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Google has big ambitions for virtual reality

03 Jun 2015 | Rasmus Larsen |

Google does not want to leave virtual reality to its competitors. They believe in a future where you can experience places, human interaction, and entertainment through display glasses. They are trying to lay the foundation for a complete virtual reality ecosystem with Cardboard, YouTube and “Jump”.

Cardboard is for the masses

Imagine being able to see almost everything and feeling that you are present. This is what “virtual reality” represents, and interest in it is surging. Facebook recently acquired Oculus for two billion dollars, Samsung is working on VR for mobile through a partnership with Oculus/Facebook, HTC and Valve are creating the Vive, and Sony will launch VR for PlayStation next year. Google has no intentions of watching the others from the sideline. This is clear after the annual IO developer conference.

Google actually released its “Cardboard” at last year’s conference, but most people perceived as a fun little gimmick and mostly a joke. However, at this year’s event Google made it clear that it has big ambitions for virtual reality. The new Cardboard is one element of a grander plan to bring virtual reality to the masses. It obviously does not provide the same VR experience as more expensive headsets such as Oculus Rift but according to Google it is enough to get a taste of what VR is about.

Google Cardboard

The new Cardboard works with modern smartphones up to 6 inches. You just insert the smartphone and start an app. The phone already has sensors that can track your head movement in the virtual space. More than 1 million Android users have downloaded the app since launch, and now it is supported on iPhone, too.

But Google has more to offer than a thing made out of cardboard.

A complete VR ecosystem

Oculus is trying to create a “VR store” for all kinds of amazing experiences in VR. They are talking to Hollywood about creating movies and to game developers about creating games. They want to build a complete ecosystem for VR, but you will need a powerful PC.

Google also wants to build an ecosystem for VR but is taking a different approach. Through an initiative named "Jump", they will let anyone create and experience VR. This does not mean that Google will not make money off of VR but the company seems to think that, in a few years from now, VR will be just as normal as photo or video is today – if the glasses are okay with you, that is.

The “Jump” initiative consists of:
1. A camera rig for recording VR content
2. The processing muscles to create VR video, using Google’s online servers
3. A distribution channel in the form of YouTube

Jump rig with 16 GoPro to shoot in VR

For the occasion Google had created a 360-degree camera consisting of 16 GoPro cameras but was quick to stress that you can use almost any off-the-shelf camera. The footage can be uploaded to Google’s servers that will turn the 16 video streams into a VR experience. Starting in July, you will be able to experience it on YouTube. Google says that its servers are currently working overtime to process everything so right now the option to upload content will be on an invitation-only basis, but the plan is to give access to consumers later.

- "Jump is about capturing the world's places in VR video," said Clay Bavor who unveiled Google's plans for VR.

Google virtual reality

Using YouTube as a distribution channel will make VR accessible to millions of people all over the world, and Google envisions that VR can be everything from concerts and social events to entertainment and tourism. At the IO conference Google also demonstrated how it intends to bring VR to the classroom and let students experience places and nature, as if they were there. Google said that there is already a large team working on VR.

Google wants to send a clear message that they see virtual reality playing an important role in the future of media – even if they take a different approach. Oculus hopes to create the best possible VR experience and is attacking the market from the top. Google wants to let everyone try it and attacks the market from the bottom. Along with the other players this could mean a promising future for VR.

If you want to get a taste of virtual reality today you can order Cardboard online here. Prices typically start at around 15 US dollars.

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