This past month had all three Southern California meetings industry groups — Site SoCal, MPI Orange County, and MPI Southern California Chapter addressing the rising implementation of technology in event planning, including using virtual reality for events. Before jumping into this alternative reality event planning pool, it’s important to understand how AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) technology differ.
Augmented Reality combines virtual components within real world contents (a la Pokémon Go, the location-based mobile AR game that swept the nation in summer 2016). AR adds adds computer-generated elements such as video, graphics, sound, and more to a person’s view of reality, creating an alternate, or augmented, view of a real setting.
Four Types of AR technology of note for event planners include (according to an October 2017 BizBash article by Mitra Sorrells):
- Wearable AR like Microsoft’s HoloLens: Wearables like this headset create the most immersive experience of augmented reality, wherein user can still see her real environment, but virtual elements are visible too. While it’s hands-free and users maintain the experience even as they walk and move their heads, HoloLens is also expensive (about $3,000 per headset).
- Device-based AR: In this model, a tablet or smartphone becomes the window into an augmented view of the user’s surroundings. Pokémon Go is the best-known example, but AR technology can be integrated into an event app, for example, to trigger experiences around a venue, or it can be done as a standalone experience on preconfigured devices.
- Mirror AR: This option allows a person to see a reflection of himself with additional imagery or content layered on top of it. The most common uses to date have been for retail and consumer environments, such as a clothing store where customers can try on different looks in the mirror.
- Transparent AR is the newest way to use augmented reality. A transparent LED or newer OLED display is used as a window into a three-dimensional, virtual environment. Transparent AR can be used for large group demonstrations, for example at a trade show.
Virtual Reality (VR) allows users to have experiences without leaving their location. Requiring additional hardware and technology, users of virtual reality must have virtual reality headsets, which limits their experience to exactly what they are doing or engaging with – with the only way to stop the experience, taking off the headset.
EventManagerBlog.com recently highlighted 5 Trends for Using Virtual Reality for Events:
- Virtual Events, with sporting event examples like the Rio Olympics and music videos. VR enables remote spectators to experience events as if they were there themselves, and VR content can be live streamed direct viewers’ social feeds.
- Enhancing the Live Event Experience, as demonstrated by Intel’s Oculus Rooms at CES 2017.
- Mobile VR — Almost everyone has the capability to access some level of VR via their mobile device, with a range of VR options starting with Snapchat’s World Lenses to Google Cardboard viewers (available from $15 and up), all the way up to Samsung’s Gear VR
- Social Media as a Gateway to VR as demonstrated Snapchat’s unique view of the Golden Globes via their Spectacles.
- 360° Live Video is not truly VR, but is a sister technology requiring only a mobile device to experience the virtual world. And 360° Live Video venue tours can be a great tool for event planners doing venue research.
Another way of using virtual reality for events mentioned by meetings technology guru James Spellos is using Google’s VR Tilt Brush as a brilliant way to inspire creativity during a brainstorming session, or providing an entertaining break as attendees (in person or in the virtual world) don headsets and paint their 3D visions while others watch on a TV display.
According to Spellos, it’s easy to just keep doing what you’ve been doing at meetings and events, but it’s equally important to weigh the risk of stagnation. When considering using virtual reality for events, “Ask yourself, can we afford not to stay current? This isn’t a technology conversation—it’s a creativity conversation.”