THE sale of virtual reality headset manufacturer Oculus Rift to Facebook for $2 billion is proof that VR is finally breaking into the mainstream.
Consumer headsets, priced at a few hundred dollars, will be available from Oculus, HTC and Sony within six months. Games and movies are already being transformed by the technology, but South Australian company Jumpgate VR sees much more potential in the tech that has reared its head over and over in past decades without lasting success.
"We think of ourselves as the app developers of the virtual reality space," says Anton Andreacchio, the managing director of Jumpgate VR.
"When smartphones first came out, there was so much novelty: games, big screens, a computer in your phone - but you fast forward six years and Uber suddenly has this value proposition that's changing the world."
Jumpgate's strategy is to capture the bottled lightning of virtual reality's novelty - and then quickly shift to discovering value for industries as diverse as tourism, music, sport and infrastructure.
Their first public demos are all polished experiences. One puts viewers in an instrumentalist's chair under the nose of the conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO).
The head movements of viewers are tracked by the headset, allowing them to look at other members of the orchestra or out over the audience. It's creates an out-of-body sensation.
The vast 360-degree virtual space, created by stitching together footage from an array of cameras, carries a feeling of depth - an immersive experience other mediums are unable to deliver.
Andreacchio says that part of the fun is that building something new for each client it's inherently entrepreneurial
“The ASO is an incredible symphony orchestra but there are challenges, engaging with young people and building a profile internationally,” he says. “Actually helping contribute to an institution like that, why not? I think it helps the relationship when they know we're earnest with it and not just peddling new tech."
Another demo for tourism puts viewers through a curated range of experiences on Kangaroo Island, a popular destination in South Australia. Virtual tourists can look around the deck of the ferry as it pulls up to the island, or explore landmarks like the Remarkable Rocks.
"We're working in tourism conservation. We're not just saying 'go here'. We'd rather tell some meaningful stories now than wait until every reality TV show is doing it,” Andreacchio says. “Imagine Big Brother in virtual reality, imagine The Voice on stage in virtual reality. It'll happen.”
Jumpgate VR is also responsible for a short teaser for Australian horror movie Scare Campaign. The filmmakers were looking for something to help promote the film during Cannes film festival. VR was the answer.
"One of the challenges of films is that they're shot and you have some press - but then there's all this wait time until the trailers start coming in. We helped them set the movie apart in Cannes. We have reaction videos of these terrified people in front of the Riviera.
"We're focusing on two things. One is narrative, and the narrative and aesthetic language of virtual reality is very different to normal film. The second one is interactivity."
Just like telephones let people hear voice from far away, and televisions shuffled images from distant places, VR is going to bring curated 'experiences' in to the home and office.
The company’s other demos are varied and impressive. One is a user interface for traffic management, with a mock up of live streaming data and video. It could easily be adapted to security or other industries.
They also have extensive experience in infrastructure and architecture. Jumpgate was originally spawned from Convergen, an animation and visualisation company specialising in large projects.
"Complex infrastructure projects are huge logistical undertaking, and people get very upset about particular things. We're trying to get them onside, get them as part of the project and understand the people behind these things," Andreacchio says.
"Think about virtual reality experiences with the architect, talking through the master plan one-on-one. Going out to a virtual site visit where it might be too dangerous or require five days of safety training. There's value there."
Perhaps the most commercial potential in Jumpgate's vision of VR is in sports. Another demo follows teams of Australian Rules Football players as they run on to the field.
Fans cheer on the players and viewer as they run through the team banner on to the ground. Fireworks go off and footballs are flying all around. It carries depth - makes the viewer feel part of the action - but it's only the beginning.
"We're looking at live streaming applications, which is almost scary. Everyone talks about getting more ticket sales, but imagine virtual reality ticket sales. You're going to be competing with Madison Square Garden, whatever Liverpool is doing, but it's a new competitive front."
For now, Jumpgate - the app developers of the VR world - are working to exploit the novelty of the application. But it seems that the real value propositions of the technology will come on much faster than they did for smartphones.
"We're seeing a lot of cues saying the big players are taking this seriously. From what we're seeing on the coalface, at the football and presenting the symphony works, there's a love for it. It's new and novel.
"We see it. We're happy with it. But we see how much more we can do."