Videos in VR: Hulu vs. Netflix
There is a lot of talk about what might be the “killer app” that gets the average person to want to start using Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality.
Is it going to be a game? Well, in terms of Augmented Reality, Pokemon Go certainly introduced a lot of people to a phone-based version.
What about a headset?
Could it be social experiences, like vTime or AltSpaceVR? Sure, those are good. In fact, I was just interviewed in vTime for Len Edgerly’s popular
podcast (the episode should be up tomorrow, Friday, April 7th).
However, I think that the first thing that may really popularize headsets is watching videos.
Yes, that’s right: Netflix and Hulu both have VR apps, and that’s what I do the most in VR.
I’m using the Samsung Gear VR headset (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) with a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
During lunch at work, I like to do “floor exercises” and watch a video (it’s how I watched Stranger Things, for the most part, and I’m now enjoying One Punch Man).
With my headset (and simple earbuds), I can easily watch a video on a giant screen…and put it where I want. If I need it directly on the ceiling, fine. If I want it a 45 degree angle so I can watch My Favorite Martian while doing crunches, great.
The screen is like a movie theatre screen in size…well, that can be adjustable, but much bigger than a big screen TV. The resolution seems fine. The sound is what you would expect through headphones.
So, as it often does, in comparing two software applications, it comes down to the content and the interface.
Looking at Hulu versus Netflix, it’s clear that one is innovating more than the other.
Netflix VR is surprisingly limited compared to Hulu VR. Not in terms of content: they both have the videos they would normally have.
However, that’s one of the first places there is a real differentiation. Hulu also has VR specific content…and not just “experiences” like swimming with bears (that’s a real one). They also have VR scripted content, which can be quite good.
When you first enter Hulu, you have a choice of “TV” (which includes movies) and “VR”.
The Netflix interface is very much like what you would see in the app on, say, a Fire TV (if you ignore the virtual room and just consider the screen).
On Netflix, you have two environments: the “living room” or the Void Theatre. The latter is what lets you position the screen: one thing about VR, the environment knows where your head actually is. You can’t just swipe a screen on to the ceiling, since it know where the ceiling is and is trying to keep you level. You have to go the Void first.
How do you get to the Void?
That’s something that really points out a weakness in many VR experiences: a lack of explanation. That’s not uncommon when a new medium is becoming popular. In this case, I had to look it up online. You look straight up at the ceiling, and when you are in the right spot, you tap the touchpad on the side of your headset.
Once you’ve done that, you get two significant new icons: travel mode and the ability to change the size of the screen.
I don’t find travel mode that useful…the screen tracks where you are looking and moves to stay in front of you, which would be great if it did that at a reasonable speed. Instead, it’s slow: it feels a bit like trying to take a three-month old puppy for a walk. 😉
Resizing the screen is nice.
That’s about it for Netflix.
On the other hand, Hulu has four main environments, and they also have sub-varieties. For example, their “Beach” environment can be day, night, sunset, storm, or “Day Night”.
The four choices at time of writing are
- Modern Living Room
- Movie Theater
- The Void
- The Beach
The screen also seems to be able to snap more quickly to a new orientation than Nelix does.
Perhaps most significantly, you can access Hulu from Oculus Rooms…which means that you can view a show with up to three other people, even if those people don’t have a Hulu account. Social video viewing is a thing (think of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and viewing parties…and Hulu does do some current TV season episodes): Hulu has it, and Netflix doesn’t.
In the current state of play, Hulu wins on the VR experience (you’ll have to judge the content yourself…I do watch both apps in VR).
I can’t imagine that they won’t have some Prime Video presence in VR before the end of this year (announced by the holiday season). As Len and I discussed, and as I predicted in my I Love My Kindle blog, I expect Amazon to make a pretty big movie into VAMM space this year.
One last thing: there are many other video options in VR, especially if you use a browser (like Samsung’s VR internet browser). We’ve even started a site here at The Measured Circle:
You can eye gaze (or look and click) on some public domain videos there…and I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of watching the very old Captain Video in the very new VR. 🙂
In the next five years, I think some people will watch the majority of their video in VAMM space…and the majority of streaming video users will have done it at least once.
Have other questions or comments? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.
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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.
** VAMMers is my term for people who use Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality: for more information, see Welcome, vammers! Our Virtual/Augmented/Mixed/Merged Reality coverage starts here