Robert Scoble on Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality
 
 
 
 
 
 
Noted futurist Robert Scoble talks about virtual reality and augmented reality in a video interview with James Maguire. 

Read the full transcript or listen to the podcast below.

What's are the key trends in virtual reality and augmented reality? What effect will these emerging technologies have on consumer life and business process? How will they influence larger concepts of entertainment, news, and human interaction? And which of these two – virtual or augmented reality – will be the leader going forward?

Noted futurist and technology evangelist Robert Scoble offered his unique insight – he’s as close to the virtual reality and augmented reality marketplace as anyone.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

J. Maguire:

Hi, I’m James Maguire, Editor of Datamation, and our topic today is virtual reality and augmented reality. We’re here with leading futurist Robert Scoble. Robert, how are you doing today?

R. Scoble:

Doing really great.

J. Maguire:

I know you were with Rackspace. These are your last few days with Rackspace, and now you’re going to go to Upload VR, correct?

R. Scoble:

That’s correct, yeah. It’s a media company where they cover the VR space. They also do education and have a co-working facility. So, stuff like that.

J. Maguire:

And your actual title is going to be ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, I’m just going to hang out there and play with virtual reality for a while.

J. Maguire:

Sounds like a pretty nice way to spend the day.

R. Scoble:

It’s awesome.

J. Maguire:

You know, I want to talk about where the market is going for VR and AR, but I wonder if there was a certain moment in your life that was kind of like the big moment where you experienced VR, or AR for that matter, but experienced VR and thought, you know, this is really going to be changing things in avery big way. Was there a personal moment for you?

R. Scoble:

Yeah, the moment I remember is two years ago at Web Summit where I got a demo of the Crescent Ray prototype of Oculus Rift, and I watched other people get a demo, dozens of people. Each one of them came out and used an expletive, like, ‘Holy shit, how did I miss this?’, or ‘mind-blowing,’ right? And that’s continued for the last two years. Every time I see somebody get experience in a VR headset for the first time they have a smile, or they’re very emotional, and they come away saying, man, that is just mind blowing.

J. Maguire:

Yeah, it’s amazing. I was at the recent gaming convention in downtown San Francisco. I tried it. I tried on the googles. I don’t even know what brand they were, but I was prepared for it to be pretty cool, but to actually be in that world, I was really deeply impressed.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, so there’s the high end headsets: the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vibe, and the Sony Playstation VR, and all of them are fairly mind-blowing and all of them are fairly similar. I like the HTC Vibe technically better because it has two sensors that you put on your walls and it builds a 15x15 box, a virtual box, that you can walk around in. So you don’t have to just sit on a chair like I’m sitting on right now, you can actually walk around the room and play.

J. Maguire:

What’s the brand on that again?

R. Scoble:

The HTC Vibe.

J. Maguire:

Okay, and what is the approximate cost of that?

R. Scoble:  

The headset and the controllers are around $800, and then you need a $1500 PC, minimum. I’m probably going to spend $2500 on a PC to get the fastest PC I can with the biggest nvidia card I can get.

J. Maguire:

Right. So, I guess that brings up the question, we talked a little bit about this, how far away are we from mainstream consumer use? I guess that answer is we’re there, because the devices are there, but market of penetration has still got to be fairly small, is it not?

R. Scoble:

Very small. In fact, they’re sold out. All three of those high-end headsets have sold out, so if you bought one today you’re going to have to wait months before they start showing up in house. Yeah, it’s going to be a while before you have broad penetration into everybody’s house. Probably 2-10 years. That’s a hard one for me to read. It depends on how you define ‘broad penetration’, you know, is it broad penetration in San Francisco? That’s going to be different before broad penetration into South Africa, where I just was, for instance.

J. Maguire:

What were you doing in South Africa? Just curious.

R. Scoble:

Speaking at a bunch of conferences and meeting startup entrepreneurs and playing VR, actually. There was on company down there that was building activations and it had three of the HTC Vibes. There again, I’ve gotten to watch people have their first experience on these things. Most people haven’t had their face in one of these high end headsets yet. Even by the end of the year the number of people who will have tried it, not own it, tried it, are probably going to be fairly small. In the millions, right? In the low millions.

J. Maguire:

If it gets to the million number, I’d be curious. Yeah.

R. Scoble:

No, it’ll get to millions, but low millions. You know, five million, ten million, something like that, because it takes fifteen minutes to get a demo. If you went to the GDC Conference last week or CES in January, you had to wait in line two hours to get a demo. That’s just a demo. That’s not buying it! That’s just a demo. You’re not going to buy it if you don’t get a demo because you’re not going to believe in it. So, that’s a real problem for this industry: it takes a long time to get a demo. It takes fifteen minutes, minimum. Maybe even more.

J. Maguire:

Well, I mean, when it’s set up at your local Best Buy and you can stand in line there, that’s going to change things.

R. Scoble:

That helps, but it still takes fifteen minutes. That means four people can get a demo an hour, right? So, if you have four people line that means you’re waiting an hour.

J. Maguire:

What about the world of augmented reality where we see reality as it is, but there’s additional information on the screen. It seems like that’s going to be more of a business use case than VR.

R. Scoble:

That’s going to be even bigger than VR, but that’s further out. It’s 3-5 years before it really starts hitting for consumers. You're absolutely right that it’s bigger for businesses… well, I don’t know that it’s bigger. The new Disney park and Ford cars are designed on VR today. Augmented reality puts virtual items on top of the real world. So, if you’re working a Caterpillar, for instance, you put on either the meta or the ODG glasses, and it puts virtual items on top of the tractor and shows you how to fix the tractor, the million dollar tractors that they sell. Yeah, so that’s coming, but for consumer use that’s at least three years away and probably longer.

J. Maguire:

If people do want to experiment with VR now, is there something that you suggest to them, like go to a convention and get in line, or what?

R. Scoble:

No, there’s levels to VR, right? You can get a free Google Cardboard. They were handing them out SXSW this year. In fact, I have one. It’s over there.

J. Maguire:

Yeah, I got one at the Google Cloud Conference last week. It’s pretty cool, actually. You know, download the app on you iPhone and you’re there.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, and now you can get a taste of it. Now, you don’t have the controllers. The lenses are pretty crappy. It doesn’t have sensors inside the device. I have a Samsung Gear VR which you put your Samsung phone into and it has sensors in the headset itself which make it much more useful for looking around and stuff like that faster, right. And the lenses are a little bit better. That still doesn’t compare to the high end headsets because you don’t have the nvidia card, you don’t have the ability to move around in this virtual box. The Google Cardboard lets you turn your head, but it doesn’t let you do this.

J. Maguire:

Right. No, it’s pretty primitive. Actually, the user interface, even at the primitive level, is nothing to write home about.

R. Scoble:

No, it’s a free thing, right? It’s designed to be free. Coachella is giving away 200,000 of these cardboard headsets, and New York Times gave away a million a couple months ago. So, you’re going to get the cardboard for free. It’s going to give you a little taste of VR, you know, so you can get an idea of some things you can do with it. And then you’re going to have to upgrade to one of the mobile headsets like Ion VR, the Merch VR or the Gear VR, the Samsung Gear VR for Android phones. Or you’re going to have to go all the way to the high end headsets, or try to play those over at your friend’s house or something like that.

J. Maguire:

Right, develop some new friends.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, it’s going to be a hot thing at Christmas. You know it is. Whoever has one of these is going to be very popular at Christmastime.

J. Maguire:

Christmas of 2016 it’ll be a gift item, you think, huh?

R. Scoble:

Well, already it’s sold out until August or September, so you can already tell that whoever has one of these at Christmastime is going to be the hot parent of the neighborhood.

J. Maguire:

So, let’s zoom up 500 feet and look at it and think how is this actually going to change things? How is VR literally going to impact our world, in a business sense or in a social sense.

R. Scoble:

Well, it changes media because, one, it’s personal. You can’t see what I’m looking at, so if I’m watching an adult movie the kids can be right next to me, as long as I’m not doing anything crazy or anything like that. It’s a personal viewing space. You can watch a violent movie with the kids and whatnot, and they can have their own movies, right? And it’s immersive. You’re in the movie. You’re in the video game. You’re looking around, you’re moving. It’s very immersive and very emotional for you to be in there. All sorts of stuff is going to change because of this. Movies are going to changes. Video games are going to change. Journalism is going to change. Already, Samsung was showing off putting you into a Syrian refugee camp and at least one CEO told me at SXSW that he cried in this thing. So, it makes people very emotionally connected because you’re in that space, right? It’s not like watching it on a TV where it’s sort of distant, you know? You feel like you’re walking around that camp. It’s very visceral.

J. Maguire:

Right. What about the sound factor? I guess you’d almost have to have a surround sound sense to really feel the Syrian refugees.

R. Scoble:

Well, the early headsets you put on headsets and it gives you some directionality to the sound so you can figure out that the sound is coming from over there. I’ve seen already new kinds of algorithms that really are directional sound. So the sound goes all the way around you, all the way around your head and you can really hear where that sound is coming from. That’s coming over the next year and it still will need to be improved. The people who are even doing the bleeding edge of sound say they haven’t figured out how to make it sound right for your environment. You know, sound bounces off things and your hears pick up that location kind of effect, and it has something to do with how people are getting sick in these things, too. Your ears are connected to your eyes and if your ears are hearing something different than your eyes are seeing it will makes you ill. This is a problem with some of the VR headsets in some people. Not everybody gets sick.

J. Maguire:

I’ve heard it does cause nausea in some people.

R. Scoble:

In some people.

J. Maguire:

Right. The concept of how it will change things. Obviously video games are the first thing that will change. I can see movies.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, music videos.

J. Maguire:

Yeah, music videos, right. For movies, that almost brings us back to a 1950s concept of a 3D glasses which never really quite caught on in the 40s and 50s, whenever that was.

R. Scoble:

This is not just 3D. This is surround video. You look around. So when you see my… I did the first video at Coachella. A music video. I took six GoPros and recorded it. You can get to look all the way around and look up at the lights and look down at the cute girl right next to me. It’s true. You get to look around. This is very very different than 3D. It’s immersive video and it’s very very compelling and it’s going to change journalism and movies and TV and all sorts of stuff.

J. Maguire:

Right. Who do you think the winners and losers are going to be as VR really takes off?

R. Scoble:

It’s too early. Too early.

J. Maguire:

Hard to say on that one.

R. Scoble:

I’ll know more by the end of the summer. I’ll have a thesis there. The early… it looks like the early winner is going to be Sony with the Playstation VR because of the install base of the Playstation. It’s cheaper in price because if you already have a Playstation you can just buy the headset which is $500, you don’t have to buy the PC. And there’s a big video game title thing there. So, it’s going to come down to content. If Minecraft is on Oculus only, all of the 12 and 13 and 14 year old kids are going to force their parents to buy Oculus. So, it’s not just a technology question. It’s a content question, and I don’t have a good answer today. All of these are bringing out good content on them. I just don’t have a good enough answer for that yet.

J. Maguire:

Right, well there’s winners and losers in terms of specific vendors. But in terms of larger sense I guess it’s, you know, for several content creators it’s going to be more expensive, arguably, to be a content creator if you also have to create immersive content as opposed to traditional, you know, 2D media.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, because you have to carry around rigs with 6 GoPros or new kinds of cameras that are coming out. By the way, I see a new camera every three weeks. I just saw a new one yesterday that’s coming out this summer. So, there’s a lot of unknowns. It is a little bit more expensive to camera to create content, but it can be cheaper as well, because you don’t have a camera crew. You stick a camera in the middle of the action and you film, and you record. Or you broadcast. Facebook is going to come out with a live video broadcasting, 360 degrees, soon.

J. Maguire:

Wow, when is that happening would you guess?

R. Scoble:

You would hear more next month. Soon.

J. Maguire:

Okay, cool. The large philosophical question is how is this going to change what it means to be human? I guess part of that more me is VR seems really isolated. You’re there in your little chamber.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, that’s a bad belief. It looks -

J. Maguire:

Tell me. Disabuse me of that notion.

R. Scoble:

It looks isolating because all you see right now, unless you’ve had your face in one, it looks isolating because all you’re seeing is the box, right?

J. Maguire:

Right. And I’ve had my face in one.

R. Scoble:

But I’ve played ping pong over the internet with somebody else on an Oculus Rift. Once you’re in the thing it’s not isolating anymore.

J. Maguire:

It was on the same ping pong table?

R. Scoble:

You’re playing with people and this is not isolating at all. This is very connecting. This is part of the problem. If you haven’t been inside of the Facebook toy box, which is what the situation was where you’re playing ping pong, you have no clue what’s coming. It is very social and it’s going to connect people, but right now it looks isolating.

J. Maguire:

You’re saying that groups of people could connect into one node, so to speak, and all be together in a party atmosphere in one room? Okay.

R. Scoble:

Yeah. I could only get one other person. This is again, I don’t have good data how many people can get in a room. I don’t know.

J. Maguire:

Right. It doesn’t seem like it would be limited.

R. Scoble:

Well, I mean, you could play one after another. You can only play ping pong against one other person, so I don’t know.

J. Maguire:

So, in a larger sense, how is this going to change things? I mean, it’s a plus for humanity? This is a challenge for humanity?

R. Scoble:

I think it is, but you’re going to be addicted to this thing, so there’s an addiction thing. I don’t see it as isolating. I see it as you’re not going to want to… I don’t want to leave when I play with one.

J. Maguire:

Really? Okay.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, it’s cool. It’s mind blowing in there.

J. Maguire:

The one time that I had a fantastic demo pair on it was pretty amazing. It was just like walking around in that room, it’s colorful, it was pretty amazing.

R. Scoble:

Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. Already a lot of companies are using them to build marketing activations, or what normal people call a big booth at a conference.

J. Maguire:

Right. Marketing activation. That’s a fancy term. Alright.

R. Scoble:

Well, at SXSW, Gatorade and IBM and McDonalds all had marketing activations with VR. Like, in the McDonalds one, you paint on the walls and you paint in the air and you blow things and blah blah blah. You have a lot of fun and then you get to picture your work.

J. Maguire:

Cool. So, closing thoughts? What else should people know about VR?

R. Scoble:

Two huge waves of really amazing product categories coming at us. The next five years are going to be bigger than the last twenty, I think.

J. Maguire:

Well, yeah. Clearly.

R. Scoble:

Well, particularly when you get to augmented reality glasses. I think that is going to change our world very very deeply. You’re going to put virtual things on top of the real world while walking around, so think about what that means for watching sports. You go into a football stadium and all of a sudden everything is augmented. There’s sensor data popping off of players. There’s new ways to see the field. You can spin the field maybe or something like that, and you can get a hamburger delivered right to your seat, right? You can already do that with a mobile phone, but now you can do it with your eyes. Just by looking at something you can say, hey, get me a hamburger, and it comes and shows up.

J. Maguire:

It could really be the kind of thing where you don’t take the augmented glasses, the Google glasses, you really didn’t need to take them off. I mean, they were socially a bust, but you can just keep them on all the time so it’s a continuous information stream set up the way you want.

Robert, I think you have said it. I appreciate it. I’ll send you the link. We can tweet it. Fantastic, man. Very interesting. And good luck with Upload VR. It’s going to be neat.

R. Scoble:

Thank you so much, I appreciate that a lot.

J. Maguire:

Alright, I’ll talk to you soon. Bye bye.

R. Scoble:

Bye.

 


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