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We watched The Rock lip-sync Taylor Swift in VR, and it was kind of boring

We watched The Rock lip-sync Taylor Swift in VR, and it was kind of boring

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Lip Sync Battle, the lip sync battling show developed by Jimmy Fallon and recently renewed for a second season, is now also the "first TV series filmed in virtual reality." Today, Samsung's Gear VR library was updated with clips from the April series premiere. Which means that yes, you can see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson performing Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off" (and The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive") in immersive 360-degree video.

According to the Los Angeles Times, clips from 10 episodes of Lip Sync Battle are going to be appearing on Milk VR, Samsung's video app for the Gear VR headset. Anybody with a Gear VR can watch the first set right this minute, either by streaming them or downloading the whole thing for playback. Casey Patterson, an executive at the parent company of Lip Sync Battle's host channel Spike, tells Wired that the project is just a first foray into VR filming. "Whether we have the perfect iteration of it on this first season of this one show, that doesn't matter as much as the idea of experimenting with it does," he says. More pragmatically, a popular show like Lip Sync Battle could help sell VR, and VR can help sell just about anything.

An immersive tall person simulatorBut if there's a problem with the first Lip Sync Battle videos — and to be clear, there is — it's that they're not experimental enough. Instead of the careful cuts of, say, the "Shake it Off" YouTube clip, they're basically meant to simulate being a very tall person in the audience, occupying a little gap in the crowd. It's a lot like the concert experiences that video companies like Jaunt have invested heavily in, focused on making people feel like they've got an inside look somewhere they could never go.

Jaunt's videos, though, tend to really play up this theme, putting cameras right in the middle of the stage or in other places normal fans would be forbidden. Lip Sync Battle opens up parts of the studio that flat TV cuts out, like the teleprompter on the far side of the room. But it's mostly a reminder that random audience members don't get the greatest view, and that the sweat and heat of other human beings is what really makes a crowd feel like a crowd. The Gear VR's resolution is also limited enough that the stage's details get blurry. The projection screens over the audience were a little closer and clearer, so I actually ended up mostly watching a video of a video of Lip Sync Battle.

The biggest advantage Lip Sync Battle has is that it's something viewers would probably watch anyways. This might be exactly what virtual reality needs — experiences that are attractive even without the novelty factor or VR's sense of presence. The downside is that as VR, it's honestly sort of boring. With only a couple of clips (Fallon's side of the battle doesn't seem to be on Milk VR), it's hard to say whether a full episode would be watchable. It's the equivalent of a "movie" that's really a stage play performed in front of a camera: the core ideas are good, but they're not being presented in a way that takes advantage of the medium. If we're going to get the immersive Dwayne-Johnson-singing-Taylor-Swift simulator we deserve, Spike and Samsung will have to keep trying.