1 month in the Vive - Part 3/4
Michela shares her experience with the HTC Vive - part three of four posts. Read part 1.
Audiences react to room-based VR in different ways. We've noticed four broad types so far.
Some people just don’t want to put on a HMD. We've heard many excuses, including the classic, "I really want to try it. I'll be right back..." Bad hair days abound with VR and it's never a good look. There are also nomenclature issues. The conflation of "VR " with "360 video" means that many people presume the Vive experience to be equivalent to low or middle tier tech like Google Cardboard or Galaxy Gear VR. Once bitten twice shy. We've seen people decline their first Vive demo on the basis that "VR gives me a headache". So far we haven't seen anyone get nauseous from a Vive. In staging terms, exhibitors tend to place the (high end) Vive experience last so it remains to be seen what percentage of users get only as far as Gear VRs before giving up.
Not everyone is comfortable wearing an oversized ski-mask with dangly cables hanging off the back. For these people, a quick go and a few tentative steps is enough. The body language reveals the inner monologue: "A lot of work has gone into this... can I take it off yet without seeming rude?" There is also no getting away from the fact that once you put it on and can’t see the world around you, you're vulnerable. There are trust issues here.
This group is populated by those who have already tried multiple experiences and thus in a position to compare and critique. Obviously VR experiences will vary but it's been interesting to see how quickly people form their conclusions and let you know what is or isn't working for them. Aside from the obvious bug reports, I was surprised to see how quickly people will tell you “how this should work" given how new the form is. Again the reactions vary but across your typical collector, opinions are strong and fully-formed within a few minutes. No time for subtleties. No doubt we're witnessing the emergence of new metrics, equivalent to the split-seconds in which a person viewing a web site for the first time subconsciously ‘decides’ how long they’ll stay there.
The most satisfying group to share VR with so far are those who take time to explore, not just the interface, but the virtual worlds themselves. Again you can tell by the body language how engaged they are. I think what impresses me the most about the Vive is how quickly a newcomer can turn into an explorer given the right context.
These are not by any means hard-and-fast categories. No doubt we all move between them. In a trade show or demo setting it is also hard allow people sufficient time for reflection and re-visitation, especially when there is a queue and background noise. That said, with so little to go on, research-wise, getting as many observable people as possible into your shows makes a lot of sense. We've only had one public outing so far (thanks ScreenNSW) but we’re still in conversation with many of the people who met us and our work for the first time that day.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
Encased in an HMD, different things can snap users out of their reverie. Such as tripping over the cable.
Thankfully we haven't had this happen yet but we have seen it with peer studios. Not nice for anyone. Walking into objects or hitting them with outstretched hands is another issue - not everyone is content to follow instructions and "stay within the wireframe box". Watch out for the macho user who has clearly decided to stress-test the gear at your expense. For more sensitive souls, other elements of the experience jar. The controllers for example. You can easily show your experience’s controllers as they physically appear but the creative possibilities are endless in terms of how the controllers can appear in VR and what each button can be programmed to do. For ACO Virtual, the controller appears in VR as a conductor’s baton (no buttons). While most people seemed to like this (you can swipe it around to spotlight musicians for a bit of fun) one user reported that it pulled him out of the experience entirely whenever he pressed buttons because what he was seeing didn’t correspond. One to watch over time.
Graphic detail. In a time when we live in rendered worlds, people are quick to judge quality by visual aesthetic. Visuals do not necessarily translate to a better experience. Once you have experienced a number of beautifully rendered (but static) virtual worlds - as some of us did back in the 1990s VRML days - what's lacking is noticeable. For ACO Virtual, I was working with a rather rudimentary post-vis model of our preferred physical layout for the show (7 screens for projected images in a hexagon layout) but the feedback has been that the overall effect works. I believe largely because you're in a darkened space.
Regarding audio, binaural sound (to replicate the sense of audio in specific 3D positions around you) will be a huge boon to VR creators. It's still in its infancy and not yet available as an off-the-shelf resource across all platforms.