Fortune

THE FALL AND RISE OF VR

Virtual reality has been the next new thing for five years and counting. Clunky headsets, a dearth of content, and lack of consumer interest have caused VR to stall. Can this much-hyped technology finally get real?
Guests suit up to explore another dimension at the Santa Monica outpost of The Void—the most expansive in a burgeoning collection of “location-based” VR companies, with 11 sites worldwide.

PAUL MCCARTNEY MADE HIS MODEST CONTRIBUTION to the future of virtual reality with a little help from a bike mechanic.

The unlikely union of the Beatles great, a bike-shop employee in Palo Alto, and a promising if underachieving technology is the accomplishment of Scott Broock, once an enterprising executive with a fledgling camera company called Jaunt VR. In 2014, Broock offered to pay the mechanic $50 to ride around a skate park on a BMX bike while being filmed with a specialized camera rig that could shoot video and record sound in 360 degrees—all around and up and down. Broock hoped the bike’s chain clanging around the fishbowl would be ideal for something called ambisonic audio, surround sound hearable above, below, and around the listener.

A few months later, Broock managed to show a clip of the video to McCartney, who was so impressed that he invited Jaunt to film his concert the very next night at San Francisco’s historic Candlestick Park, the same venue where the Fab Four had performed their final show 48 years earlier. The startup company quickly mobilized and recorded one of the first videos of its kind, an immersive stadium concert film that would give a viewer the sensation of being among the pulsating crowd. Broock left Jaunt in 2016 and subsequently served a yearlong stint as a “global VR evangelist” for YouTube. But he still looks back at the concert video as a breakthrough achievement. “There’s a moment recorded in time of Paul McCartney playing in front of people captured in a way that, maybe 100 years from now, seems like black-and-white films”—primitive but pioneering. “That’s a powerful thing.”

The vintage film comparison—think: grainy footage of silent passersby shuffling around in top hats among horse-drawn carriages and Model T–esque cars—is standard fare for virtual reality’s boosters. Just as movies showed viewers places they’d never go, VR would transport them directly into those same filmed environments. That was the promise that led Facebook to pay $3 billion for headset maker Oculus VR in 2014, and every year since, evangelists have proclaimed virtual reality the next new thing. Consumer tech players including Google, HTC, Samsung, and Sony joined Facebook in a race to bring consumer-ready headsets to market. Venture capitalists poured billions into content development and hardware applications. Time magazine put the then-22-year-old founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey, on its cover and announced the technology was

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