Take your own stance at public events
The project seeks to explore the relationship between virtual reality and journalism. Our product is an application based on VR platform. Through our concept, people could acquire how VR could be used to strengthen the storytelling powers of journalism. Bringing audiences closer to the reality of a story has always been the preoccupation of journalists, and VR, it seems, offers an ideal multimedia experience.
When journalists decide to invite audiences to witness a news event through journalism, to some extent, audiences’ opinions are influenced by the perspective of the journalist. It is difficult to form a critical, objective point of view from current means of consuming “breaking news.” Therefore, news viewers constantly face the struggle of missing the full story, and require a next-level approach of news consumption.
When we started this project, we elected to use the User-Centered Design process. This process allowed us to research and explore our chosen space and better understand what our users needed and the best options for delivering a solution. As we moved forward we were able to iterate on our design and validate the direction of our project. Overall, this process was a great means to ensuring that our project delivered a solid solution.
Our team all agree that it is a cool idea to combine virtual reality and journalism; however, is it possible with the current environment?
In recent years, virtual and augmented reality have begun to make inroads in the media industry, yet the market is still reluctant to adopt VR in mass consumption. To assess the possibility of the idea, we need to look into the influence of policy, economic, society and technology.
VR journalism is highly possible in the near future; In 2018 it was expected that over 40% of Americans would own a VR device in 3 to 4 years from then.
Market will drive down the cost of producing VR devices when the 5G technology reaches the mature point.
Currently, Canadian government majorly uses VR in military and education. Meanwhile, the concern of privacy would stop governments develop VR in media and entertainment industry. Our product needs to pay close attention to information privacy issues.
While researching for the VR journalism, we also identify our target user, millennials and baby boomers (Mathur, 2018). As they take a great share of news and media consumption, and generally have a positive attitude of VR applications. Also, they tend to be early adopters of new products and services. Therefore, we expect them to be our pioneer end-users of this immersive VR platform.
The challenge of news consumption is centered on manipulative propaganda, as media’s perspective can easily alter the viewers’ opinion. Both news consumers and producers face the hurdle of forming a critical, objective point of view from current means of consuming “breaking news”.
To free both news viewers and journalists, we start this project to see HMW help news viewers learn the full news story in first hand experience. We seek to explore the relationship between virtual reality and journalism. When users watch news, it will be ideal if they can get an immersive experience and a better sense of empathy that traditional media could only hint at through distant camera shots or in written reports. Besides, to some extent, the usage of VR tech could be helpful to avoid news that are filtered, altered, or even faked.
Conceptualizing VR Journalism
Once we better understood the problem and specify our idea, we began to brainstorm a solution to deliver VR news to our target users.
We settled on the basic components and layout of our visualization through several quick rounds of sketches. Combining the technology of VR headset, 360° video and blockchain, we strive to develop a VR platform, Project Elephant, allowing journalists to live-stream and record news events with a variety of 360° cameras to an app that allows viewers to watch the news in an immersive environment.
To create a feasible business model for this platform to operate, we ideated on the business structure including market matrix, revenue streams, operating cost etc.
Combining the technology of VR headset, 360° video and blockchain. We develop a VR platform, Project Elephant, allowing journalists to live-stream and record news events with a variety of 360° cameras to an app that allows viewers to watch the news in an immersive environment. Project Elephant uses core web and blockchain technologies to deliver an easy-to-use service. The overall service is broken down into all the mentioned technology infrastructure and the actual end-user VR App. By utilizing these assets, we are able to offer a seamless intuitive application for the VR app users as well as catering to the needs of the platform's content creators supporting both advanced cameras and single camera configurations.
Whether utilizing the platform as a Journalist (content creator) or Viewer (user), Project Elephant requires an account to be created with the service. The Service’s API takes care of authentication and serving/routing the necessary data to users. Journalists use their provided stream key to connect various streaming cameras and applications to the services’s API’s and blockchain services. Users of the VR app simply login after which they can interact with live feeds from Journalists that are being followed on the network. The Streaming and Blockchain Infrastructure Technologies utilized will be further explained in detail below.
Portable 360° cameras with built in video encoders paired with mobile phones utilizing 4G and 5G data services are able to stream at variable bit rates to the platform using the Journalist’s account credentials.
Variable bitrate streaming adapts to the available bandwidth on the medium at any given point. Alternatively, advanced configurations for very high resolution video, have to utilize a video stitching application running on a local computer that will stitch camera feeds in the array and then encode and deliver the live feed whether by fixed or variable bit rates to the Streaming Engine.
In order for the service to be resilient and avoid censorship given the nature of the content on the platform, the storage of media and the ability to donate to the content creators is vital to the survivability of the platform.
Based on the insights gained from the initial content audits, technology analysis and Card Sorts with potential users, I defined the sitemap and then evaluated it via tree tests with potential users.
User interface prototyping
We emphasize ease of use when designing the user interface for Project Elephant. VR is still relatively new at the moment, so we turn to something more familiar to most people as the starting point - mobile apps. The end result is a mixture of UI elements from mobile platforms, and interactive components built more specifically for VR applications. Swiping is an action that’s relatively difficult to perform on mobile VR platforms, so we replaced many swiping components in our early versions with buttons in the final prototype. However things like navigation tabs at the bottom have been proven to work on many platforms, and hence we have that in our App.
To keep user flows short and simple, we make sure that the interface does not go beyond four levels in depth
We also focus on creating smooth transitions between the real world, the VR user interface, and the immersive view. The log-in screen and the video info screen serve as jump-off points before changing the user’s view dramatically, keeping the user from feeling abrupt. On the other screens, we generally try to avoid putting too much information on a single view in order not to overwhelm the user.
We then put it into the VR headset to test it out.
After figuring out the user flow of the interface, we start to develop the prototype using Unity. Unity helps us transform the interface design into VR mode. After many rounds of coding, we firstly develop a low-fidelity prototype with the default interface provided by Unity to assess the user flow.
After making sure that the user flow works out with both the VR development and the device, we began to code the final interface design to the VR application.
However, one challenge we encounter is the interface appears to be “flat” rather than “surrounding,” which fails to create an immersive perception to news viewers.
To overcome this hurdle, we revert back to the coding of the interface and change the perception effect to 3 dimensional, which help us finalize the final prototype with the desired immersive visual experience.
Looking back on our entire experience of ideation and finally creating the application, it was extremely productive and definitely rewarding. We used our individual strengths to our advantage and used the technique of dividing and conquering. The professional diversity in our team enabled us to create a functioning Virtual Reality Journalism application.
Considering the conditions that the team had to work under we still rose above the challenges and pulled through and developed the final prototype. However, there could have been different stages where we had tested the application with actual users. This would have enabled us to take feedback and made changes in the existing service.
We are excited to follow up with the market of VR to assess the feasibility of VR journalism. We are looking forward to the actual development of this platform and hope it will truly provide a meaningful experience to all the news viewers.