The Future of Entertainment series by iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs is highlighting the latest in entertainment innovation. Over the course of 10 weeks at iq.intel.com, we are showcasing new products, services and technologies, exploring the changing face of how we consume, share and create content and getting reactions from Intel experts.
As part of our Future of Entertainment series, we have been spending the week examining a trend called Immersive Story Environments. The trend looks at how developers are harnessing technology to create a new wave of storytelling, where consumers are dynamic players in virtual worlds, experiencing entertainment at an unprecedented level, particularly with more in-depth engagement within games. The distinction between reality and fantasy is becoming less distinctive as head-mounted displays and other technologies are used to extend content beyond a two-dimensional screen.
To help understand how Immersive Story Environments are changing entertainment, iQ and PSFK spoke with Sean Koehl (pictured below), a Technology Evangelist at Intel Labs. As an evangelist, Koehl spends his time increasing awareness of Intel’s research and vision of the future, with particular focus on visual computing and Big Data. In our discussion, Koehl explained how interactive virtual environments are creating an alternate reality. While technology is still developing, Koehl sees a real possibility of immersive entertainment going mainstream. Moreover, he believes it can move beyond entertainment and into the classroom as educational tools.
Technology is evolving to become more affordable and accessible. With developments in hardware and processing power, how do you think our experiences and interaction with content will change?
I see three main ways technology is advancing these experiences. The first is digital realism. In CGI movies today, modern technology allows filmmakers to synthesize scenes and characters so well that it is much easier to believe in the alternate reality of the film.
The second is immersion. Technologies such as ultra-high-definition, high-frame rate [HFR], and 3D projection when combined deliver visuals in a manner much closer to the way you perceive the real world. When I saw the Hobbit in 3D HFR, I often felt more like I was watching a play with real actors in front of me than a film. At the same time, the increased fidelity also makes flaws more apparent – like wrinkles that suddenly become visible in HD – which raises the bar for the previous category of realism.
The third is natural interactivity. We are able to render more and more of this detail in real-time for games and other interactive virtual environments. Equally important are the human interaction technologies, especially camera-based body and gesture tracking which allow you to interact with a digital scene without any controllers. And finally, cloud based technology is allowing multiple participants from remote locations to interact with the same content together. Films and gaming have typically strived to create immersive experiences for their audiences; the rise of 3D content and gesture controls has added to this over the past few years.
Are there any technologies or products on the horizon that could further this idea of immersive entertainment experiences?
I had a chance to try the Oculus Rift development kit and was pleasantly surprised by how far this type of technology has come in terms of quality and costs. For the first time I had the experience of truly looking around another world, albeit a bit grainy one. There is still work to be done but I’m encouraged that we will see more and more innovation in this space. One thing Intel Labs is working on is combining tracking cameras with projection technology, which can allow you to turn any surface in a room – potentially even the whole room – into an interactive display.
What needs to happen in order to make some of these technologies become more mainstream?
Bringing quality and performance up while bringing costs down will be essential – and will require continuous innovation. At the same time, new usage models will need to be developed that showcase the unique advantages of these interactions – not just mapping existing content to a new interface. Increased computational performance and the ability to run a lot of algorithms in parallel will be important – realize we are talking about eventually running gesture recognition, character simulation, photorealistic lighting, more realistic simulation of environmental materials and interaction, etc. all in 3D HD HFR, in real time. That’s a lot of compute!
Are there are many applications for immersive environments that go beyond entertainment?
There is a whole trend for “Serious Games” which use gaming interfaces for more real-world applications. This includes things like disaster response training, military simulation, or historical re-enactment. What better way to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg than to play it out on a recreation of the actual terrain? Why were certain decisions made? What if it had gone differently? I would personally enjoy virtual travel – both through space and time. With these environments you could reassemble the ruined Roman forum, even witness how it grew and eventually fell over the course of the Empire. That’s a powerful educational tool.
If Koehl’s predictions are correct, not only will immersive technology be the future of entertainment, but could be the future of education as well. Join us tomorrow as we look back at the week's trend Immersive Story Environments.
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