Discovery and Google take steps to make virtual reality mainstream


No longer is virtual reality part of the lexicon that describes the future of travel.

Discovery Communications and Google are ushering in a new era of popular travel media with the November 3 launch of the seven-part, 38-episode series Discovery TRVLR.

Viewers equipped with a Google Daydream View headset or Google Cardboard can journey across all seven continents via YouTube, DiscoveryVR.com or on the Discovery VR app, without incurring subscription costs. (The series is also available in non-VR format on the web, Android and iOS phones.)

Writer and director of the series Addison O’Dea says:

“This is definitely the harbinger of VR hitting the mainsteam.

“There was a time when everyone was taking an initial dive into VR to see where it would go and once that hit critical mass, it brought more investment and more development so that now networks like Discovery are giving audiences access to this type of programming.”

But shooting 360-degree content on six continents in less than seven months was not without its challenges for O’Dea and his crew.

Filming in the relatively new medium initially proved deceptive for subjects accustomed to cameras focusing on a comparatively narrow range of view.

But to capture and record the celluloid equivalent of a panoramic trompe l’oeil often required O’Dea to stop filming in order to re-explain to his group of subjects that everyone will simultaneously be caught on camera as will every choice they make.

He explains:

“People had to learn to change their perceptions of photography with the VR camera and that was a challenge, but the camera also allowed me to remove myself as the director in order to allow audiences to be completely enveloped in these visceral environments.”

O’Dea also credits technological improvements to both VR cameras and headsets for the digital medium’s arrival in mainstream media, adding:

“the camera technology is now to the point where we can nimbly function in almost any environment so networks are now interested in investing more heavily in VR programming and audiences will soon have the same familiarity with it that they do with film and broadcast television.”

Viewers also have a wider range of headset options to choose from while VR studios like Here Be Dragons, which produced O’Dea’s segments of Discovery TRVLR and in which Discovery is an investor, are also becoming more common place.

VR challenges

Yet, VR camera technology has not yet advanced into the realm of hand-held devices and that gave O’Dea pause as he found himself and his crew rapelling hundreds of feet down into an underground cave network in New Zealand.

O’Dea describes the situation as “an awesome challenge to navigate on ropes and harnesses through pitch darkness a few hundred feet beneath the earth’s crust, with the only light coming from our headlamps and cameras and backpacks strapped to our backs.”

While he claims the end was well worth the means, that will likely be for audiences to judge when the episode airs.

Although the crew doesn’t play a camera part, viewers can expect to be fully immersed in the New Zealand cave experience in much the way the director and his crew were because unlike traditional travel programming, Discovery TRVL is not an observational documentary with a ‘voice of god narration.’

Each episode follows a local with a particular expertise such as Angus, the New Zealand spelunker who took O’Dea, his crew and viewers on what is effectively a guided tour.

“The viewer is inside the cave in New Zealand and the monastery in Armenia, and the host is there the entire time while the viewer can also moving around and explore the location.”

But it isn’t just VR technology that has the potential to further evolve. According to O’Dea, the series could also lend itself to second and third iterations.



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