Last month, we discussed the Oculus Connect Developers Convention, a meeting I had recently attended in virtual reality. This month, I thought we would address the effectiveness of meeting in virtual reality.
First, let’s discuss the event itself, which was the annual conference for Oculus virtual reality developers. For those of you who have been living on an isolated kibbutz (or one of Elon Musk’s secret moon colonies), Oculus is a manufacturer and developer of VR software and virtual reality headsets and is a division of Facebook.
There were a lot of influential speakers from the tech world, and among them, of course, was Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, who spoke about the central goal of Facebook, Oculus and the conference attendees: creating a billion social VR users.
That’s right, their goal is to create a BILLION social VR users. Zuckerberg and his team see VR as the next social media, a place where you can gather with friends online and do more than chat — play games, share pictures, have events… all without leaving home. To that end, they have developed their own social VR environment, Facebook Spaces, to add to the many developing VR environments such as Microsoft’s AltSpace and Linden Labs’ Sansar.
In order to foster the development of social VR, Oculus is developing an entire series of inexpensive, highly usable VR devices, like the Oculus Go, a self-contained VR headset running on Google’s Android operating system and a new device called Oculus Quest (more on that later).
Of course, there are a lot more uses for today’s VR devices and environments, but being Facebook, social environments are their bread and butter. But other speakers (and many attendees, such as myself) were focused on other aspects of VR, like gaming, education and, of course, meetings. Because, really, what is VR for meetings but social VR with a business purpose?
Before we go on into the “why” of VR for meetings, let me talk about the “how” for a minute, and specifically about the way VR attendance works.
For the keynote sessions at Oculus Connect, you had two choices: with your headset on, you could choose to attend in a “private box,” in which case you found yourself in a private box seat overlooking the main stage. You could also choose to attend from a seat on the audience floor, which allowed you to chat with other avatars seated near you, who in fact might be thousands of miles away. Either way, there were no bad seats. And speaker support visuals work remarkably well when you can float 3D models over the heads of the audience, or simply take them on a journey into another immersive world for a time. It was a remarkably effective way of showing your ideas to an audience.
Full disclosure: I believe. I think that VR will become a powerful and necessary addition to the stager’s bag of visual and auditory tricks. Our industry is evolving and this is one of the most important new technologies for the future of AV. To that end, our own trade association has once again changed its name, to AVIXA — The Audio Visual Integrated Experience Association.
Now, let me defend myself from the inevitable charges of being starry-eyed about technology. I do not believe that VR will replace in-person meetings and conventions.
However, VR does portend changes to remote participation in meetings. While the speed with which it will do so may be a variable, the fact that meeting professionals will be engaging with VR in the future is not in doubt.
VR is not 3D. Television in 3D has failed in our market three times, as I count it, and I think the verdict is in. 3D simply dressed up flat television with a stereo image, but essentially added no really compelling capability. Seeing a TV image protruding from my living room television was only a momentary novelty and produced no sense of immersion, since I could simply turn my head to look away at the real world.
On the other hand, VR creates an immersive environment in which we can interact with a 3D world that surrounds us.
I can remember when videoconferencing wasn’t going to change meetings. It was too slow, the resolution was too low for documents, and the lag made for choppy meetings where we all interrupted each other. I can also remember when web conferencing was a joke. Even slower and fuzzier than videoconferencing, it was undependable and not secure, usable for chatting between children and their grandparents, but certainly not for serious meetings. You’ll still experience these issues from time to time, though the technology has matured (and bandwidth has improved). Still, most people prefer to travel for the important meetings. I am not one of them.
So I was prepared for the Oculus Connect experience and the technology surrounding it. The ability to attend a convention across the country, associating and sharing ideas with colleagues, without having to spend a couple of days on airplanes to do it, was a tantalizing glimpse of the future for me. Being able to do so from the comfort of my own office and to get other work done during breaks was a huge benefit.
My prediction for the overall effect of this technology on AV rental and staging for the next five years? Increased audience sizes, as virtual attendees are added to the in-person crowds.
Then, as the technology improves, more people will choose to attend without travel. No travel prep on the front end, no post-travel recovery. Attend, absorb and put the ideas to work immediately. That’s what I call a successful meeting.