By Noah J. Nelson (@noahjnelson)
Two years ago the first Virtual Reality Los Angeles meetup began as a modest affair, at least by Hollywood standards. A volunteer group of virtual reality enthusiasts assembled via Reddit by USC student Cosmo Scharf took over the motion capture stage of Digital Domain. They gave a hundred curious souls a glimpse into the exponentially accelerating world of virtual reality.
Flash forward to today, when the Meetup group has long sense evolved into The Virtual Reality Foundation and are announcing their next VRLA Expo, this time at the Los Angeles Convention Center and with a target capacity of 3000 people.
The adjustment in scope for the event, which will take place on August 29th, is a reflection of the growing fascination the creative community in Los Angeles has with virtual reality. Last year saw the first developers conference for the Facebook-owned Oculus VR held in Hollywood, which isn't exactly the first community you think of when you think of computer programmers.
The Virtual Reality Foundation capitalized on that event with their own awards ceremony, The Proto Awards, and they are indeed following through with a second edition this September.
Ahead of the announcement of the new events I spoke with Adam Levin and Jonnie Ross of The Virtual Reality Foundation about the growing interest in VR in Hollywood, and whether or not we're in an endless hype cycle or if adoption of VR hardware by a mass audience is imminent.
"The speed with which VR has moved shows that this is going to happen sooner than we expect," said Adam Levin, business director for VRLA. "I think the jump from (Occulus' Development Kit 1) to (the) Crescent Bay (prototype) has been pretty incredible with what they've been able to do. I think that the revolution of the (HTC/Valve) Vive has been pretty astonishing. It's going to happen sooner than five years. I don't know if its 18 months or 24 months, but I think its going toe sooner than five years because its so easy to convert people.
"You put one person in one good experience and more likely than not you've got a convert."
"Each layer of the evolution seems to make the technology disappear that much more," said VRLA co-founder Jonnie Ross, describing the development arc that the hardware has gone through since Oculus made a big splash behind closed doors at the Electronic Entertainment Expo a few years back.
The leaps and bounds that hardware from Oculus, Sony and Valve have made--with the promise of more options from Microsoft and other tech giants--has stirred up a consumer hunger that has helped fuel interest in the VRLA Expos. In my conversation with Ross and Levin I raised the specter that consumer interest in the events might wane once VR hardware is commercially available, and the pair acknowledged that the Expos are set to evolve as the market changes.
Assuming that virtual reality is here to stay--and that's a bet that the Virtual Reality Foundation is clearly making--the group is well poised to remain the hub of LA's growing VR developer community. The VRLA events already regularly attract special effects wizards, studio creatives, and scouts from the independent film world alongside game developers throughout the Southland. It's possible to imagine the Expos maintaining healthy attendance numbers on the strength of those who want to dive into the intricacies of creating for VR, even once there's a Rift or a Morpheus headset in every home.
Until that day comes to pass, the best place for the curious to experience the latest in VR tech will be the next VRLA Expo.
Public media's TurnstyleNews.com, covers tech and digital culture from the West Coast.
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