Every startup playing in the virtual reality space is putting a large bet on VR devices becoming part of mainstream culture. The media space is in a state of constant transition and very soon the relationship that consumers have with movies, television or even online platforms like YouTube or Vine won’t be driven by social media but rather immersive experiences.
That is why the funding of NZ$20 million last week for Wellington based startup 8i is so significant. The startup is in the very early stages of creating a consumer-centric media platform for the virtual reality generation, and much in the same way that brands have been able to leverage social media video platforms, they too will be able to harness this new type of technology – which makes it valuable.
You just need to look at the investors to understand the direction; every single firm has a connection to the tech devices, arts or creative industries. Sound Ventures, RRE Ventures, Founders Fund Science, Horizon Ventures, Samsung Ventures, Dolby Family Ventures – these are all investors that know and have made money in the media space.
“As the internet transitions to 3D with adoption of virtual reality and augmented reality platforms, we want to give people the best way to connect in this new medium,” says 8i founder and CEO Linc Gasking. “8i records people in a new, more advanced approach than cinematic 3D, allowing viewers to move around freely and experience an authentic feeling of emotional connection with the person they’re watching. A young mother recorded a heartfelt message to her baby, a musician captured an intimate unplugged session, a woman created the first VR dating profile. We’re excited to see how creators will take this next step in the evolution of media.”
Essentially, right now you could explain 8i’s platform as being the 3D version of a platform like Vine. It uses a new 3D video format that is based on light field technology. Jackie Dove from The Next Web has done a great job of explaining light field technology in an accessible way in a 2014 article about a new camera that uses the technology. She writes:
Historically, since photography was invented 175 years ago, whenever you took a picture — it didn’t’ matter whether it was a still picture or a video — you’re capturing two data points about your scene. You have the brightness and the color and the photon capture on some kind of sensor. That sensor for a long time was film-based, and for the last few years it’s been digital.
In a light field camera, you’re getting all the three dimensional information about how every ray of light is flowing through every point in space of a given picture. The reason why this is important — and we think transformational — is that it lets you transform physical components of the camera like lenses and optics and shutters into software computation, which is going to lead to tremendous advances in the power of cameras in terms of resolution and the images that we can capture as well as the dramatic reduction in size and weight and cost of how everything with a sensor and a lens is built.
8i’s proprietary software does just that: it transforms regular video from off-the-shelf cameras into realistic experiences for VR and AR (augmented reality), and the web. 8i is the first to enable true 3D (fully volumetric) video of people, enabling freedom to move around in a VR environment, while delivering the realism of human movements, face, and hair faster than other existing technology.
“We are big believers in 8i’s unique technology, stellar team, and long-term vision,” said Jim Robinson of RRE Ventures, which led the investment round. “What they have achieved is what media companies see as the holy grail of virtual reality. I’m excited to see what the next generation is going to create with it.”
Robinson will be joining Scott Nolan of Founders Fund on the 8iboard
Just last month at the Innovation Australia Panel held at NSW Parliament House, members from various media companies including Startup Daily, Newscorp, Zenith Optimedia and Google were asked to present some insights to the room about where the media and publishing sector is heading. Virtual Reality and creating immersive content experiences were at the top of the list of changes that were expected to happen and be adopted by the mainstream audience, especially as the price point for devices like Oculus become more accessible to the general public.
Using the same technology as 8i, you as the viewer can feel like you are part of your favourite television show, and from an advertising perspective brands can make you feel like you are on the plane taking that flight to Hawaii that they are trying to sell you. If media today is focused on creating a social connection with consumers, the media of tomorrow is going to be connecting with us on a completely different level that even now seems too complex to imagine.