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VR film festivals go 100% virtual & launch a Netflix-like streaming platform for VR

The times of Covid-19 bring challenges in all areas. Festivals and major events, in particular, suffer from the long-term consequences and have to reorganize digitally accordingly. Apart from that, headset stores are proposing new rules in data tracking and content management, making ‘native’ VR applications a lot less accessible or even an ethical distribution strategy. LucidWeb identified a solution to digitise film festivals fully by creating a virtual library that can be made accessible to everyone, directly and instantly via the browser across desktop, mobile and the most popular VR headsets, all GDPR compliant. LucidWeb is excited to introduce collaborations with three VR festivals who created a virtual festival space as an alternative, allowing the VR industry to continue pushing boundaries in VR storytelling amidst challenging times.

Introducing WebVR

WebVR is a pioneering new technology that offers high-quality, easy access to everyone and invites the viewer to access the content with the device mobile, desktop, and headset — they have at hand. Because the festival library now becomes available on three different devices, many more people have access to the content. Even people without a headset have the opportunity to watch a story unfold powered with high-quality adaptive streaming. This compatibility makes it possible to share these impressive experiences with colleagues as well as with friends and family.

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Sharing of biometric data & store application requirements for 360° video

As for data tracking, the most recently launched Oculus Quest 2 turns out to be quite a controversial device: It requires a Facebook login to work. This move allows Facebook to immediately identify the device owner, but also have a better understanding of how the owner uses the device (based on biometric data tracking). The VR community reacted with a huge backlash. On top of all that new data becoming available to Facebook, a recent report of Stanford University confirms that both the privacy policy of Oculus and HTC, makers of two of the most popular VR headsets in 2020, are permitted to share any de-identified data. Also, that they’re able to reliably identify individuals after only a five-minute session in a standard consumer VR headset. Hence de-identified biometric data can be shared with third parties and they in-turn “could use it to figure out who the viewer is, predict their habits, understand their vulnerabilities and create marketing profiles intent on grabbing their attention with a new level of granularity”. Although there are many interesting & ‘good’ use cases for biometric data, the industry is rightly worried the data can be abused.

As for LucidWeb’s data protection clause, as the gallery is distributed via a browser, GDPR regulations apply. Each custom environment set up for a VR festival will — by default — generate a pop-up that invites the audience to confirm if they wish to be tracked or not. In case the audience does agree to be tracked, no biometric data will be generated. Only ‘standard’ tracking will apply, meaning device/browser usage, views, drop-off rate and demographics of the audience.

Another worrying move is that both the Steam and Oculus store have confirmed their content store will no longer accept ‘native’ application requests that feature just non-interactive VR or 360° video (3DoF). Both stores confirm they wish to focus on gaming content or at least 6DoF cinematic VR content. Both stores confirm they wish to focus on gaming content or at least 6DoF cinematic VR content. So if you are a publisher, where to go to have your cinematic 3DoF 360°/VR content shown in a headset?

With the LucidWeb headset browser access option, the experience doesn’t need to be submitted with one of the headset stores as Oculus store nor Viveport, no authorization or approval is needed. The gallery becomes available immediately and instantly via the VR headset browser.

“Faced with the elements, let us be more creative than ever”

Due to the corona pandemic, the organizers had to create an alternative this year and designed GIFF into the digital world. To gain access to the virtual festival, professionals who are part of the program or interested in it, receive an individual and free accreditation. Once authenticated, the festival attendee has access to an immersive catalogue with more than 30 experiences — including Locus Solus from Christian Lemmerz, Black Bag from Qing Shao, The Pantheon of Queer Mythology from Enrique Agudo etc.- available for streaming across three devices, mobile, desktop and headset. Find the full list in selected stories here. The “GIFF XR Media Library” offers the accredited professionals a safe opportunity to experience the film festival from the comfort of their home despite these extraordinary times. Everyone is invited to engage and connect, so no VR professional or enthusiast is left behind with a fear of missing out.

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Synchronization of devices

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“If you want to change the world, change the stories.”

An important difference with the XR Media Library for GIFF is that the library offered by Electric Africa does not require registration and is hence open to everyone, as long as the participants are based in Africa.

The festival took place from 5th to 11th November. You can enjoy the VR stories that were available here. Exciting titles were accessible as Daughters of Shibok (South African Premiere & Winner of ‘best VR story at Venice Film Festival) by Joel ‘Kachi Benson; Another Kind of Dying: Virtual Experience (African Premiere) by Amy Louise Wilson; Le Lac (Winner: best digital narrative at Sheffield Doc/fest 2019) by Nyasha Kadandara and Gr8ness (World premiere) by Michael Ilako.

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“Creation through Innovation”

During the festival, titles as A Miscarriage of Justice (International premiere & immersive 360 VR docudrama) by Atalanti Dionysus, Faire corps avec la ville (European premiere & architectural VR road movie) by Pauline Marchetti et Mathieu Pradat and Rain Fruits (VR film that uses 3D scanned environments in innovative ways) by Youngyoon Song will be showcased. A jury of high-profile VR experts including Celine Tricart, Agnès Alfandari and James Sénade will select awards for the best work in the following categories: grand prize, best storytelling, best interactivity, best picture and best sound. The selection, powered with a LucidWeb player, will be available between 23th and 29th November.

Screen recording of the Electric Africa VR Media Gallery, made available in the Oculus Quest 2. (Credits: Ferenj: A Graphic memoir in VR; Director: Ainslee Alem Robson; Producer: Liam Young, Ainslee Alem Robson)

LucidWeb is proud to enable VR festivals to continue with their activities now fully online, making a unique selection of VR storytelling available to everyone, with clear data protection guidelines taking into account.

Do you have a selection of VR experiences available and interested in our VR Festival offering, don’t hesitate to reach out to leen@lucidweb.io for a live demo of the festival players.

We would like to thank Dominique Hazael-Massieux (W3C/Immersive Working Group) for his valuable feedback.

13/11/2020: Following the publication of this article, HTC Vive reached out to confirm “the company still accepts 360° video to be published as an app. We recently made Into Space — 1st & 2nd Step available, featuring 2x 360 films. We host many other 360 videos on Viveport through our Viveport Video service, and are constantly seeking out new partners to provide 360 content to our customers”.

Credits go to Charlotte Pfeifer for the research and editorial work.

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