Gimmick or game-changer: Is Virtual Reality the future of film?

Above, South Korean President Moon Jae-In, right, wears a virtual reality headset during a VR event at the Busan International Film Festival. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Gimmick or game-changer: Is Virtual Reality the future of film?

BUSAN, South Korea: Virtual Reality will change the face of cinema in the next decade — but only if content keeps up with the advances in technology, industry experts at the Busan International Film Festival predict.
VR is already being heavily promoted by the tech giants, with Facebook and Microsoft launching new headsets they hope will ensure the format goes mainstream.
Studios and film-makers are also poised to capitalize, as cinema industry reports estimate VR could generate as much as $75 billion a year in revenues by 2021.
Earlier this year, the IMAX chain opened its first VR cinema in Los Angeles, while the leading film festivals — including Cannes, Venice, and Tribeca — now have sections dedicated to recognizing ground-breaking work in the medium.
“Facebook and Apple are pouring billions of dollars into this industry and these hardware developments are key but it will all come down to content and we are excited by the way that is developing,” explained Korean-American filmmaker Eugene Chung, whose production “Arden’s Wake” won the Best Virtual Reality award at Venice in September.
Chung insisted the format is going to shift public perception and expectations of cinema.
“We’re really building the future,” he said.
But revolutions in cinema do not always play out; despite their early hype, 3D movies have struggled to rival traditional film consumption.
IMAX has scaled back its 3D screenings, while box office figures in the US show declining audience interest, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
But proponents of VR insist this time, it is different, and the format is likely to succeed because it fully immerses viewers in the imaginary environment.
BIFF programmer Park Jin, who organized the event’s VR section, which comprises more than 30 features, documentaries and animations, described VR as the “future of cinema.”
In Busan there has been a huge buzz around the VR program, with constant queues to experience what is on offer — both individual booths and a cinema are showcasing films.
“It feels a bit strange at first, a bit like a game, but once I got used to the equipment it was quite exciting,” said 60-year-old Kim Young-min, who had come to BIFF to take in a retrospective of legendary Korean actor Shin Seong-il but had been lured over to the VR show by her daughter.
Experts say therein lies the catch — the “computer game” feel to some shows can be a little off-putting.
“We need to find some emotion and how to engage the viewer in that,” said filmmaker Che Min-Hyuk, a producer at the VR Lab run by Korean media industry giants CJ.
“As filmmakers with VR we still don’t really know how far it will take us and the audience.”
Chung conceded the industry needs to tread carefully — going to the movies will not be the same social experience if everyone is in their own world wearing headsets.
“We think the impact of this medium is going to be incredibly powerful,” he said, admitting that it would be a voyage into the unknown in terms of social impact.
“There’s a first spaceship factor. When video games came out I think we as a society underestimated their impact so there are definitely things we need to look out for in VR in the coming years.”
But film giants are embracing the challenge.
At the Cannes festival this year Oscar-winner Alejandro G. Inarritu showcased his VR production “Meat and Sand,” while Warner Bros created a trailer in the format to promote Stephen King adaptation ‘It’.
Dreamscape Immersion, whose investors include Steven Spielberg, 21st Century Fox, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, last month signed a deal with AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest theater chain, to rollout “Virtual Reality Multiplexes” where members explore storylines in virtual worlds and interact with other people’s avatars.
Director Jerome Blanquet, whose film “Alteration” won an award at the Tribeca Film Festival, said: “VR is like a dream. You can walk, you can fly, you can do anything.”


Google looking to future after 20 years of search

Updated 24 September 2018
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Google looking to future after 20 years of search

  • Google was launched in September 1998 in a garage rented in the Northern California city of Menlo Park
  • The name is a play on the mathematical term ‘googol,’ which refers to the number 1 followed by 100 zeros

SAN FRANCISCO: Google celebrated its 20th birthday Monday, marking two decades in which it has grown from simply a better way to explore the Internet to a search engine so woven into daily life its name has become a verb.
The company was set to mark its 20th anniversary with an event in San Francisco devoted to the future of online search, promising a few surprise announcements.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin were students at Stanford University — known for its location near Silicon Valley — when they came up with a way to efficiently index and search the Internet.
The duo went beyond simply counting the number of times keywords were used, developing software that took into account factors such as relationships between webpages to help determine where they should rank in search results.
Google was launched in September 1998 in a garage rented in the Northern California city of Menlo Park. The name is a play on the mathematical term “googol,” which refers to the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.
Google reportedly ran for a while on computer servers at Stanford, where a version of the search had been tested.
And Silicon Valley legend has it that Brin and Page offered to sell the company early on for a million dollars or so, but no deal came together.
Google later moved its headquarters to Mountain View, where it remains.
In August 2004, Google went public on the stock market with shares priced at $85. Shares in the multi-billion-dollar company are now trading above $1,000.
Its early code of conduct included a now-legendary “don’t be evil” clause. Its stated mission is to make the world’s information available to anyone.
The company hit a revenue mother lode with tools that target online ads based on what users reveal and let marketers pay only if people clicked on links in advertising.
It has now launched an array of offerings including Maps, Gmail, the Chrome Internet browser, and an Android mobile device operating system that is free to smartphone or tablet makers.
Google also makes premium Pixel smartphones to showcase Android, which dominates the market with handsets made by an array of manufacturers.
Meanwhile, it bought the 18-month-old YouTube video sharing platform in 2006 in a deal valued at $1.65 billion — which seemed astronomical at the time but has proven shrewd as entertainment moved online.
The company also began pumping money into an X Lab devoted to technology “moon shots” such as Internet-linked glasses, self-driving cars, and using high-altitude balloons to provide Internet service in remote locations.
Some of those have evolved into companies, such as the Waymo self-driving car unit. But Google has also seen failures, such as much-maligned Google Glass eyewear.
Elsewhere, the Google+ social network launched to compete with Facebook has seen little meaningful traction.
In October 2015, corporate restructuring saw the creation of parent company Alphabet, making subsidiaries of Google, Waymo, health sciences unit Verily and other properties.
Google is also now a major player in artificial intelligence, its digital assistant infused into smart speakers and more. Its AI rivals include Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
Despite efforts to diversify its business, Alphabet — which has over 80,000 employees worldwide — still makes most of its money from online ads. Industry tracker eMarketer forecast that Google and Facebook together will capture 57.7 percent US digital ad revenue this year.
In the second quarter of 2018, Google reported profit of $3.2 billion despite a fine of $5.1 billion imposed by the European Union.
Google’s rise put it in the crosshairs of regulators, especially in Europe, due to concerns it may be abusing its domination of online search and advertising as well as smartphone operating software.
There have been worries that Alphabet is more interested in making money from people’s data than it is in safeguarding their privacy.
Google has also been accused of siphoning money and readers away from mainstream news organizations by providing stories in online search results, where it can cash in on ads.
It is among the tech companies being called upon to better guard against the spread of misinformation — and has also been a target of US President Donald Trump, who added his voice to a chorus of Republicans who contend conservative viewpoints are downplayed in search results.