When you start pushing mediums outside of their comfort zones, or start combining them, you can create a unique experience. However, with any of these experiences, people will talk about immersion; about being drawn into the screen, about not being able to put the book down. While looking through online lecture material for my networked media course, I realised that increased immersion with media will arise from integration with reality. We are in the middle of a transition where that very thing – usually referred to as ‘augmented reality‘ – is happening, but what does this mean for more passive experiences like movies, and even video production itself?
The video above is not science fiction. Google Glass is a project currently under development by none other than Google, as the name implies. The product is essentially a tiny headset that looks like the frame from a pair of glasses, with a small computer, camera, mic, and screen on one side. This screen is the centrepiece of the project, because it sits in front of your eye and can essentially act as a heads-up-display, or HUD, for all manner of purposes.
At first glance, this might just seem like a more in-your-face smartphone – or rather ‘on-your-face’. All manner of devices, from smartphones to portable consoles like the Nintendo 3DS, already have Augmented Reality applications, but HUDs have a distinct feature which separates them from past devices.
HUDs are virtually omnipresent. The video illustrates it well, you wake up, put on your ‘Glass’, and go about your life, with occasional notifications, communication, search queries and even content creation literally in front of you. If the headset is comfortable enough, it’s likely people will spend most of the day wearing it. This is the factor which changes the way we interact with not just with the world, but with media.
Take TV as an example. Have you ever been watching a show and forgotten what an actor’s name is? Now, you can just look them up without really taking your eyes off the screen. Augmented Reality devices like these will probably use facial recognition as well, requiring less input from the user. Imagine the uses in non-fiction works such as documentaries. You could link social profiles or official sites to interviewees. You could provide extended information through annotations or a truly split screen video feed for lovers of multi-tasking, or even live tweets or comment feeds from various sources relevant to what viewers are watching. On top of all this, knowing Google, the wealth of user data collected by the company could also mean personalised versions of all of these overlays. Advertising is another large sector which could profit from delivering websites or prompting users to interact via social media when Glass recognises their ads. Furthermore, ridiculously subtle applications like being able to have a movie or TV show subtitled in a language of your choosing could become as simple as selecting it from a menu.
While considering these possibilities, I also realised the fact that these devices are almost omnipresent changes content production as well. Imagine being able to record video, sound, and still images, almost instantly. This is beyond the smartphone. The ability to record imagery, moving or otherwise, and sound, is no longer in our pocket, but always ready. An obvious application is first-person videography (see video below). First-person perspective has always been popular in sport videos with helmet rigs and cameras such as the GoPro, but there’s more to it than that. Again, when it comes to non-fiction works, imagine being able to instantly record anything as it happens, without ever having to take your eyes off the unfolding events. Communicating with others becomes easier as well. Conducting an interview without an overly conspicuous, bulky and intimidating camera is likely to make interviewees more comfortable. We’ve already seen quality smartphone cameras from Nokia in relation to stills and the latest iPhones in terms of video. Cameras like these can easily fit into something like Glass.
We also have to consider intellectual property. Every single one of these devices carries a camera and microphone. While the quality of recorded data may not be quite up to cinema standards, it will undoubtedly continue to improve. Will some institutions or events simply request these devices not be worn, or will we see new digital rights management (DRM) strategies built into the devices? After all, who is to say these devices will not be able to recognise copyrighted material and actually censor it from your recordings? Smartphone apps such as Google Goggles can scan objects and return results based purely off an image. A few days ago, I used Goggles to scan the front cover of a novel and it delivered information such as reviews within seconds. Why not have reviews in your overlay while you watch a trailer? It’s true that we should never judge a book by its cover, but when AR technology can provide us with so much relevant information, it will be very tempting to do so.
You might ask how one could even complete all these actions without some sort of physical input or voice recognition. Again, technology doesn’t seem to have an off switch when it comes to innovation, and low-cost brainwave reading devices are already working today, and will soon become commonplace, as the video below demonstrates:
There’s a game changing element to mind controlled devices as well. Any unique electrical impulse from the brain can be registered. This includes emotional responses, meaning a device could be calibrated to recognise your moods. Hollywood studios attempting to employ brainwave data collection during test screenings could become a standard in the near future. Imagine being able to pinpoint the moment when a viewer feels awe.
Augmented Reality is going to have an impact on many aspects of our lives, and certainly on the media industry. It is difficult to predict the nature and extent of this impact, but it seems to be a step in the democratisation of not only information, but content creation too, especially for audiovisual media.