Virtual reality (VR) has advanced significantly over the last three years. Since its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook in 2008, Oculus Rift will finally be releasing their headset in stores in early 2016. Several other devices have already launched to the public or are planned to be released soon. Yet this technology is still very new and unknown to the general public and businesses.

Since 2008, we have helped over 350 companies worldwide by providing them with 360° content or virtual reality solutions. I decided to write this article to help you understand the benefits and different aspects of VR content and hardware and show you why it is predicted to become a $150 billion industry by 2020.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality is a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment. The digital experience simulates a real experience by providing a synchronized stimulation to as many senses as possible. This experience can be surprisingly realistic when utilizing some of the advanced hardware and software available on the market today.

Does Virtual Reality Feel Real? How?

Virtual Reality is not as real as real life experiences due to present technological limitations, however it feels real enough to provide an exhilarating experience. Virtual Reality is progressing forward with technological advancements that open possibilities to stimulate more senses and do it better. Currently Virtual Reality is limited to the following senses:

  • Visual - Full spherical head movement; Best using VR Headsets like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Samsung Gear VR.
  • Sound - Surround Sound He is best.
  • Motion/Movement - Made possible with omni directional treadmills like Virtuix from Omni. These devices allow walking and jumping while in a stationary position.
  • Smell - This technology is still emerging, but some hardware like FeelReal can already simulate a variety of smells.

Ray Kurzweil, one of the most respected futurist and current chief of engineering at Google, says that in the next 16 years, humans will not be able to tell the difference between virtual and real experiences. It seems a very bold prediction but because it comes from Kurzweil, it needs to be taken into serious consideration. Out of 147 predictions that Kurzweil made in 1990, 115 of them have turned out to be correct. Another 12 have turned out to be essentially correct (off by a year or two). That gives him an accuracy to predict future technology by an impressive 87%.

What is the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality?

While Virtual Reality offers a complete immersion in a digital environment, Augmented Reality superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

To understand this difference better, you must look at the evolution of computing history since the beginning. It started in the 50's with mainframe computers. Personal desktops came in the 80’s; the 90's were the era of portable laptops; the early 2000's was a time of mobility, with smart phones and tablets, and now, we have virtual reality. Notice 2 things recurrent through each evolution: computers are becoming smaller and closer to us. Therefore, naturally, VR is going to be a new way to interact and communicate - and as a result, a new way to do business. There is no doubt that VR will be the next medium in computer devices.

But there is one element that differentiates VR from AR: the side of the screen you are experiencing the technology from. In the history of the evolution of computer devices that we saw earlier from mainframe to VR, we were always behind, or facing one side of the screen. AR is a major breakthrough in technology because it represents a time that we have unlocked the person-to-screen relationship. It breaks down the wall between technology and people.

AR will be the next generation of computer technology that will allow you to blend your digital life with your physical life. It will transform the world but also transform the way we interact and our evolution as human beings. These major breakthroughs in technology will cause humanity to move from an evolution by natural selection (Darwinism) to an evolution by intelligent direction.

How fast will VR grow?

Every new technology is growing faster than its predecessors. Let’s compare television to smart phones for instance. It took over 80 years for the TV to arrive at what it is today.

Smartphones, on the other hand, were launched around 2005. A few years later, they are used by billions of people worldwide and have replaced hundreds of everyday items in our lives.

If you have a look at the photos of the Papal coronation of 2005 and 2008, you will notice the popular and massive growth of smartphones in just a few years.

Because smartphones grew so fast in just 10 years, we should expect VR to grow even faster in a smaller period of time. Did you know that your smartphone today has more computing power than all the NASA computers had when they sent the first Apollo mission to the moon in 1969?

When it comes to technology prediction, you need to take in consideration 2 important laws: Moore’s Law & the Law of Accelerated Returns.

Moore's Law

Moore's Law is one of the most important principles in the history of technology. Intel Co-founder Gordon Moore originally introduced it in1965. Moore predicted that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would double systematically every 18 months. This law has consistently been true over the last 60 years and will continue into the foreseeable future.

One of the most important characteristics of Moore's law is the word "double." Double indicates that we are growing exponentially and not in a linear way. To understand the difference between linear and exponential, let's take a simple task as an example. Taking 30linear steps would cover around 30 meters, whereas 30 exponential steps would cover over 1 billion steps, or the equivalent of 26times around the planet!

When it comes to computers, exponential growth keeps showing mind-blowing progress. For instance, have you ever received birthday cards that once open, plays a little song? Did you know that the computing power in this simple birthday card is superior to the sum of all the computing power that the entire allied forces had in 1945?

The Law of Accelerated Returns

The Law of Accelerating Returns states that the rate of change in a wide variety of technologies tends to increase exponentially. This is happening because the more we progress, the more we have access to resources, knowledge and technology to progress even faster.

In his book the 'Singularity Is Near', Kurzweil suggests that the progress of the entire 20th century could have been achieved in only 20 years if it were at the rate of progress in the year 2000. He explains that another 20th century's worth of progress happened between 2000 and 2014 and that another 20thcentury's worth of progress will happen by 2021, in only seven years.

In a bit more than 10 years time, the 20th century's worth of progress will happen multiple times in the same year. And the Law of Accelerating Returns can explain all of this.

To give you an idea of what the future will bring, I would like to show you the drawing by Tim Urban below which gives you an idea of the ride we are about to go on! (AI Revolution, Road to the Super Intelligence; Waitbutwhy.com)

What types of digital media can showcase virtual experiences?

There are essentially 3 types:

  • 360° Photos and virtual tours- Usually, an image composed from a series of images. They are stitched together to create one spherical panoramic image. This is very popular in virtual tours to showcase real estate, business establishments, or luxury property.

Example of a virtual tour by Prestige Vision:

  • 360° Video - Considerably new media, this is accomplished with mounts that hold a series of 5-12+ small HD video cameras that capture video that is then stitched on specialized video stitching software.

Example of a 360°video by Prestige Vision:

https://www.prestigevision.com/360-video-demo.php

  • 3D/CGI - Computer Generated Images are the most popular media in VR. CGI allows a full immersive virtual experience.

Example of a CGI boat virtual tour by Prestige Vision:

http://vrcloud.co/ma1692

Currently VR is gaining huge momentum in the video game industry, but it is also finding new applications for growth in other sectors such as news, entertainment, tourism, advertising, sales and marketing.

How Can VR be Experienced?

One of the great things about VR is that it can be experienced on many computing devices.

Spherical pictures and virtual tours can usually be viewed on any computer or tablets and 95% of today's smartphones.

If you are looking for a full immersive experience, you can use virtual reality Google. We started playing with virtual reality headsets in2008. I remember the first time I tried the Oculus Rift. I was virtually immersed in the cabin of a boat. I reached with my hands to touch the door handle. It was a bit pixilated but it still felt so real. I knew we were onto something that could change our industry forever.

In 2013, we decided to finally offer the technology to our clients. We partnered with Oculus Rift, who sent us a few development kits, and we did a few projects for clients like Boeing, Lurssen and Sea Ray.

Today, dozens of tech companies are commercializing their virtual reality headsets. LG is even giving away a headset for free with the purchase of one of their new smartphones.

Companies who offer products such as Facebook/Oculus VR, Microsoft HoloLens, HTV Vive powered by StreamVR, Google/Magic Leap, High Fidelity, OTOY, and Leap Motion, are investing billions of dollars to develop highly disruptive virtual reality applications.

Right now, you can take a VR Headset, insert your smartphone into it, press a button, and visit an entire boat or plane virtually. You can also take a virtual sea trial or test drive using a 360°video from the comfort of your home!

Ina couple years from now, imagine being able to go boating or flying with your friend, and sit on an accelerometer chair, complete with wind, sound, and maybe even smell (digital scent technology that already exists).

Anew months ago at the Dubai show, I tried the Dominator VR experience. I could literally walk through the boat on treadmill. Even if the images were computer generated and didn't feel completely real, the experience was quite impressive.

Why you absolutely need to invest in a virtual tour experience!

A walk-through Virtual Tour gives your business visual advantages that modern consumers expectant are accustomed to. VR has been proven to be the most effective tool for sales and marketing because it offers a complete systemization and automation of the viewing process.

In today's fast-paced world you cannot afford to show your products to window-shoppers or uninterested customers.

Using a high quality walk-through virtual tour will help you:

  • Increase lead generation and pre-qualify prospects.
  • Allow your sales team and potential clients to preview your products or facilities online 24/7.
  • Shorten the sales cycle, and increase sales and customer service
  • Create an engaging emotional experience.
  • Create awareness and share product information (through website, email, . newsletter, social media and even offline)

I started doing virtual tours when I was a boat broker in 2007 and was frustrated with the inefficiency in the industry. Boat buyers and brokers were wasting so much time driving or flying around to visit boats that didn't even end up corresponding with what they were looking for.

I needed to find the best tool to pre-qualify prospects and improve the lead generation and sales process. The VR technology was the best option to explore an entire boat inside and out from the comfort of your home, 24/7, from anywhere in the world.

During the last 7 years, I have spent a lot of time at boat shows or aviation shows and have noticed that people usually start their conversations the same way:

"Thanks, I am just looking."

Or

"Can I come onboard?"

Either way, they have one unique objective: to look at and experience the products.

Their motivations are exactly the same online, but the problem is the way we show assets online can be quite limiting.

You may think that photos and videos are sufficient to show visual information, but today's consumers are more demanding and technologically savvy.

Photography was invented over 200 years ago and the first movie was created over120 years ago, so it is now time to use a new medium to market and sell boats.

Immersive technology is not a trend. It is the new way that your clients wanton shop and interact online.

Google Street View covers millions of kilometers and hundreds of thousands of commercial spaces. Consumers expect immersive imaging as a new experience online.

While photos and videos lack interactivity and showcase a limited amount of visual information, a quality walk-through will offer the user the option to explore a location as if they were physically there.

What types of virtual tours can be offered?

A proper virtual tour will help your customers learn about your products online. Whether your clients are local or international, you will save them time and educate them by providing a full understanding of the details and benefits of your product. As result, they will be pre-qualified and pre-motivated prior to contacting you. This will create a better lead generation process, and help your sales team and business to be more efficient and cost effective.

The terms "virtual tour", "walk through", or "VT" are widely used to describe a number of photographic products that combine images and motion.

For example, virtual tours can be described as:

  • Slide Show VT - A slide show of still photographs, which zoom in and. out to give the feeling of motion (commonly known as the "Ken Burns" effect)
  • Panoramic VT - A group of panoramic pictures which pan across. the screen providing motion.
  • Video virtual tour- A movie made with the purpose of showing details of the interior and/or exterior of a property or facility.
  • Spherical VT - A collection of spherical images (360° from floor.. to ceiling) that pan across the screen, providing motion.
  • Interactive Spherical Walk-Through - A combination of spherical. photographs with added interactive navigation features. It allows the user to "virtually" walk through the entire property, thus providing an "open door" experience at their fingertips. The best walk-through includes hotspot navigation, interactive maps with radar, interactive help menus, detailed still photographs, and much more.

What hardware should you use to showcase your virtual reality?

There are dozens of options to showcase virtual reality content but I will focus on 4 popular devices that offer the best option for your VR project.

Google Cardboard:

If you are looking for a simple, popular and promotional virtual reality campaign, I would recommend Google Cardboard.

Google Cardboard offers a fun and affordable way for you and your clients to experience virtual reality.

You can easily handle it or mail it to prospects as a promotional marketing material. It can be assembled in a few seconds after which point you can look inside to experience your virtual space.

Google Cardboard is a simple viewer that anyone can build or buy, and once you have it, you can also explore a variety of apps that can be used with it.

Price:

Hardware: Around $5 per piece

Price for app: $1200 to $5000+ depending on requirements

ZeissVR One:

If you are looking for a simple VR experience with enhanced comfort, then you should opt for the VR One.

The ZEISS VR ONE was created to be fully compatible with the Google Cardboard app ecosystem.

Like Google Cardboard, the ZEISS VR ONE is designed to easily share VR experiences with a number of people in one place such as at a tradeshow, office or event.

The benefits of the ZR One are better quality of images, no lens adjustment necessary for different inter-papillary distances, and finally, the ability to wear your glasses during operation with your VR ONE!

Virtual tour apps for iPhone can be built, ready for a virtual reality with a headset. These apps can work natively (no wifi needed).

VT can also be adapted for hands-free navigation and HMD(split-dual view) display.

Price:

Hardware:$99

Price app development: $1520 to $5000 + depending on requirements

If you are looking for a more sophisticated experience, you should gofer the Samsung Gear VR with Samsung Galaxy S6.

The Gear VR has a screen resolution of 2,560x 1,440 pixels, with a density of 577pixels per inch (ppi),which is currently the best on the market.

Its optical Lens offers a 96° Field of View with a great Motion to Photon latency to remove blurriness and improve image fluidity during gyro motion.

This device also offers a great Physical User Interface with a touch pad, back button, and volume key.

Price:

Hardware:$200.00 for the VR headset & $600 for the Samsung S6 smartphone

Price app development: $1720 to $5000 + depending on requirements

PVIPS or Prestige Vision Immersive Presentation System

If you are looking for a complete trade show or show room system, I recommend our custom made system, the Prestige Vision Immersive Presentation System (PVIPS).

Our system comes fully equipped with digital content, software and hardware.

You own the system and can use it at any show, and it comes with a shipping and transportation case.

The PVIPS system can be updated by our team via remote desktop, so no technical skills are required from your end. The only thing you need to plan for is a little space per booth with a TV to redirect to the public what the user is experiencing, and a stool forth user to sit on.

The3 systems come individually with:

  • iPad Remote
  • Wireless Remote
  • Virtual Reality Headset
  • iMac Remote
  • Hosting Tower
  • Remote Desktop function
  • Router
  • Easy plug and play start
  • Shipping Box
  • Full App with easy navigation
  • HDMI TV redirection

Price: hardware: $9500.00 for PVIPS

Price app development: $4800.00 to $10,000 + depending on requirements

What should you expect from a VR company?

Virtual tour and virtual reality are relatively new and complex media so it is very important to get them right.

A proper virtual tour or virtual experience contains much more than just a few 360°photos.

After producing more than 2000custom virtual tours for over 300 companies worldwide, including 4Fortune 100 companies, I have begun to develop a great idea of what it takes to deliver a quality project.

Just like in any industry, there are a lot of unqualified providers out there, so how do you actually find a qualified, competent, professional provider?

Before selecting a company, ask yourself what would you like to accomplish with your virtual tour. If you would like just one simple spherical photo, you can choose from hundreds of VR photographers, or you can even buy camera and do the job yourself. On the other hand, if you would like completely interactive and high quality walk-through, then you need to hire a company that has the necessary design photography and programming experience.

Start by asking a few questions:

1. Do they have dedicated designers, photographers and programmers?

2. How many years have they been in business?

3. What experienced they have in the marine or aviation industry?

4. Ask them for references and review their portfolio.

5. Are they properly insured?

6. Do they offer background change, compatibility with browsers and cloud hosting?

7. Do they have experience in app development and virtual reality hardware?

Once you're satisfied that you're working with an honest, competent professional, ask them for written agreement stating all term and conditions of the work being done.

The key to a successful walkthrough is to make sure that it depicts the boat, plane or facilities at their best, but it also needs to play smoothly and offer the best experience to the user.

It takes a lot of experience, work, skill and expertise to create a quality virtual tour. Photography skills are not enough, and to give you a more accurate idea, our team's specialist skill sets includes photography, photographic stitching and enhancement, photographic editing & photos hoping, graphic design, 3Dartistry, virtual tour realization, coding and hosting. And we're continuously learning and improving our products based on the latest developments and technological changes.

There are four major elements to take into consideration in a quality virtual tour:

1. Loading Time (files sizes& optimization):

Large photo size doesn't necessarily mean better quality. It means more loading time, which ultimately means losing online viewers. Ideally, the total size of your virtual reality should not exceed 1 to 2MB per each 360°scene. We always adapt the size of the photos to the type of devices you are using so if a user is watching a virtual tour within iPhone, it will not show the same resolution of photo that they would access with a desktop.

2. Photo quality: This is certainly one the most important features of your virtual tour. It makes the difference between a regular and a quality virtual tour. Quality means the quality of the 360°photos, but also quality of any photo shopping done, which inessential when publishing a quality VR experience.

We pioneered the background change feature when we realized that the environments where the boats or planes we photographed were unattractive. We digitally enhance the background and Photoshop the scene to offer your client the best visual experience and emotional engagement toward your product. The background changes into beautiful scenery, which helps to ensure that the user is giving his full attention to the beauty and specificity of your product.

Another important aspect of equality tour is to capture enough images to cover the entire asset(interior/exterior and technical areas) and showcase the entire facility. Serious buyers care about every square inch of the products they want to purchase, so it is vital that you show them on the Tithe easiest and simplest way to do this is to hire a company like us, who can provide unlimited photos throughout the entire boat.

3. User Experience: coding, navigation, features, speed, loading time, and compatibility.

Make sure to not pay any extra for hosting. The best option is to find a company like us who will provide complimentary Cloud hosting (We are currently using Amazon S3 hosting which is the best hosting available). Optimization of all the files (resources files and photos) is extremely important when it comes to virtual tour development. Because we weren't satisfied with the solutions on the market, we created our own platform called VRCLOUD to publish all our virtual tours.

VRCLOUD offers browser cross compatibility, mobile optimization, cleaner code, offline caching, and most of all, resource file sharing, which means that our database of 2000 virtual tours is maintained constantly and can be upgraded at anytime so you are sure that your virtual tours are always working and never need updates. VRCLOUD is fast, reliable and works with 95% of devices (computers, tablets and smartphones). We provide a simple code for embedding tours into your site. Tours cane on your website in just minutes, just like embedding a YouTube video.

Finally, keep in mind that virtual tours are made of 360°pictures, so every detail will be visible.

Preparing a boat or a plane for a 360°walk through is very similar to preparing and staging for a show. The asset must be clean and tidy, and every single room needs to be accessible. All lights needs to be in working condition, and all optional items (such as TV's, extra tables, beds etc.) need to be accessible so they can be showcased in popup photos.

Conclusion

Today, consumers are better informed, less loyal, and more exigent.

They want to avoid sales pressure and want to access as much information online as possible.

In2011, the average car buyer was looking 18.4 times online to get info on a future purchase. This number is even more important today. The Internet changed the way people buy products and salespeople must adapt to it.

The selling process moved from self-promotion to information. Selling the information is becoming as important as selling the product.

According to a recent Corporate Executive Board study,60 percent of a prospect's buying decision happens before they even talk to a sales person. This number is even higher in the case of about purchase.

Take this into consideration and make this quest of information part of your sales process.

A quality virtual tour or VR experience is the perfect opportunity to respond to your customer's desire, by giving the best chance to educate, engage and pre qualify your prospect to make a buying decision.

The development and popularization of Virtual Reality technology is very exciting for our industry. Whether you are looking for 360° photography, 360° video or 360° CGI, make sure to get the right provider and best benefits from these amazing technologies.

We have been doing thousands of virtual tours and served over 350companies worldwide, from small shipyards or aircraft builders to the largest companies in the world, such as Boeing, Gulfstream, Sea Ray Yachts or Lurssen Yachts.

We would be delighted to help you develop your sales and showcase your boats. Feel free to contact me anytime: [email protected],1-250-667-2630.

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