360 video or Virtual Reality?

Most of my posts on this blog are in response to assignments for my graduate degree in communications. I am specialising in journalism innovation so we talk and learn about all things technology and how it affects legacy media (old media) companies and new media (social). Within that discussion comes a lot of ethical considerations and many times we end up talking about sci-fi books or movies. I never thought I would talk at length about Demolition Man in graduate school. Needless to say, I will be bringing it up again (wait for it).

This blog is supposed to address how 360 video and virtual reality will affect my future or current career. Well, it already is affecting my career, which for the last 15-plus years has been television news and sports. It wasn’t long ago that we technical directors took 2D video and through video manipulation and use of angles that we tricked the human eye in seeing a 3D effect move across the screen. Then came HD television screens that had all on-air talent scrambling for MAC makeup and an air-brushed tan but ended up not being that bad. Yes, it was a much clearer picture, but you couldn’t see down to every pore on a person’s face as was claimed. Then there was the brief time period when television news stations were capturing the likenesses of their main on-air anchors so their mini version could walk out on your computer desktop or during your favorite daytime show and tell you the latest breaking news or weather update. That promotional feat lasted about as long as it wasn’t annoying (not very long).

Since then, technology has improved so much in the area of 360 and virtual video that there may be a real use for it. In my field, I could see it used for special events like the Fourth of July fireworks, 360 video cameras on a drone as fireworks are launched into the air would be pretty “spectacular” as we like to call them so often. Another special event: the Olympics, imagine being able to watch Katie Ledecky speed swim her events from the bottom of the pool. Or watching the World Cup as if you were standing in the middle of the field?

Are you talking about fluid transfers?

Using technology that can bring events so up close and personal, is a serious thing. From a journalism perspective, careful consideration needs to be made about when to use 360 or virtual reality video to convey information. It should not be used for death, destruction or manipulation of a person or people. Privacy rights are a formidable ethical issue as is disclosure of what the virtual story subject is. It is important that those choosing to transport themselves to a place of stress understand the ramifications. Whether viewing a virtual roller coaster or natural disaster, care has to be taken to avoid any incidents of stress on the viewer’s health. In the movie Demolition Man (I told you to wait for it), virtual and augmented reality have replaced the human connection so much that they live in a sterile and “clean” world.

I hope that sci-fi prediction does not become reality.

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3D, Virtual and Augmented Reality

When I hear 3D, and augmented reality, I think of video games like Call of Duty and mobile games like Pokemon Go.

We live in exciting times, and scary times. Technology and innovation have never been more cutting edge. Who would have thought human kind would be living in artificial worlds through their video games, mobile games, and for combating mental illness.

When I hear 3D, and augmented reality, I think of video games like Call of Duty and mobile games like Pokemon Go. It was not until recently, with the continuing improvements in wearable VR like the Oculus, did I think a traditional “good” could come from an artificial world. Researchers are using VR to help those with acrophobia (fear of heights), fear of flying and other mental barriers that prevent a person from normal activity. That’s the exciting part. The scary part, is the possible use of virtual reality, 3D and such for reporting stories. It would seem a very few types of stories would benefit from such a technology, perhaps something that is worth bringing the reader intimately into the story environment. Perhaps the opening night at the Metropolitan Opera or Cirque du Soleil. Or perhaps transporting viewers to the current civil war going on in Syria. This is where I think some guidelines will eventually have to be set in place for journalists and content creators.

With enough patience and computer processing power, anyone can make a virtual world of reality or fantasy. The question becomes what is the context and for what purpose.

The very intimacy artificial reality, both virtual and augmented, even 360 video can bring traumatic events front and center causing the viewer to feel anxiety, stress and even triggering a response that may be detrimental.

The Automation of Media

One technology that often gets overlooked when talk about emergent technology occurs, is automation in the media. We first saw this happen to the radio industry in the late 1980s where radio stations were able to program music using software such as ENCO. This allowed smaller radio stations to stay within their limited budgets and not have to hire on-air talent. Of course, once automation was proven to work, it lead to wide spread use in all radio markets and resulted in eliminating the radio DJ or personality that introduced songs, segments and riffed about anything under the sun.

Once radio became automated, the technology became advanced enough that television stations were able to be automated. First, running commercials became automated, then it began encroaching on live productions like newscasts. The late 1990s-early aughts, brought the introduction of Parkervision, the first television automation system that also came with serious bugs. Parkervision was then eventually purchased by broadcasting equipment giant Grass Valley and much development went into making automation smoother and intuitive. The benefit of course was allowing smaller market television news stations the ability to provide higher production value without adding more manpower and staying within their shrinking budgets.

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KEYT HD upgrade by Utter Associates      Photo copyright: Utterassociates.com

As with all automation, the improvements in the interface, software and device communication resulted in the reduction of staff from medium markets all the way to the top 5 markets of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas-Forth Worth. Control rooms that used to require 12-15 people in order to put out a fast, high-production value live broadcast were now reduced to 2 people. Directors no longer directed a show for camera shots, pacing or continuity but instead had to code  shows within computer software parameters. “Directing” was reduced to hitting a space bar to get to the next event (story) and creativity was replaced by computers.

Innovation Is In the Air

So I’m two semesters away from getting my master’s degree in journalism innovation from Newhouse and this semester we are getting into the “innovation” part of journalism. It’s pretty narly, because to me it’s like every sci-fi movie has come true or will be coming true.

Now I’m not talking about all the Star Trek stuff like the communicator (cell phones), the PADD (iPad) or the replicator (3D printers). To me the most innovative thing is still on the horizon but getting closer to mainstream use—the Air Touch technology —currently made possible by a Taiwanese company. The possibilities are endless for what this technology will be able to do. One in particular, is how it can change and help journalists in the field, whether in a conflict zone or at a natural disaster. Air Touch could help EMT and other emergency responder organizations as well.  The question is how reliable the technology would be in those areas and how it’s connected (satellite vs. terrestrial towers).