ReadWrite and the New York Times report that the New York Times is sending Google Cardboard viewers—hand-held gizmos made of cardboard and lenses that allow people to view VR via their phones’ displays—to over a million subscribers in advance of the release of a new VR journalism movie produced by the New York Times Magazine. The movie is called “The Displaced,” about children displaced by war, and features 360-degree panoramas that put viewers right in the film’s setting.
Given that most Cardboard viewers cost between $20 and $30, this is quite an investment on the part of the New York Times, but it could pay the dividend of a considerably larger audience for VR movies and games. ReadWrite discusses how VR could provide a whole new way for experiencing journalism and other current events.
In fact, if the technology establishes itself, there could be little point in sticking to 2D footage if the 360-degree format was available. For news reporting, it could make for a dramatic experience.
“In the context of international reporting and conflict reporting, where our readers rely on us to bring them news and stories from remote and inaccessible places, this has huge potential,” added Silverstein in a press statement. “Through this immersive video experience, we can put our readers at the center of the most important story of our time.” Think of it as the difference between seeing one small window of a local or world event, and feeling like you’re there and taking it all in.
I wonder what VR could do for more prosaic forms of digital media, such as the humble e-book. What immediately comes to mind is a whole new way to display one’s e-book library. Instead of a handful of outward-faced titles on a tablet screen, imagine seeing your titles listed on dozens of bookshelves in VR, surrounding you so you could quickly jump to any part of your library just by turning around and picking the shelf you wanted. Then, once you’ve picked the book, you could drop out of VR and read it normally.
I’m not sure what VR could offer the reading experience, though. Have your page floating in the air in front of you, with another panel for footnotes floating right next to you that you could see if you turned your head? But really, a lot of that sort of thing relies on full-immersion silliness, like the VR portrayed in Ready Player One that we’re not actually likely to have in the real world any time soon. You’re not going to get the best resolution out of a smartphone display when it has to support each eye separately. Perhaps it’s best that VR remain a playground for video and games for now.