10 May 2018

Tech Review: Daydream VR and the S9 Galaxy

Several weeks ago, I was contacted to demo a Google Daydream View and a Samsung Galaxy S9 from a marketing firm associated with Verizon.  Last year, MLB rolled out a VR push with their MLB At Bat platform.  The App provides you with a virtual reality interface for live scores and streaming, a 3D visualization of players and positions with statistical profiles, a live interactive strike zone with metrics, and a smattering of 360 video.  Offerings are often like the one provided below of the player introductions for Game 3 of the World Series from 2016.

First off, I want to review the hardware.  I am fairly impressed.  The Daydream provides a great experience for video.  My kid and I used it mainly to watch 360 videos provided by National Geographic or by KBO/NPB baseball leagues.  These groups have toyed around with the format and provided a fairly amazing interactive experience.  Look down, up, all around and you can get such a remarkable feel for what is happening.

My four year old enjoyed walks through the desert, swimming with sharks, riding a balloon that rises to thousands of feet above the ground.  Watching through a pitcher's eyes as he fires a ball to home.  It reminded me of how wild-eyed I was when my father brought home his middle school's computer for us to demo.  To touch a key and see a letter appear on the screen.  To type a simple code and watch a ball bounce from left to right.  That Commodore 64K was archaic and I get the feel that this hardware is one of the initial steps into a much more comprehensive consumer experience down the road.  Keep in mind that the VR software is not compatible with many of the VR hardware options.

The S9 was also remarkable for the short time I was able to use it.  There was a weird software issue that popped up and I finished my review using my own S8 Galaxy.  Anyway, one of the features I used on the S9 before it went kaput was the slow motion video.  In complete Tiger Woods' dad fashion, I used the slow motion feature on my kid's batting swing to show him how his body worked.

First of all, he was fascinated to see himself swing.  Second, it led to him, without my guidance, hone his own swing.  He saw how his swing path came down on the ball and hit the tee.  He was able to figure out how to stand differently and swing more naturally better by watching that video than any of the gentle attempts I have tried to help him.  It was like magic.  That feature fascinated me.  Did it fascinate me enough to get rid of my S8?  No, but I look forward to having that feature in a few years when I trade my phone in.

That brings me to MLB At Bat VR.  It is an app that tries very hard to implement virtual reality content without any idea why it is providing any content.  The offerings it provides are incredibly basic.  MLB has the ability to program visualizations for flight path of a pitched ball and even a hit one.  It does not offer that.  Instead, you get a simplistic interface for the sake of having a virtual reality interface.  Some more intuitive ways to finding a few basic statistics and some live updating.  It really is not worth it.  The offering comes across as something handed to a junior executive without MLB really desiring to use the technology or software to produce a compelling product.  It was disappointing.

The reality is that the crude virtual reality capabilities we have now have considerable untapped potential.  MLB does not appear serious with developing that compelling content, but other organizations outside of this country are for baseball and domestically if you do not need baseball as your content.

For baseball teams, I do wonder what impact virtual reality could have on the evidenced designated hitter penalty.  One would think that the reason why designated hitters suffer a bit is because their mind is not more fully engaged.  You see this in industries with automated processes that need to be taken off-line.  Workers lose focus and their skills atrophy.  This is a population effect, so perhaps some individuals are not impacted by this.  In the real world, there may well be a lot of David Ortiz like workers who are unphased by mental time outs.  Perhaps active virtual reality would conteract that and keep the brain sharp without causing fatigue seen when a guy just mindlessly swings a bat.

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