WHY Newfangled gadgets often fall in two categories: they are either gimmicks that entice potential customers for a short span of time before fading into oblivion, or they can be game-changing phenomena that fundamentally alter the way we interface with the world.
Employing virtual reality (VR) headsets as sales and educational tools in the hospitality sector, which Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts has done on an organisational level last month, falls perhaps in the middle of the former and latter extremes.
Donning one of these roughly US$700-a-piece shiny new toys is certainly an amazing experience. I felt transported into another realm, with my entire paracentral and peripheral vision agaze at nothing else but what was displayed in front of me.
WHAT Unlike watching regular 2D and 3D videos, the content being shown stays central to your focus and shifts logically wherever your head swivels, mimicking real life vision. And that is exactly the point of VR, as it engages the viewer on a palpable level passive film watching can never do.
At one point, I found myself in the bathroom of Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo, and as I looked up, noticed I was actually under the rain shower. In another instance, I was dining in a restaurant at Shangri-La Hotel Hong Kong with two companions as a bartender conjured a Flaming Lamborghini in the background. I grinned surreptitiously during both moments.
Once I got past the initial learning hump, with each pan, tilt and yaw of my head, I got increasingly engaged with what I was looking at and wanted more 360-degree videos to watch. I wanted more content to experience. It was addictive, almost.
Still, VR technology remains an area where pixel count pushing can do a lot of good in our high-definition world. The videos were rather granular, relative to contemporary expectations, and kept me apart from the virtual universe presented around me.
HOW Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts currently utilises the Samsung Gear VR at all its global sales offices, with the Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone being used as the video playback device attached to the headset. With each future rendition of the smartphone in use, I am sure the coarseness of the visuals will only get less gritty.
But visuals are less of a concern than creativity of the content itself, which plays an integral role in the whole experience. While current videos are still novel and fresh, I hope hoteliers will quickly up the ante in order to generate greater impetus for VR technology implementation.
It is possible, for instance, to take the experience a step further and turn it into a point-and-click adventure game, where you can walk along corridors, enter doors and look out of windows with a simple tap on a button, akin to how Google’s street view works.
VERDICT This is definitely a viable next step, and as VR applications come out of its infancy, hopefully creative trade players can also better adopt the technology and produce content that is even richer and more tactile for travellers-to-be.
Have a watch and feel of the 360-degree videos here.