As you may or may not have heard, on March 25th Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement that Facebook had bought Oculus VR, manufacturer of a virtual reality gaming headset called the Oculus Rift, at a price of $2 billion in cash and shares of Facebook stock. The company will continue to function independently from Facebook, just like the two other Facebook-purchased companies Instagram and Whatsapp.
For those who don't know, what the Oculus Rift does is help immerse players into video games, as if they were actually in the virtual environments of video games.
It seems like a no-brainer to me, but a lot of people didn't understand the intention of the purchase. What interest would Facebook have in purchasing virtual reality technology? About the purchase, Zuckerberg commented:
"After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home."
Now, this is big news for a lot of reasons. Can you imagine how convenient it would be to be able to take a college course at Oxford or Yale, sitting comfortably on your couch in some small town in Wyoming? Or the ability to converse with your soldier serving abroad as if they were right in front of you? The possibilities are mind-boggling.
And while I was thinking about this, my mind came around, as it often does, to movies. What could Facebook's purchase of Oculus VR mean for movies?
I believe it could change the medium as we know it.
It was Zuckerberg's comment about enjoying court-side seats at a game that got me thinking. If you could use this headset to immerse audiences in a sporting event, why not a movie? Picture this: you're being guided across a battlefield with artillery exploding every which way, spraying dirt and debris in all directions, on a set path but with the ability to observe everything around you, not unlike a cut scene in a video game. The man in front of you with a rifle in his hands turns around and who should it be but Tom Hardy, dressed in military garb receiving instruction from his commanding officer, who would obviously played by George Clooney. And the whole time you can pay attention to whatever part of the scene you want.
Okay, maybe that's not the most well-worded example, but you get the idea. Imagine being able to totally immerse yourself in a production. It would take the 3D concept of applying visual depth (most aptly observed in James Cameron's Avatar and Alfanso Cuaron's Gravity) and take it one step further. There would be no fourth wall to speak of, providing the truest of immersion, thereby completing the viewing experience!
Now of course I don't think all movies would convert to this format, just like not all movies are made in 3D now. It could be for those special kinds of films like Avatar or Gravity. The reviews would go something along the lines of, "Go see this in Oculus!"
Another thing that immediately came to mind was Iron Man. I remember when I first saw Tony Stark working in his lab in 2008, I thought that the holographic technology on his computers was the coolest thing ever. How he could manipulate images and blueprints in his hands, or how in the second movie he could scan that Stark Expo model and create the blueprint for the new atom, that was all so awesome to me. And with this purchase of Oculus VR by Facebook, it makes me wonder if we're not getting closer to that kind of technology.
Change in computer technology could mean change in media viewing.
This goes along with my point about immersive viewing. But imagine watching a movie using immersive VR technology, and being able to send and receive emails simultaneously. I mean, I personally wouldn't want to disturb the moviegoing experience, but if I had seen a movie before I could look up trivia and news related to the film, or maybe type out notes for a review during the film, without ever having to leave the movie. It's just a cool thought.
Changes in VR technology could possibly mean a cleaner, quicker editing experience.
I don't know if you've ever edited video on a professional program like Apple's Final Cut, but it's maddening at times. It's monotonous and complex, and there are so many parts and factors that it's all hard to keep up with. But if virtual reality can enhance the video game experience, I see no reason why it couldn't improve software. The ability to drag a project from one editing program to another (like from Adobe or FCP to After Effects, etc), with more ease would not only make editing movies quicker (thus expediting the process of releasing them), but the ability to move, cut and enhance clips with your hands would mean cleaner cuts and the possibility for more detailed image adjustments. In short, if we keep developing VR technology, this could lead to better looking movies. Sorry, the filmmaker in me is freaking out.
How does Facebook fit in to all of this? Well, besides the obvious integration of VR immersion and social networking, this also means that Oculus VR will now have the funding they need to not only expand, but make greater strides in R&D and possibility for new technology. Sure, the Oculus headset is huge and bulky now, but if Facebook throws the money they need to at Oculus VR, eventually this could develop into something no bigger than ski goggles, or maybe swim goggles.
But this is all speculation. This is me hearing some news and letting it go off in all different directions in my mind. But really, if you think about it, it's not too far a stretch to imagine this purchase changing the way we watch movies. And that's exciting.