Emergent VR, a startup that promises full video capture that can be viewed on virtual reality headsets like the Gear VR, has raised $2.2 million from Accel Partners, Rothenberg Ventures and Google Ventures.
Emergent VR’s play is that it can build a simpler experience for users who want to capture video that can be viewed through VR devices. The three Emergent VR demos Wilkins showed me indicated that there would be some element of live video capture as part of the service. The goal was to make it a more seamless user experience than “setting up 20 GoPro cameras” when it comes to capturing VR-optimized video, he said.
“[Other kinds of video are] usually just like peering through a window at something,” CEO Peter Wilkins said. “VR offers the promise of experiencing that moment like you’re actually there. People worried that if there will be enough content at launch — assuming people use the platform — this’ll create a ton of content.”
One of the big selling points of the company is that the entire capture is done through a smartphone, Wilkins said, which is then shared to Emergent VR’s network.
“We did some tests, and we were able to create a really compelling experience using just content from the smartphone,” he said. “It takes a lot of work to get there, with what we can do with algorithms to make that automatic. We want to just make it a seamless app that people can download, and bring it out of the realm of professional video capture.”
Wilkins was mum on the capture technology, so it remains to be seen whether it works. And it also has the challenge of building up network effects if it is going to remain an independent platform — or end up relying on larger platforms like Facebook to distribute its content. But Wilkins said the team has built algorithms that will make it work, and that the emergence of VR as a new platform gives Emergent VR an opportunity for a first-mover advantage.
“We think VR’s a great opportunity, one of the big equalizers that’s created a level playing field,” he said. “How you do a good VR experience, like live action or CG, how you discover content, that’s the wild west. No one’s figured it out; that’s really leveled the playing field in terms of innovation. There’s no reason we can’t create as compelling or more compelling an experience as Facebook or Oculus.”
The idea came to Wilkins and his co-founder in the middle of a hiking trip (one of the demos, not surprisingly, was a sort of hiking environment). Prior to working on Emergent VR, Wilkins came from the film and gaming industry, where he worked on games like Bioshock Infinite and How To Train Your Dragon 2.
This is also Accel Partners’ first investment in a virtual reality startup. Kobie Fuller, who led the investment for Accel, said he was also sold on the user experience and interface for capturing the video. With regards to Facebook’s 360-degree video play, Fuller asks the question, “How are they going to get there?”
“Right now if I put a 360-degree video on Facebook, there’s still a problem in generating that video,” Fuller said. “That’s a key issue the guys are focusing on, the capture. It’s just how Instagram provided its own unique UI around photo sharing, there’s gonna have to be a unique UI around sharing and consuming 360-degree videos. Part of what you’re going to see is them focusing not only on the capture but also how you do start recording these 360 degree videos.”
It’s still early days — for both virtual reality as a whole and Emergent VR — and the company is going to be focused mainly on enthusiasts and early adopters, Wilkins said.
“We’re gonna start small,” he said. “I think anyone that’s really into VR would love to capture a meeting or a hike or an intimate moment and share it with someone they care about. We want to give those people that ability and support them as the VR market grows. Specifically, in terms of network effects, we have to design this as a viral product — if you want people to view it or create, they have to download the app.”