Recently I had the opportunity to check out LoNyLa/Timewave’s Virtual Reality Demo Day in New York. The main reason I wanted to go was to check out the various physical hardware iterations for virtual reality- a technology that is growing at an amazing rate and has exciting implications for museums.
While I was there I was able to test every virtual reality headset on the market- from Oculus Rift to Google Cardboard. I also made a point to speak to each developer and noted their opinions about each product.
I was surprised to find that Oculus Rift was not the top choice- and neither was Google Cardboard! The main issue with Google Cardboard was the lens quality. Google Cardboard has created the cheapest VR headset option which is wonderful in terms of price accessibility, but to do so they reduced the quality of the lenses. A number of developers noted feeling nauseous after using Google Cardboard- something to consider when thinking about interactive/immersive experiences for the broadest possible audience. A shorter VR experience helps, and there are a number of museums using Google Cardboard, but having less devices of a higher quality is also a good option. Offering the public an opportunity to experience VR on a high-quality device they might not be able to afford on their own is also part of what museums can do to make art accessible.
What can museums do with virtual reality? I see two equally interesting options. First, museums can work with digital artists who are already using this medium as a form of expression- artists like Jon Rafman and Rachel Rossin for example. Some new media art being created today is being created specifically to be experienced in VR.
Second, museums can use VR to more deeply activate existing pieces in a collection- creating new ways of seeing what is already there. The Dali museum did this recently by offering a VR experience where people could go into a Dali painting; a completely immersive 3D experience.
I saw many similar things at Timewave’s Demo Day- “The Giftschrank (Poison Room)” “Dream within a Dream” and “Unboxed,” for example. “Unboxed,” by Jackson Tam, was especially interesting because as you moved around the environment (an inventor’s workshop) you could select objects on the wall and desk- so, for example, you’d see a newspaper article, select it, and it would come to you and be readable. Or, you could select a tool on the inventor’s workbench and a definition would come up. In essence, the label text/additional content wasn’t anchored to a wall in a museum gallery; it came to you.
More and more museums are using VR in galleries and exhibition spaces. Museums do not merely exist as physical structures holding physical objects- they’re spaces for inspiration, education, community, and creativity. It’s a digital space as well as a physical space, and the digital space has a far longer reach. Creating and supporting VR is a recognition of this.
Of all the hardware at Timewave Festival’s Demo Day, HTC Vive was the top pick by far.
Learn more about the participants here: http://timewavefestival.com/spring-vr-lab-2016/