Path To Television's Future May Be Paved In Virtual Reality

On display at South by Southwest is an attempt to create the future of storytelling. HBO is working with Oculus — maker of virtual reality goggles — to put the audience right into Game of Thrones.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

NPR's Laura Sydell is also at South by Southwest Interactive, where she's experiencing something from another realm altogether - a trip into virtual reality.

And Laura, we're talking about something called Oculus Rift. Before you tell us what that is, why don't you tell us where you are?

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Yes, you will hear theme music from "Game of Thrones" in the background. I am at an HBO exhibition here, where there are costumes from "Game of Thrones," and characters and all kinds of things all around me, from "Game of Thrones."

BLOCK: And "Game of Thrones" is both a both a TV show and a video game. And now, it's also part of this Oculus Rift. So what are we talking about?

SYDELL: All right, yeah. Oculus Rift is a set of goggles. It kind of looks like ski goggles. But what the Oculus Rift can do is make you feel - you don them, and you actually feel as if you are in a completely different world. So you turn your head, and you see the same world.

And I got a chance to try the Oculus Rift because they set up a "Game of Thrones" display here. And what happens is, you get into this box, and it makes it seem like you are going up the winch elevator at Black Castle and that you reach the top, and look out over the mountains.

And I actually could not talk to you from inside this little booth with the Oculus Rift on, 'cause I would have gotten too dizzy. So instead, I'm going to play you tape of me reacting to this experience of donning the Oculus Rift and getting in the booth.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMENTS TAPED DURING OCULUS RIFT EXPERIENCE)

SYDELL: Wow. I am looking out over a frozen field, and I really feel...

(LAUGHTER)

SYDELL: ...like I am going up an elevator. I see soldiers coming up in the snow, holding torches. Oh, my God.

(LAUGHTER)

SYDELL: And fiery arrows. Ah, I've been hit by a fiery arrow. Oh, my God. Whoa!

BLOCK: Laura, I gather you survived the attack.

SYDELL: I did, and it was hard because I'm afraid of heights.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Oh, no.

SYDELL: And it was really scary.

BLOCK: Is this interactive, Laura? Is the virtual world responding to things that you do?

SYDELL: You know, in this particular display, it isn't. But I tried a couple of other experiences with the Oculus Rift. In one of them, I was watching an interactive documentary about people who make art with code. And by staring at a particular spot on the screen for a little extra time, I would open up a whole 'nother documentary. So it was responding to my eye movements.

At the same area, I tried something that was not interactive but was amazing. I donned the goggles, and I was suddenly in a musician's studio. And I was sitting right next to the musician as he was playing the keyboards. His dog was on the floor, and ! wanted to reach out and pet the dog. It really felt like I could but unfortunately, I can't yet.

I think coming down the road, there are some other things coming up that will make this technology more interactive. But for now, it just really gives you a sense of being there because it responds to a turn of the head and your eye motions.

BLOCK: And is it something that's available for consumers? Or is it really just for the folks at South by Southwest to experience?

SYDELL: Well, right now, developers are creating things like the HBO experience, like that interactive documentary that I mentioned. I am told - I spoke with one of the founder of the company Oculus, Palmer Luckey - and he said we hope to actually get it into a consumers' hands, and more people will be able to have the amazing experiences I just had.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Laura Sydell at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas. Laura, thanks so much.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

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