “It’s all gravy.”
Mace: Shows fluidity of whole market. Three panelists don’t even use same term.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:17 pm

Eureka moments. Sarah got into it via AR using Google Glass for veterans. Doronichev: Chris Milk starting Verse. Music video. High quality headphones. When I put it on and experienced it, I felt I was there. The feeling of presence is what VR is after. Second time was a very barebones game engine, less realistic. But you could walk around in the room it added to presence. The acoustics in the room are terrible. Hard to hear what panelists are saying.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:18 pm

Mansouri (GoPro) – spherical image enhanced greatly by audio from 360 degrees.

It’s clear that audio is big part of the experience.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:20 pm

Pre-production planning for VR is similar and different. You have to pay attention to the settings. As journalists we don’t stage our stories. We rely on nature of environment. You have to choreograph the scene. There is a lot more preparation for interviewees. They have to self-interview. Camera person leaves the room. They are there talking to themselves. Story still has to have beginning, middle, and end. But multiple cameras and multiple opportunities for error.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:21 pm

Overcapture a problem, GoPro guy says. Take what you need for effective shot.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:23 pm

Production of 360 video. We are at stage 1, Mace says. Biggest challenges: Sarah says heat was a problem in Africa. A can of compressed air cools cameras down. Sometimes put rigs in the fridge to cool them down. Audio a challenge and lighting. You have to hid microphone and lights from viewer.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:26 pm

Mace: not everything in the world is beautiful. Advertiser wants product framed in the perfect way. With 360 degrees of information, how do you make it look good?

Doronichev: It’s also an opportunity. VR videos on YouTube let you see story a different way each time. VR videos on YouTube? I didn’t know that exists.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:28 pm

VR video is more compelling to user. Increased time spent, and higher rate of sharing. This should be of interest to brands, Sarah Hill says. An 80 yr old watches 8 minutes and then wants to see it again. NYTimes shows average view time of 8 minutes for their VR clips.

He can pop a cardboard on their face and customers can experience flying in a plane. Saves plane fuel, Sarah says.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:32 pm

6-camera GoPro rig is what Sarah Hill uses. Ricoh theta – – camera a great way to get started, for less money. Nikon also has one.

You are future proofing your content by using 360 video or VR, Sarah says.
Doronichev says cardboard + smartphone lets people get a glimpse of it. First thing they do is watch 360 video. Mansouri cites New York Times VR experience as giving credibility to story telling capability. I’m glad to see Times’s experiment in VR being noticed and appreciated.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:35 pm

What stories work best for 360/VR?

Mansouri – when we get cat videos in 360 it’s game over. At GoPro we want to capture moments that truly matter – music and action sports. Also pickup in journalism and education.
Doronichev – comedy, action sports shots, education. Top three videos is Clash of Clans game trailer. World’s most watched 360 video. 37 million views on YouTube.
Sarah Hill – certain stories lend themselves. If there is action the full two minutes you get exhausted looking all around. The story is king. It doesn’t matter as much about the tech. Beautiful places are great in 360 but not just in the video. Need to be compelling to the ear also. Heading to Nigeria to film a choir at a leper colongy.
Mansouri – don’t force 360. Avoid gimmickry.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:39 pm

Google has shipped more than 5 million cardboard viewers.

Sarah Hill in Missouri, Silicon Prairie. Google donates cardboard for veterans to use in assisted living places. We are creating content and evangelizing how to use it. Until people put on a headset they don’t know they can feel the video as much as watch it.
Doronichev – someone with cardboard for first time holds it, then moves a little, then a lot and then go “Whoa!” People don’t know what to expect. Important to set expectations correctly A random person might expect The Matrix. On creator side, YouTube has invested in creator spaces, helping people to tell stories with 360. Common mistake is to accelerate movement in VR. Viewer will get sick when acceleration not felt in inner ear. Nausea results. Good to know!
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:41 pm

Cardboard is doing an amazing job making VR accessible, Mansouri says. Steep learning curve for creators. Might be a few more months or quarters before consumer grade equipment is available.

How imported is consumer generated 360 content? Doronichev: UGC extremely important for YouTube. Same way we democratized viewing with cardboard, we need cameras people can use.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:45 pm

Sarah says there are tools to see where viewer is looking in a 360 video. Important analytic tools coming into use.

Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:48 pm

Where are most people watching 360 video. Doronichev: YouTube. Of course! Smartphone biggest viewer. Chrome is also close.

Mansouri: People wondering how we will make 360 more interactive.
Sarah: We use Shrimp Eyes, Little Star – and YouTube. We use street teams at Boys and Girls Club sharing VR experience.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:50 pm

Q&A starts.

Q. If VR is empathy machine, can that be exploited in journalism.
A: Sarah Hill – Knight Foundation released a report on this. Should we stitch out the tripod or the drone. Should we hide behind a rock? We have to wield the tool with great concern. When it comes to horror, explosions in Syria–because it’s much more real in VR, we need to treat that carefully. Not viewed in a filter any more. It’s right in front of our face.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:53 pm

We’re still capturing reality, Sarah Hills. It’s still a frame; it’s just a moving frame.

Q: Compression issues. Whenever you try to stream, it’s lower resolution. File sizes are very large. Great pieces on Verse, but it takes a long time to download. If stream, it’s lower resolution..
A: Doronichev – a lot of smart people are working on it. Even though the video is spherical, there is a frame. Platform might be able to stream only what viewer is looking at. Facebook has this and open sourced it, a great step.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:56 pm

Q. Monetization. How can independent artists use it and support their work?

A. At GoPro, metric of views doesn’t apply. People spend more time, looking at more angles than regular video. We don’t have an answer yet. We’re excited to hear YouTube’s answer.
Doronichev – Launched 360 video a year ago on YouTube. Tried ad campaigns. Very small number. It’s early. New York Times media places sponsors in video. GE appears for pretty long time and you don’t mind it like you would in a regular video. It’s like the early days of TV. Sponsor content model worked well in early TV, and it might work.
Sarah Hill: You can sell ad on cardboard viewer. It’s called Cardboard preroll.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20163:59 pm

Q. I do diversity training and VR would help, with empathy training. I am in SF.

A. There are many people in San Francisco with rigs who are looking for content like yours. There isn’t a way to connect content makers with VR content creators.
Q. What about pointing cameras in, at a subject, rather than out?
A. Microsoft working on it. There is experimentation happening.
Len Edgerly March 14, 20164:01 pm

OK. This was a confusing but worthwhile overview of VR, giving lots of things to check out, like YouTube 360 videos, which I have missed over the past year. I’m struck by the confusion of what to even call it. That’s exciting, evidence of how early we are in this phenomenon.

Comments 2

  1. Norm Gregory wrote:

    I have the cardboard viewer (NY Times sent it to me free) and I have the Ricoh Theta S camera to make my own 360 videos.

    The second time I watched a 360 video I felt nausea … The third time I could only watch for about 30 seconds.

    Now anytime the cardboard viewer even gets close to my face. I get queasy!!!

    I can’t understand it. I have never suffered any kind of motion sickness.

    Posted 14 Mar 2016 at 3:16 pm
  2. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Here is a YouTube video shown here at the #VRstories session:

    Posted 14 Mar 2016 at 3:44 pm