September 12, 2016

VR @ InfoComm

Frankly, this year’s InfoComm hoopla—from an educator’s perspective—left me underwhelmed. There were no blockbusters, killer educational technologies, nor grand entrances as in past years. There was little to get us to stand to our feet and applaud great educational potential. This was a tepid year—a year of stolid incrementalism at best. Given the recent hubbub that is usually associated with virtual reality nowadays, I was surprised to find a subdued presence for VR at InfoComm 2016. In fact, the VR presence may have been a bit smaller than in previous years at InfoComm, if memory serves me well. I was expecting more from the VR meme at InfoComm 2016. I didn’t get it. Nevertheless, here are some of my VR observations:

  • 360° cameras and software. The fresh appearance of a slate of 360° and VR cameras caught my attention. Nokia featured their OZO camera, while Elmo touted their QBiC camera with its free VideoStitch post production software for creating 360°VR videos. Kodak was pushing their PIXPRO 4K editing software for producing spherical videos, while Ricoh showcased their low-cost Theta 360 s. I should mention: I noticed educators in significant numbers trolling the booths dedicated to 360° and VR cameras, with outspoken interest in having student use such cameras to produce educational content.
  • Stampede offered a “wild west” shootout corral. The popular corral experience, run by staffers from VRstudios, showcased their multiuser wireless virtual reality solution. Although they expressed no interest in the ed market whatsoever, feverishly grinning instead about the bullish gaming and entertainment market, I envisioned three implications for the ed market: 1) the wireless capabilities make a lot of sense for the ‘freedom’ demanded by the ed market: (tethered products don’t do as well, historically); 2) the multiuser nature of the VRstudios technology is an advantage, bringing cooperative learning to virtual reality. (Imagine an entire class meeting on the surface of Mars to learn about gravity, survival, and the challenges of exploring the planet with a mobile rover); and 3) it will make teachers and children sick. It made me sick, and that practically never happens. (They need to figure this one out: see my article, “I love VR; I hateVR.”

  • Canon Eye 2 Eye. Canon physically involved passersby in their interactive Eye 2 Eye VR dance and motion experience, which was quite impressive at first glance. Implications for the ed market: this technology could eventually evolve into an interactive environment that would be extremely motivating for physical education. I know… it’s a stretch.
  • Christie. In an interesting twist, Christie showcased their Mystique suite of virtual reality-assisted design tools. (I wonder: did they know that Mystique is the beautiful shapeshifter in the X-Men comic series? Oh, well.) The demo was tucked deep in the bowels of the Christie booth experience, and was hard to navigate to, so I imagine that not many people saw it. Still, their design tool was interesting, because it represents Christie’s venture into software solutions, not just hardware solutions. Implications for the ed market: VR can make inroads in education as a tool to solve problems not only in design, but also in visualization (before and after views), simulating dangerous experiments or conditions, or conducting historical “what ifs.”

Although Infocomm 2016 offered little overlap this year to the world of education, the time I spent foreshadowing what is possible is instructive. For now, most of the VR companies at InfoComm (camera companies excluded) feel that education is not on their short-term market horizon. And that's okay, because most educators still sense that virtual reality is just too impractical, experimental, and expensive.

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