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VR vs. Trailers: Sony Shows How It’s Done, Samsung Doesn’t

The big takeaway from Sony Computer Entertainment’s (SCE’s) Tokyo Game Show (TGS) press conference last month was that Project Morpheus, the company’s upcoming virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) for PlayStation 4, is now known as PlayStation VR. But, within the VR community, SCE also gained some positive attention for the trailer that accompanied the announcement. Seen below, the trailer admirably tackles the resounding issue that VR faces in trying to communicate its effects to a general audience on a 2D screen.

The trailer runs through PlayStation VR’s promising line-up of titles, mixed with clips of players that have had a CG, transparent HMD superimposed over their eyes so that viewers can see their reactions to the titles they’re supposedly playing. Although it’s a long way off from truly showing viewers the potential of VR, it gets about as close as a standard display can. It always sets realistic expectations, showcasing actual gameplay from actual videogames. There’s no technically-stunning, pre-rendered footage that really depicts what VR will be like in 10 years’ time, nor any glimpse of actions that are beyond PlayStation VR’s own limitations.

Put simply, it’s responsible, effective marketing from SCE. It may not communicate the true VR experience but it doesn’t over-promise on what’s currently possible.

On the other hand, here’s Samsung’s recent promotion for an Avengers experience on its Gear VR mobile HMD (which doesn’t actually show up until around 4 minutes into the experience).

Oh dear. Samsung has generally done a good job with marketing Gear VR in the past, positioning the already available Innovator’s Editions of its kit towards developers and enthusiasts. If this video is any indication of what it’s planning for the consumer launch in November 2015, however, there’s some cause for concern.

This 7 minute video would set the bar pretty high for any inexperienced VR user. Pulling on the HMD for the first time sees Cobie Smulder’s Maria Hill suddenly stop what she’s doing, as if having existed in the device all this time, and directly address the user. Of course this would be perfectly reasonable if this were a simple 360 degree video, but that isn’t the case.

Instead the players, who include footballer Lionel Messi (no doubt making for a one expensive advert), find themselves in a photorealstic version of Avengers Tower from the movies, glancing down at their in-costume avatars which boast detail far beyond what’s currently possible on the most advanced PC rigs, let alone a mobile device running a stereoscopic 3D experience. The player is also able to move their hands around in the experience. Better yet, Messi displays his skills using the Iron Man suit and a bowling ball, apparently with a level of body tracking and haptic feedback yet to be seen within any VR setup.

That’s not to mention that the experience seems to be multiplayer, with players for Hawkeye, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and The Hulk all existing in the same space. Multiplayer VR isn’t new, but on this level is unprecedented. The footage even concludes with an explosive battle between the team and the Ultron robots as seen in this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Viewers are then encouraged to download the experience on Gear VR, suggesting that this is exactly what they’ll get to experience for themselves.

It’s fair to say that this footage is misleading at best. Everything on display is currently far beyond the capabilities of the Gear VR, let alone the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR with either’s respective position-tracked controllers. The use of Messi is obviously intended to pull in as wide an audience as possible, making it all the more troubling that this will be the first time many have seen any VR advertising. Whereas the PlayStation VR ad was responsible and believable, this is entirely the opposite.

Even though VR is on the cusp of a consumer release, companies still have a responsibility to set expectations in the right place. In fact, Oculus VR, SCE and Valve have prided themselves on doing just that so far. Ultimately, this Gear VR commercial does more harm than good, as anyone that’s sold on the device through this footage is bound to walk away disappointed. Though the temptation to make as much money as possible will forever dangle in front of Samsung, it needs to take far more care when showcasing what the consumer Gear VR can do when it launches in November.