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Q&A — Aaron Thibault and Corey Carbonara on VR and AR

HOLLYWOOD, CALIF.—Shortly before the start of the SMPTE 2015 Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition, Digital Video spoke with Program Committee Chair Aaron Thibault and Session Chair Corey Carbonara, for the SMPTE 2015 Symposium on Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

TV Technology: Is one of these (either VR or AR) gaining more traction in the marketplace than the other and why?

 Aaron ThibaultAaron Thibault: There have been early entries in both VR and AR, but there's much more entertainment content in the works for VR. From a marketplace perspective, it's premature to make a call given that we don't know what the sell-in volume of sets across both technologies will be across the spectrum of product lines, and there haven't been many announcements yet about product launch timings and pricing.

TVT: Does the current research suggest that "cyber-sickness" is a technical glitch that is likely fixable or something inherent in this type of presentation? How does "cyber-sickness" affect men and women differently?

Corey Carbonara: According to the research, cyber-sickness is not just a technical "glitch" because it is a phenomenon where we just do not have all of the answers because we do not know all of the factors that affect it. This is because we still do not know exactly how all of the senses in the human body work together. We tend to focus on visual and vestibular factors, but it turns out it is much more than that. So, it is not merely a timeline where we might reach a technology threshold, for even if we had a display that was absolutely perfect, we still would just be addressing the visual factors not all of the senses combined.

The research out there indicates there is a difference between the number of cases of cyber-sickness and gender and our research at Baylor supports that. It appears that women do get cyber-sick more than men. Factors the research discusses that could account for this result is based on differences in the way that men and women process information in the brain, but more research is still needed to understand this more fully.

 Corey CarbonaraTVT: Assuming storytellers need to think differently, do all the other people involved, particularly those doing animation and visual effects need to totally change their thinking, too or can a solid animator, compositor or VFX artist expect to transition seamlessly into the world of AR and VR and leave concerns about new paradigms to the storytellers?

Thibault: I think that we are still learning as an industry what impact VR and AR will have on our art, pipeline and tools. We've been crafting interactive content with virtual cameras, composited scenes and mixed media for a long time in both games and canned stories, so people in the trade are already savvy about what impact the viewer's distance, focal lengths, lenses and lighting have for how story moments will be perceived. A lot will translate to VR and AR, but as always happens when formats emerge there will be new lessons learned about techniques and strategies for supporting storytelling.

TVT: The requirement of glasses certainly proved to be an impediment to the widespread acceptance of 3D stereoscopic displays. Does it seem that consumers are more, less, or equally bothered by wearing headsets for VR or AR content.

Thibault: I would love to see any market research findings that can answer this. I'm not aware that any definitive findings have been presented about user affinity for headsets.

TVT: Is there any research or anecdotal evidence that people who embrace VR or AR content prefer "realistic" looking content or imagery that is of a more fantastical nature?

Thibault: I'm not aware of any research indicating a preference. Anecdotal evidence provides many examples of both realistic and highly stylized content as enjoyable experiences. FOX's Wild VR project, New Deal's Kaiju Fury, and the Interstellar VR experience all are memorable and offer real, in-camera material. There are many fantastical, animated productions that are also being enjoyed and discussed; the "Henry" short from Oculus, Land's End by London game studio ustwo, and the new Batman: The Animated Series VR demo are all quite compelling.

TVT: Do successful VR and/or AR presentations generally require all graphics to be rendered on the fly or can a significant number of effects still be pre-built?

Thibault: I think this is a question about levels of interactivity and degrees of freedom, but the short answer is that there's no prescription or formula today for what makes a successful VR or AR presentation (other than keeping camera motion reasonable); as always, it's about the skill of the creative mind to express itself and craft an enjoyable experience with the tools available. If the experience is about affecting the world you are immersed in then calculations about the effect you have on virtual objects need to be consistent with your expectations in that real-time environment. In a passive sequence, it's up to the creator to decide whether content should be baked or dynamic.

Thibault is Vice President of Product Development at Gearbox Software and Executive Producer of Borderlands Games. Thibault created the centralized game-based training program "Digital Warrior" for the U.S. Army's Digital Transformation plan to support Operation Iraqi Freedom while at The IC2 Institute and The Institute for Advanced Technology in Austin, and built a skunkworks team to push Artificial Intelligence as a learning tool which resulted in breakthroughs like Real Time Neural Network Augmentation (RT NEAT). Thibault teaches in both the Computer Science and Film & Digital Media programs at Baylor University.

Corey Carbonara is a Professor of Film and Digital Media in the Communication Studies Department at Baylor University and serves as the Director of the Digital Communication Technologies Project at Baylor. Professor Carbonara currently serves in a variety of capacities on numerous state, national and international engineering committees, working groups, subcommittees and panels for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU-R). He also serves as a U.S. Delegate appointed by the U.S. Department of State and the White House to the ITU-R on topics ranging from high-definition television to digital cinema.