Founded in 2013, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Jaunt has quickly become one of the bigger names in the virtual reality space. The company has perhaps the widest suite of VR offerings: a professional-grade VR camera system (the 24-lens Jaunt One); a suite of VR software solutions (including a cloud-based media manager and VR video player); and a free app with more than 100 cinematic VR videos.
It’s that last item that makes Jaunt stand out, according to Adam Somers, engineering manager for the company, and the reason is simple. Unlike most VR apps out there today, the Jaunt VR app will be ubiquitous upon release Oct. 13, working across platforms and devices, including Android and iOS, the Gear VR, the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the PlayStation VR system.
Somers sat down with Chris Tribbey to go over the company’s VR plans, the challenges VR companies face, and the importance of smartphones when it comes to the future of the technology. An edited transcript follows.
NTV: Would you say we’re still in the early days of VR apps, or has the category hit its stride? Why or why not?
ADAM SOMERS: When I joined Jaunt in 2013, we were five people in a tiny office tinkering with 3D printers, action cameras and Legos. Oculus was still a private company just coming off its Kickstarter campaign, and neither Google Cardboard nor Samsung Gear VR existed.
Now we have grown substantially and you could say what started as a loose-knit collection of hackers has become a full-blown industry. That said, we are absolutely in the early days of VR apps. The next three years will see exponential growth as more VR headsets hit the market, brands become more experimental with the medium, and people come to the realization that the smartphone they already own puts the power of VR in their pocket.
NTV: What are the top technical challenges behind VR app creation, development and distribution? What’s being done right, and what can be done better?
AS: As an app developer, Jaunt is intimately familiar with the challenges of VR app creation, but we are also a distribution platform for cinematic VR experiences. We have learned a lot about the challenges that content creators face and the process of multichannel distribution can be absolutely daunting. That’s one of the primary pain points we’re working to solve at Jaunt. We’ve created the only distribution hub that is truly platform-agnostic, capable of seamlessly delivering cinematic VR content to every VR platform. Creators can focus on making great content, and Jaunt seamlessly transcodes and distributes that content across apps on any device — iOS, Android, Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
NTV: What VR app categories (gaming, sports, news, etc.) have worked best to date, and are there categories that haven’t been properly explored yet?
AS: One of the areas that has taken off the fastest is the music category. We’ve already worked with some amazing artists, across all genres, who are more open to pushing creative boundaries and trying new things. VR enables them to connect with their fans in an entirely new way. Paul Mc- Cartney took fans into his home studio for example; that’s an experience no front row ticket could ever buy you.
Travel content has also done really well. The power of virtual reality really lies in its ability to transport people anywhere in the world. So why not head to Nepal one day and the beaches of Rio the next.
NTV: What VR app features are absolute necessities, what features are worth exploring, and what features are overrated or unnecessary?
AS: VR presents a number of must-have features in order to provide a great immersive experience. First and foremost is performance. VR apps must be able to work smoothly at the elevated frame rates and resolutions required by head-mounted displays. This can be a challenge for streaming video applications, which is why Jaunt has put a lot of energy into optimizing our video encoding and streaming technologies.
Also important is responsiveness. Loading screens in VR is very frustrating to users. Jaunt has gone to great lengths in order to minimize loading times in our app and website, which led to some impressive innovations in streaming for 360º video.
Last, but certainly not least, is spatial audio. Audio cues have a direct impact on your sense of presence in the real world, so it is critical that all VR experiences provide spatial audio that reacts to your head motion. That’s why the majority of our content provides soundtracks authored in Ambisonic B-Format or Dolby Atmos.
For cinematic VR, one feature worth exploring is volumetric video or light fields. Room-scale experiences provide the greatest sense of immersion, and commercially viable volumetric video would be a real game-changer. I also think social will play an important part in the future of VR. As can been seen in some of the popular mobile apps, people love being able to share their experiences and ‘tune in’ to what’s going on in their friends’ lives. VR provides an unprecedented opportunity to connect people in a way that feels real but is still completely digital. This is an area that should be explored deeply, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon.
NTV: Just how difficult is it to make sure VR apps work across platforms and devices? And is the VR industry hurt at all when apps are tailored to just one headset or platform?
AS: Making VR apps work across platforms and devices is challenging, for sure. Aside from understanding the ins and outs of each computing platform, developers must deal with the idiosyncrasies of the various head-mounted displays and make sure the app adapts properly in order to provide a high-quality, comfortable and immersive experience. Add to that a matrix of PC and smartphone devices to support, and you have a beast of a challenge on your hands! That is why game engine platforms such as Unity and Unreal Engine are almost essential for VR development. The engines do a lot of the heavy lifting for you so you can focus on your technical edge and design a great experience around it.
Jaunt develops for each and every VR platform out there. At this stage, it is important that developers try to be as cross-platform as possible in order to reach a wide audience and boost adoption of VR as a medium.