NY Times Introduces Virtual Reality to the Masses

Ed Lee
Nov 13, 2015

On November 8, more than 1 million New York Times newspaper subscribers received an interesting gift with their Sunday paper – a Google Cardboard viewer. Google Cardboard is a simple device, made up of corrugated cardboard and a pair of plastic lenses, which turns any Apple or Android smartphone into a virtual reality (VR) viewing system.

For most, this will be their first introduction to virtual reality. To ensure that it is a positive experience, users’ expectations need to be set correctly and early – preferably before or during their first experiences. Based on a cardboard frame and inexpensive plastic lenses, consumers should be told that the quality of video viewing will be acceptable but not cinematic – not even close. The original Google Cardboard was not intended to be a polished consumer product. In fact, it was a giveaway at Google’s I/O conference and meant to be a tool for developers to help them visualize the output as they create VR apps.

DODOcase P2 Viewer

For those who do not subscribe to the NY Times, various versions of Cardboard can be purchased online, starting at around $20. Higher quality smartphone VR viewers, made of higher quality materials, can cost $100 or more.The Samsung GearVR, being developed in partnership with Oculus, is one example. It is in the pre-order stage for a price of $99.

Other high-end self-contained units (no smartphone required) are coming to market late this year and early next year. These include the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony PlayStation VR, and are expected to cost $300 to $500.

Virtual reality is still in the very early stages of development and it will likely be a few more years before it becomes widely adopted by the mainstream market. All aspects of the ecosystem still need to be perfected – from the capture devices, to the creation software and services, to the content and the display technologies and devices. Getting Google Cardboard into the hands of a million people is a great way to introduce them to the possibilities that VR promises to deliver. Let’s hope the first experience is a positive one.

InfoTrends Opinion

InfoTrends believes that as with any new display media, compelling content will drive adoption. Good content that tells an interesting story will lead to repeat users. There were many reasons why 3D television did not take off, but one was a lack of good content. 3D was being used for the sake of the 3D effects, but was not integrated into the story-telling process. VR has the opportunity to learn from 3D’s mistakes and avoid this problem.

We expect that the compelling content will first come from professionally produced commercial videos but user-generated video will eventually become more common. If VR is to go mainstream, it will need to integrate with social media, which depends heavily on user-generated content. Another key driver will be access to the content. The NY Times VR app (iOS and Android) offered a sample of 5 videos and the Times promises more to come. YouTube already has a #360Video channel populated with VR videos, and many other vendor-centric VR websites are available. New cameras, both consumer and commercial oriented, that capture full spherical 360-degree stills and video will be vital to content creation. A few are available today and many new products are under development.

While we did not try out the NY Times version of Google Cardboard, our experience with a DODOcase version of Cardboard has generally been positive. There is still a ways to go toward perfecting the experience, but the future looks bright.


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