When we’re making virtual reality (VR) content of any kind, such as animated learning experiences or 360-degree videos used for training simulations, we need to decide how to distribute the experience. That is, what platform will we use so that clients and/or team members can view our experience? We have several options, including open platforms, curated platforms, and white label platforms. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each type of distribution platform so we can choose wisely and plan our projects accordingly.
Open or free platforms
The open or free platforms are traditional video and social media websites that allow for 360-degree video and recorded (non-interactive) VR content distribution. They’re a simple and free way to distribute content in a web browser. The content can be monetized with ads, though few eLearning professionals will want ads showing in their training simulations and other eLearning experiences. These platforms offer virtually no customization or branding. Not all VR headsets are supported, and stereoscopic viewing is often not an option. Further, a majority of 360-degree video content is viewed without a head mounted display (i.e., HMD, or VR headset) in open platforms. That is, people typically view 360-degree videos in players on 2-D screens, which provides a suboptimal experience for immersive content.
The most common open or free platforms include:
- GoPro VR Player (requires separate app download, no mobile version available)
Several platforms determine which VR and 360-degree video content to publish on their channel. This type of curated platform is typically used for sharing high-quality content. Curated platforms are an ideal distribution channel for companies that prefer a selective content site. This is often preferable to using an open platform with limited functionality and that may be cluttered with countless other content such as 2-D videos. Curated platforms also promote trending or high-quality content.
It’s worth noting that curated platforms have restrictive terms of service. They also don’t offer any customization or branding. Not all VR headsets are supported on the various curated platforms. For example, WeVR Transport only works with HTC Vive and GearVR headsets.
However, curated platforms only have high-quality content because they choose which content to distribute. Curated platforms give eLearning professionals the flexibility to publish content publicly or privately. For example, Oculus Keys allows an eLearning professional to generate a 25 letter-long download code that can be given to team members for enterprise-use apps. eLearning professionals can potentially monetize content through curated platforms, and curated platforms will also actively promote content. However, eLearning professionals don’t typically need monetization or promotion for their training experiences. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for many training experiences, curated platforms support interactive content, not just 360-degree videos and recorded VR animations.
The most common curated platforms include:
- Samsung XR (samsungvr.com, Samsung XR mobile, Gear 360 Manager application)
- Oculus (Oculus Store, Oculus Keys, Oculus Release Channels)
- VIVEPORT (for HTC VIVE Focus VR headsets only, used solely for enterprise/commercial training, simulation, and product design purposes)
- LittlStar (commonly used with PlayStation consoles)
- WeVR Transport (cinematic VR)
White label platforms
White label platforms are the most flexible and customizable option for distributing both VR content and 360-degree videos. White label platforms work on any VR headset. They allow creators to fully control visitors’ experience. For example, white label platforms don't generally allow visitors to view content unrelated to the training experience, and the entire experience can be designed solely with a company’s branding. The experiences can also be kept completely private, which is often a factor for proprietary L&D projects. Most white label platform companies will develop VR and 360-degree video content for you from scratch, sometimes offering that as their primary business model, though they may not have much expertise in creating eLearning simulations and other training experiences.
The main downsides to white label platforms are that they can be very expensive and time-consuming for creating and distributing content. If the platform company goes out of business, then content may need to be re-uploaded and formatted for a new white label platform. This is technically true for open and curated platforms too, but that risk is much smaller, as most open and curated platforms are owned and managed by large corporations.
Three white label platforms to consider (there are others):
- VUFRAME Platform
- WebVR (open source VR platform for web browsers)
Choosing your best option
The VR distribution platform landscape is ever-changing, however, there are several options we can explore to publish a VR or 360-degree video eLearning experience. If you have a limited budget and want to publish 360-degree videos, then the free platforms are your best bet. If you have a small budget and/or need to create fully-interactive VR experiences, the curated platforms are a good option. If you have a large budget, want a highly-customized experience, and don’t have the expertise to develop quality VR content yourself, then white label platforms are the way to go.
From the editor: Learn more about 360-degree video eLearning
If you'd like to learn more about creating 360-degree video eLearning experiences, you'll definitely want to check out Matt and Jenn's hands-on workshop, "BYOD: Introduction to Creating Interactive 360-degree Videos in Unity", at Realities360 on April 2.