Virtual Reality: Google Cardboard Visits Tisch

Aaron Luber, the head of content partnerships at Google Cardboard, recently visited our class, Expanding Cinema: New Media, Movies, and Beyond.  Luber works to make virtual reality (VR) into the next creative platform. 

You may have heard of the recent jump forward for VR when the New York Times sent out 1 million Google Cardboards to their subscribers a week ago Sunday.  They were able to use their Cardboards and their smart phones to immerse themselves within NY Times video stories about refugees.

I’m not gonna lie here, his lecture kind of blew my mind with the possibilities of VR and where it will go in the future. He suggested that VR technology is at the same level where mobile phones were 15 years ago: big indestructible bricks that no one wanted to carry around but were just too damn useful not to. Google is trying to change the game.

Luber explained to us that Google Cardboard is the next big step in broadening usability and access to VR, and it’s kind of hilarious how it got started. When you think of Google Cardboard, it doesn't sound like this innovative, technological-gizmo-thing.

They’re essentially a pair of cardboard goggles with lenses on the front and a slot into which you insert your smartphone with these small devices that keep it in place and prevent the screen from turning off mid-play. But that's like, a part of the sell. Sounds so simple right?

But it gets better!

This Google Cardboard works with Youtube 360 and other stereoscopic VR content through apps; is compatible with any phone up to 6 inches and Google even open sourced the design.

It delivers fantastic performance for low expectations.  When it’s delivered you get this simple, flat cardboard schematic in a box. It has simple instructions with cut out lines and flaps, but when you put it on?

The new realm of virtual reality opens itself up and the magic begins! It's like your childhood self gets to play with the grown up version of a refrigerator box.

Luber referred to VR as a engine for empathy, and I think that’s where the soul of Virtual Reality lies. You physically see through another person’s eyes, and thus you feel as they do. You have agency to move around and continue to experience a world around you that doesn’t actually belong to you. The possibilities are endless, but also currently untapped.

VR just doesn’t have much content out right now. Throughout his presentation, Luber challenged us to experiment with the technology because companies are investing billions of dollars into it.

Multiple apps for phone-accessible VR are already available on iTunes and Google Play. It’s not so crazy and weird to think of another medium eclipsing film in way that film eclipsed live theatre nearly a century ago.

It could happen. 

People say all the time that theatre’s dying. But at least for me, theatre never died.  It just changed. Some of the greatest theatre is inspired by film, and film from theatre.

Our role as media students during this age of wild digital progress and invention will be to master and proliferate the new mediums and integrate them with the old.

Needless to say, there is a lot of opportunity for experimentation and exploration.

Bryan Oliveira is a student in the NYU/Tisch Undergraduate Film and TV Department from the class of 2017.