VR is rapidly becoming a way for brands to directly demonstrate the user experience of their products, or to visualize the care with which their products were created. But, since 360-degree video VR was initially created as a solo experience, the management of group screenings has not been a top priority.
To handle that chore, Palo Alto, California-based startup WeLens is out with a solution called LensPass for managing group presentations at trade shows, showrooms and other locations. The company says this is the only offering that can manage and customize large scale VR screenings of 360-degree video.
The problems, founder and CEO James Levy said in a statement, have been that “devices need to be manually setup one at a time, there’s no way to control and track devices, and the result is chaos, stress and elevated tech support costs.”
The company says that LensPass, its first product release, eliminates the need for technical staff to run these kinds of VR screenings. Founded last year, the firm previously focused on running VR screenings for brands, marketing and ad agencies and others, including National Geographic, Hulu, Toyota and Clorox.
One of the issues in these group screenings, Director of Business Development Mika Hasak told me, was getting each headset to start the VR at the same time. Otherwise, audience members might finish and leave the screening at different times, and it might be disconcerting to hear shrieks from other audience members before your video has started its plunge down that rollercoaster.
LensPass includes a management dashboard, an app and the LensPlayer video player. The app and player reside in the mobile device in each headset, and the app communicates settings to the player and such customizations as the brand’s logo or a small amount of text at the top of the screening.
A marketer can use LensPass to set up a scheduled screening where headsets play the show every five minutes, for instance. Or the screening for all headsets can begin on demand, controlled at will from the dashboard. If the client wants, the video can be started remotely when a new user picks up a headset. LensPass removes the need for each attendee to push “play” or control playback locally. Here’s what a viewer might see inside the headset, as a scheduled showing begins:
The 360-degree video can run locally in the mobile device, or it can be streamed to each device via WiFi. Each viewer is inside their own 360-degree video environment — that is, there is no shared VR space in 360-degree video.
The primary headset is Oculus’ Gear VR with an inserted Samsung Galaxy smartphone, although LensPass will also support the latest Google Daydream headset with a compatible Daydream smartphone, such as the Pixel.
A client’s software subscription includes management of two devices, with the ability to add additional devices. Hardware is not included, although WeLens can supply those. Hasak said that WeLens has run groups of up to 200 headsets and added that there was no theoretical limit to the size of the screening audience.