Could Virtual Reality transform how we consume news?
Jens Christensen, CEO of the VR company Jaunt, joins us to talk about collaborating on a story in Syria and the ease with which you can access today's VR technology.
Virtual Reality is becoming a more accessible reality.
ABC News is collaborating with a VR company called Jaunt to produce groundbreaking segments for the network’s news division. All you need is a smart phone or laptop, the custom app, and a simple cardboard viewing device that Google conveniently makes that you can buy for about 25 dollars. That's called Google cardboard.
ABC introduces the technology on tonight’s edition of “Nightline,” in a story about efforts to preserve antique treasures in war-torn Syria.
Jaunt's CEO Jens Christensen joined us today to talk about merging cinematic Virtual Reality with breaking news stories, plus the surprising ease with which one can use emerging VR technology.
So, VR encompasses many different things, but what does Jaunt focus on?
We're focused on cinematic virtual reality, and that's the type of virtual reality where we record the world around you using a special purpose camera and audio equipment to deliver a realistic VR experience to the end user, one that's really the TV or movie-watching equivalent of VR.
And that would be something like your Paul McCartney concert?
Yeah, exactly, those are great examples of cinematic VR. For the Paul McCartney concert, we recorded at Candlestick Park — it was actually the last concert given at Candlestick Park — and we positioned VR cameras up on stage next to Paul McCartney, next to his piano, and in front of the stage, and you as the viewer can feel like you're actually right up on stage.
It's really a novel and interesting experience for people to feel this full immersion — you can look at Paul, you can look around and see the drummers, and you can see the audience as the whole concert is happening.
You're really taking that to the next level with your collaboration with ABC News to create a virtual reality application that augments some news stories. What will users get that they wouldn't typically get in watching an ABC News story?
We're very pleased to be collaborating with ABC News. They used our technology, our cameras and our end-to-end solutions, to record sites within Syria that are at risk. Obviously, Syria's going through a lot of political upheaval, and it was a great opportunity to record sites in Damascus that most people wouldn't have the opportunity to travel to and see, and by doing it in VR, ABC News was really able to bring a level of immersion that isn't possible when you're limited to a 16x9 rectangle.
In VR, you get the full, spherical view from a rooftop in Damascus, where you can look over and see a mosque, you can see the old part of the town, just by literally moving your head and looking around. You can be inside a temple and see the beautiful artistic work in the temple.
Do you think there's a way to use the technology for breaking news stories? We're in the middle of horrible wildfires in the northern part of California — could you take this camera into something like a wildfire and give viewers an experience of what it's like to actually be fighting a wildfire?
Yeah, that's a great example. If you watch a fire on TV, it's very hard to get a sense of scale. Even when people fly over them, you're still looking at it on a rectangle on the TV, whereas when you bring a VR camera to a fire, you actually feel like you're right there — you can look up and you can see the height of the flames, and you can get a feel for the imminent danger that people are facing.
Let me ask you a bit about how users will access the app. Do you need special equipment, like glasses or headsets?
There are various ways you can do that. Today, the majority of people using the app experience it on mobile, and the way to do that is to use a headset, something like Google Cardboard. Google Cardboard is essentially a headset, literally made out of cardboard, with some plastic lenses where you slot in your phone, and by using special software you can then get a VR experience that allows you to look all around.
You don't need to buy a high-end electronic VR headset and plug it into a computer — you can leverage the phone that most people have in their pockets today.