Jaunt, a 360-degree video company, is trying to turn virtual reality into a truly viable movie platform, for anyone with an Android phone and a cheap mobile headset like Google Cardboard. Today, the company released a taste of what that might look like: an immersive version of Sir Paul McCartney performing at San Francisco's Candlestick Park in August. The free app, which works on a range of Android phones, lets you watch a bombastic, pyrotechnical performance of "Live and Let Die" (seen below in non-VR) from the front of the stage or right next to Paul's piano. Jaunt content VP Scott Broock says the company was invited to tape the show the day after he demoed its technology to McCartney in Los Angeles. "You could see him get it instantly," said Broock.
Though the technology has been around for several years, "Google Cardboard" has become the best-known name for simple VR goggles made of stiff paper and cheap lenses. Cardboard was introduced at Google IO early this year, and it's being used as a promotional tool by companies like Volvo, which released an app showing off the interior of its latest SUV. Jaunt's app, of course, will work with any headset that can fit an Android phone; it will be coming to the Gear VR when Samsung and Oculus release it next month, and to the more expensive, desktop computer-based Oculus Rift. Broock sees Android and mobile, rather than high-end devices like the Rift, as the immediate future of VR. "There's no demographic for a phone, right? It's not male/female, gamer/non-gamer," he says. "There's no learning curve." The Paul McCartney app doesn't require special setup, and while it's an immersive experience, it's not a long one.
"There's no demographic for a phone, right?"
That's a good thing, because while Cardboard-esque headsets are light, they're not incredibly comfortable to hold. We were able to try out the video on both an Oculus Rift DK2 and a Nexus 5 with a $25 Dodocase headset, and it's impressive with both, if you have a pair of good headphones to hear the 3D sound. A cardboard case, of course, doesn't have the field of view of the Rift; you'll see rings around your eyes, like you're looking through a pair of binoculars, and you have to keep your hands to your face the entire time. And although Jaunt's video itself is super-high resolution, most phone screens aren't, so the image you'll get is somewhat blurry. But it's something people can try right now, and Broock hopes that case companies will soon be making things that are less elaborate than the $200 Gear VR but higher-quality than the dirt-cheap Cardboard.
In the Rift, it's a genuinely fun experience with a few caveats. There's a feeling of freedom that you don't get in most concert videos, a sense of being genuinely near the audience and the performers. It's possible to see a few places where the image has been stitched together, but it's not usually distracting. But while Beck's VR concert let you switch between cameras as you pleased, the Paul McCartney show has a fixed progression of shots that sometimes pull you away when you'd rather keep watching the drums instead of the guitars, for example.
Jaunt is going deep into VR video, and the concert is only the first of several projects it's preparing. We checked out a handful of demos that it's made in partnership with New Deal Studios, including a horror short called "Black Mass," a simulated monster attack called "Kaiju Fury," and a trailer for "The Mission," an upcoming 10-minute film set during World War II. They distinctly have a different feel to the standard video game-style VR experience, for good and ill. "Kaiju Fury" in particular departed from the semi-realistic first-person perspective that's so common in the medium; you start with an extreme low shot that feels a couple of inches from the ground before flashing through a bunker and, eventually, getting an aerial view of the monster.
"The Mission's" trailer highlights one of the issues that Broock admits nobody knows how to solve: when you can look in any direction, how can you tell what's important? Staged VR films still have trouble either directing your action in the right place or putting enough interesting detail everywhere that you feel like you're not missing out on something. But live events like the concert have much less of a problem with this, and it doesn't sound like this will be Jaunt's last. If you're on Android and can buy or make a VR headset, you can go ahead and grab Paul McCartney's app here.