Saturday, October 22, 2016

IS VIRTUAL REALITY THE FUTURE OF TELEVISION?

Despite long being a sceptic, Olly Mann has  changed his view on virtual reality—a little bit
The Future Of An Illusion

That’s probably not a question that keeps you awake at night. But, as technology columnist for this auspicious publication, I get asked it a lot. Last month, I would have answered with an assured and   arrogant “No!” To underline my point, I might have added a dismissive wave of my palm. I would tell you that this much- hyped technology will alter the world of gaming, for sure,  and perhaps also change the way viewers experience, erm,  “adult” entertainment. But if you’re asking me to imagine a world ten years hence, in which families slob around with  individual plastic helmets on, each watching VR versions of Mob Wives…fuhgeddaboudit. BUT THEN, LURED bY FREE CROISSANTS, I attended the  Edinburgh International Television Festival, the shindig for  Britain’s TV industry, and was taken aback by how much  multinational moolah is being splurged on this new dawn.  As the great and the good (and the not-so-good, who make  Jeremy Kyle) entered the conference hall, they were met with  three VR displays. One was set up by YouTube: perhaps to  be expected, as they’re a tech company. The second was a  showcase for Sky: again, not surprising, as they have a track  record of investing early in developing technology. But the  third display—the biggest, in fact—was hosted by the BBC.

That’s right. Good old Auntie Beeb. On their stand, delegates could donan aforementioned ludicrous plastic headset (first removing their industry-standard square-rimmed spectacles) and enjoy such public-service  delights as the Trooping of the Colour, a tour of the underground quarry at the Pantheon, or David Attenborough poking around a giant dinosaur’s skeleton, all in glorious 360-degree vision.

This, I admit, gave me pause. If the BBC are chucking licence-fee money at capturing big-ticket events in surround vision, they are obviously anticipating that much of the general public, eventually, will watch it. So I tried it out: CNN let me have a play with their demo headset, which featured immersive footage filmed at the International Space Station, at a bullfight in Spain and amid a protest outside a courtroom.
Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was merely watching a news broadcast, but rather that I was actually present at an event, liberated to look where I wished. I could turn side-to-side, up and down, and explore exotic locales as if I was really there. It was impressive. It made me wonder, though, about the taste and decency issues this raises. Is it appropriate to film, say, the Syrian civil war, in a way that makes viewers feel like they’re “part of it”? At what point might that  approach tip over into voyeurism,
rather than news coverage; a luxury
entertainment for those of us lucky
enough to not actually live in a war
zone? Viewers might feel guiltier still
if they understood that to capture such images the filmmakers must
rig up dozens of cameras—all
rather more intrusive than a typical
photojournalist’s kit.

EVEN IF VIEWERS are untroubled
by such ethical discomfort, physical
discomfort might cause other
concerns. After just a few minutes
with a VR headset
on, my nose became
squished, my eyes
were straining and I
felt nauseous. Hardly
a premium viewing
experience.
VR headsets also fail
my Doofus Test, which
goes like this: if you feel
like a doofus when you
wear a product, it will
never go mainstream.
For previous examples,
see 3D TV (I don’t want
to put sunglasses on
in my lounge, I feel like
a doofus) and smartwatches (I don’t
want text notifications flashing on
my wrist, I feel like a doofus). While
donning a VR headset in a museum,
art gallery or cinema feels fun, doing
it at home, in front of your children,
makes you feel like a doofus. It fails
the Doofus Test.
But they have a favourite saying
in the TV industry: “Content Is King”.
(It’s not as popular as “Can we edit
this faster?”, “Pass me the drugs”, or
“Can we get Holly Willoughby?”, but it’s right up there.) What it means is: viewers don’t care what technology is used to deliver the good stuff they want to watch; they just want good stuff to watch. And the content being captured for VR is, as I discovered, really good stuff—an extra layer of detail that otherwise you’d never be able to experience. So is VR the future of TV? I have a new answer to that question! It’s this: as more of us realise we can access VR footage on Facebook and YouTube by using our smartphones, moving them around in our hands, without the need for silly headsets that make us feel like a doofus, it will become increasingly popular to explore VR on a “second screen” at the same time as watching traditional TV, or shortly afterwards—rather like re-watching DVDs with the director’s commentary turned on, or seeking out a Wikipedia entry about your favorite TV show while you watch.
Bet you’re glad you asked.

11•2016 | 1 5 |

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
Most movie taglines do a good job of selling and promoting the film.
Some horror flicks, however, don’t even try:
Scared Stiff (1953)
“They’re making a spook-tacle of themselves!”
Werewolf (1996)
“Rest in...beast”
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
“In space, no one can eat ice cream...”
Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
“John will never eat shish kebab again”
The Day of the Dolphin (1973)
“Unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States”
Miner’s Massacre (2002)
“They axed for it!”
The Pit (1981)
“Down in the pit there’s something alive. Half-human. Half-monster.
Half-crazed. Pray to God it only kills you”
Black Christmas (2006)

“This holiday season, the slay ride begins”

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