Name: Oculus Rift
What is it: Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset, currently only available as a development kit, but likely to be commercially available in 2015. The headset provides an immersive VR experience for users and has attracted a huge amount of interest from investors and from VR gaming enthusiasts. There are currently many demos and simulations available for the platform, with an emphasis on genres that thrill and scare such as horror - see this demo of Alien Isolation for some sweary laughs.
Use for news: There is a growing interest in the use of Oculus Rift in factual and documentary. ‘Harvest of Change’ is a piece of ‘explanatory journalism’ from the ‘Des Moines Register’ that takes their users into an immersive representation of a local farm. The project uses 360 degree films, along with Unity games engine created environments, to recreate the farm. The purpose of the project is to reveal the challenges of a contemporary farming family, and shows an interesting development in audience engagement using VR.
Oculus Rift are themselves looking beyond pure immersive entertainment towards more interesting and social applications for VR. Hunger in Los Angeles profiled on the Oculus Rift blog, is a VR experience created by Nonny De La Pena that places the player in the queue of an LA food bank. De La Pena’s latest work Use of Force is based on actual mobile phone footage and immerses the viewer into the last moments of Mexican migrant Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, who in 2010 was tasered and beaten to death by US border patrol agents.
Upside: VR and the likely main player (for now) Oculus Rift offers the means to create highly compelling, immersive experiences for audiences, that can lead to new and powerful ways t tell stories and bring journalism to audiences.
Downside: Oculus is not yet in the shops, and remains for now on the cutting edge of the entertainment world. Once domestic VR via games consoles are available in volume, that may well change, and the opportunities for VR journalism will increase.