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Interview With Lionel Chok: VR and Moving Past The Gatekeepers

For VR to succeed and not become just a gimmick, there need to be those willing to be evangelists. In the United States, there are several of these. Mark Zuckerberg has become one in his own way, as has Gabe Newell of Valve. Here in Asia, we have our own coming up. VR Zone had a conversation with Lionel Chok of iMMERSiVELY, a recent convert to the potential of VR and the creation of entertainment. With BroadcastAsia on the horizon, we discussed the potential of VR and why it has capabilities beyond more traditional media.

VR vs. 360 Video

Image courtesy: iMMERSiVELY

First and foremost in the discussion was the difference between actual VR content and 360 Video. Chok says this has come from a sudden proliferation of content creators trying to make VR content. “It’s hard to say how many companies are making VR content,” he says, “because that number changes every day. Ask me next week, and it will definitely be much greater!” However, he says that most of these are 360 Video rather than actual VR content. So what is the difference?

Image courtesy: Lionel Chok

Chok gives two definitions, one that used to be favoured by gamers and the other which he uses. The former is the belief that if the video isn’t taking part in a virtual landscape, it’s not VR. Therefore, any live action content cannot be considered VR. Chok says that this is no longer true, because of the kind of work being done all over the world. An example, which wasn’t brought up, is the current work on Intel’s Alloy headset, which allows for interactive live-action content.

Image courtesy: Ignite VR

The explanation that Chok prefers is how the content is delivered. “It’s the end to end deployment,” he explains, “it’s what is being produced all the way to what is being delivered.” More specifically it is making content which can only be viewed on a VR headset. For Chok, if you remove the headset and you can still see the 360-degree video, it’s just 360 Video. “For example,” he says, “if you make a virtual world but display it on a browser, then it can only be a 360 video.”

The explosion of VR content Creators and the role of Asia

Image courtesy: Scape

One point Chok brought across many times was the explosion of VR content creators, at least those who call themselves such. “Even those who have never made VR content are beginning to do so.” He puts this down to wanting to stand out to clients and distinguish themselves from the competition. Not just media creators, but architecture firms, real estate and much more are dabbling in the new content. “These are people who have never worked with VR before, and now they are calling themselves VR creators,” Chok says with a small laugh.

Image courtesy: Google

That being said, there are many who are working with true VR all over the world, including Singapore. Chok mentions several based near One-North, including game developers and video creators. VR Zone spoke with one of these developers earlier this year about the struggles related to making VR content. Making high-quality content is not a simple task in any medium, especially so in VR when talented developers are in short supply.

Image courtesy: VR Scout

Nevertheless, Chok is adamant that VR could be what lets Asia take a global lead in media production. He says that in more traditional media such as film, it is very much dominated by Hollywood. This is more than just a budget issue Chok says, but down to star draw. VR’s potential as an immersive medium, however, can overcome this issue.

Invasion. Image courtesy: Baobab Studios

There is also the issue of distribution. Chok refers to what he calls the ‘two gatekeepers’ of distribution. That is Television and Film. Before, these two distribution models would dictate what could and couldn’t get published. With online distribution, this is not longer and issue. Chok concedes that early adopters would likely have to deal with a lot of low-quality content, just like the VR Steam store is full of rubbish. However, he has faith that eventually through self-regulation the good quality productions will rise in prominence, and the lesser quality will eventually disappear.

Image courtesy: Job Simulator

VR has the potential to make lots of high-quality products. Google’s VR film Pearl was nominated for an Oscar this year. Several animated short films have been released to high praise. Chok points to these examples and says that there is plenty of potential for VR. Furthermore, this can give Asia a level playing field in production with Hollywood. Nothing is certain, but signs definitely point to this being a strong eventuality.

If you want to hear more about what Lionel Chok has to say about VR, you can see him at BroadcastAsia on 23-25 May.

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