It’s time to select the best VR of 2016 – the Digital Bodies’ VR Oscars. Our awards honor the best Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality developments. We’re covering everything from immersive experiences, documentary work, education, movies, to mobile VR Apps, and more.
We also selected an overall winner for 2016 – a company who not only dared to imagine but brought us incredible VR hardware and experiences Here is our list of 20 exemplary experiences.
The Best VR and AR Oscar Award list
Here are our winners in 20 different categories covering hardware and exemplary experiences along with our overall winner for best VR in 2016:
1. Best VR Immersive Experience: Allumette By Penrose and TheBlu by WEVR labs
We experienced TheBlu:Encounter by WEVR labs at the Sundance Film Festival and loved the deeply immersive experience. But then we saw Allumette by Penrose, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Both of these experiences are opening the doors to the potential of the new medium. For this category, we have to call it a tie.
2. Best Interactive Experience: Tilt Brush
Google’s Tile Brush with HTC Vive breaks the boundaries of creativity in VR. It’s like having a magic wand in your hand. The artistic possibilities in this environment are limitless. It’s one of the few times we completely forgot about wearing a VR headset. Yes, it’s just that good.
3. Best Documentary Experience: The stories in the UNVR project
The UNVR app was announced at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016. The UN virtual reality app works with Google cardboard and can be used with a Smartphone for a 360-degree view. Previously the UNVR films, which have been a collaboration with Chris Milk, were available through the Within. The UNVR app lets us bear witness to stories and people that otherwise would be turned into a soundbite or faceless numbers on the nightly news. What differentiates this VR app is the call for action option linked to each story. It’s an innovative way of driving support for humanitarian causes.
4. Best Experience for Higher Education: Microsoft HoloLens with Case Western Reserve University
Microsoft’s Hololens mixed reality headset is transforming medical education and other subject areas. In a partnership project with Case Western Reserve University and Microsoft HoloLens, students and teachers are experimenting with new ways to teach anatomy and help prepare the next generation of doctors. Goodbye cadavers.
5. Best Experience for K-12: Rhomaleosaurus: Back to Life in Virtual Reality
This partnership between the Natural History Museum in London and Google is a remarkable experience for K-12 and people of any age. The experience Rhomaleosaurus: Back to Life in Virtual Reality teleports you to the Natural History Museum in London. Opening the doors of the museum to virtual visitors is a fantastic learning opportunity. It’s available on Google Cardboard, YouTube 360, and Daydream View.
6. Best Use of VR in Journalism: The New York Times
The New York Times continues its streak of innovation in virtual reality from late 2015 when it distributed over a million Google Cardboard units to print subscribers to experience the New York Times Magazine’s feature story The Displaced. It’s most recent initiative, The Daily 360, offers a new 360 video every day. We have been impressed with the work and team behind The New York Times and met them at SXSW in Austin, Tribeca, and multiple venues in New York. Their pioneering projects and partnership with Google and others are pushing the boundaries of innovative journalism through VR.
7. Best Science Experience: Microsoft HoloLens and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Alex Kipman from Microsoft did an amazing HoloLens demo at TED 2016. The demo showed the first “real-life holographic teleportation,” and what mixed reality can do for collaborative projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Not only was there an accurate recreation of Mars (using data from Curiosity), but Kipman brought in Jeff Norris, a NASA scientist, who was in a room across the street from the TED conference venue. With both using HoloLens, Norris appeared as a full-sized holographic representation, standing on the stage, in a virtual Martian landscape. In addition, an exhibit “Destination Mars” is now open at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida that will give visitors a chance to virtually travel to Mars.
8. Best Music Experience: Reggie Watts and AltspaceVR
The ever-inventive musician and comedian Reggie Watts plunged into social VR experiments throughout the year. Partnering with AltspaceVR for live VR performances, over 1,200 people participated in the May 2016 event. And Reggie Watts delivered, doing an incredible show in virtual reality. This was the largest remote gathering of people in a virtual reality environment.
The best line of the night was Reggie walking out on the virtual stage and saying: “Welcome to Snow Crash” – a reference to Stephenson’s 1992 Sci-Fi novel. As a live public demo of an emerging VR platform, everyone involved deserves credit.
9. Best Featured Movie VR Experience: The Martian VR Experience
There is an increasing number of VR tie-ins with movies, but the best this year is The Martian VR Experience, produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Maleficent’s Robert Stromberg. It’s a breathtaking, interactive experience of the movie that lets you play Mark Watney in driving a Mars rover and flying through space. We saw The Martian at the Sundance Film Festival, where the experience took advantage of a motion-simulation chair and joystick. Not only was it fun, but it was also an astonishingly realistic experience of feeling trapped on an alien planet.
10. Best VR or AR Game: PokemonGo
If you want to understand the future impact of augmented reality, there’s no better place to start than Niantic’s wildly popular Pokémon Go AR game. The AR game proved deeply engaging but raised some serious questions on privacy and both private and public property. Can a company place virtual objects in a public park? In a restaurant?
Whether it keeps up with the hype or not, PokemonGo introduced AR to the public. There’s a lot more of this to come.
11. Best VR Sports Experience: NextVR
With professional sports a $1.5 trillion global industry, it’s no surprise that virtual reality is here. And NextVR has been at the forefront of innovation in VR sports broadcasts. As Jeff Marsilio, the NBA’s vice president of global media distribution, said, “They have the most complete, professional broadcast and production that I’ve seen.”
In another first for virtual reality, Fox Sports streamed March Madness in virtual reality. And in partnership with NextVR, the entire Big East basketball tournament was streamed live in VR at Madison Square Garden. We will all have center courtside seats. Or better yet, right in the middle of the game.
12. Best VR Multisensory Experience: The Void Ghostbusters
The Void, the VR theme park in Utah, opened a multiplayer VR experience in Times Square. The experience, part of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, is Ghostbuster: Dimension. The Void refers to its experiences as “Hyper-reality” since they supplement virtual reality with stage sets and sensory effects using haptic vests, wind, and scent. The 15-minute multiplayer experience (with multiple possible endings is as real as VR gets. If you’re in New York, do it. Just be careful of the ghost-infested elevator ride – and that virtual walk across a window washer’s platform high above the city.
13. Best 360 Video Experience: The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks
The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks is a new Google Arts & Culture exhibit and interactive documentary. It’s timed to launch as part of the celebration of the National Park Service Centennial. The virtual tours are available online in the Google Arts & Culture App on iOS and Android, as well as in the Google Expeditions app for use in the classroom.
14. Best High-End Headset: HTC Vive
We’ve used the HTC Vive headset in countless VR experiences this year. The room-scale movement sensors are the best solution to anxiety about where you are standing or moving in a virtual environment. Knowing your location ensures that your physical location doesn’t interfere with your VR experience. The visual experience when using Vive is simply amazing.
15. Best Mobile VR Headset: Google Daydream View
Google’s Daydream View may not be the perfect headset (it only works with Pixel and Moto Z phones), but it’s the easiest to use. There are no connectors – you simply put Pixel in the headset, and it connects with your Smartphone. As more phones adopt Google’s Daydream standard, the headset will see much more extensive use. And the innovative hand-controller with just two buttons and a small trackpad clinches the deal. This is the best mid-range VR headset of the year.
16. Best AR in Publishing: The New Yorker
The Innovators issue of the New Yorker in 2016 came with augmented reality (AR) to offer readers a unique interactive experience. Designed by the illustrator Christoph Niemann, the cover and pages of the magazine were transformed into an interactive play space. In addition to the cover, there were AR ads throughout the magazine. The New Yorker issue is a glimpse into the future of print media.
The AR features are from the mobile technology firm Qualcomm and the Uncovr app from Nexus Interactive Arts, a London-based studio. You can download it at the App Store. Or watch the video below.
17. Best VR Mobile App: Jaunt and Within
Content for VR continues to grow through an increasing number of apps, but our favorite remains Jaunt – Cinematic Virtual Reality – 360° VR video and Within: Storytelling for Virtual Reality. This is about ease of use and quality content, and both tie in this category for setting the standard.
18. Best Venue to see VR experiences: Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals
There seem to be VR demos at every conference and even in shopping malls and airports. But these are tech demos, not creative venues. The best VR venue for creative work is a tie between the Sundance Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival. There are other places to try VR, but this is where you’ll see innovative storytelling projects. Both festivals are significant sources of support for artists working in virtual reality.
19. Best Future Prototype: Intel’s Project Alloy
Without question, Intel’s Project Alloy was the most original VR demo video of the year. There were two linked events here, a live demo and a concept video of what Intel calls “Merged Reality.” Both were outstanding. But the video was like something straight out of The Matrix. We are eager to see how Intel’s Project Alloy develops in 2017.
20. Most Promising VR project: Facebook Social VR
Want to see how quickly Social VR is progressing? Just compare Facebook’s social VR demos at the F8 Developer Conference in April and at OC3, the Oculus Developer Conference on October 5-7. The avatars are more realistic, incorporating hand and arm gestures, and have basic facial expressions. The progress is remarkable as we wrote earlier this year in Facebook’s Social VR Coming Sooner than You Think. Mark Zuckerberg has said virtual reality is the computing platform of the future. Don’t underestimate his commitment to it.
Overall Winner: HTC Vive and Google Daydream
With so many VR developments this year, selecting an overall winner wasn’t easy. In the end, we call it a tie between the HTC Vive headset and the Google Daydream platform. The HTC Vive includes a headset, two motion controllers, and two base stations for room-scale VR. It’s technically impressive, and the only VR system where you can comfortably move around. As DigitalTrends said, it’s as close as you’ll come now to having a Holodeck at home:
The Vive’s defining feature, room-scale VR, means you can explore any of these virtual environments by walking around the real room you’re in, giving it a Holodeck level of immersion completely unmatched by any other device. Even with its new controllers, the Oculus Rift is a watered-down imitation.
But Vive is expensive, and we were impressed with the multiple initiatives in Google’s Daydream platform and Daydream View headset. Google gave us Cardboard in the early days but is now developing a full platform that includes VR standards for Smartphones, content, and hardware. The hand-controller is a standout for hardware design in VR and is something that should be in every mobile VR headset. And we are impressed by Google’s commitment to education, science, and storytelling.
If you have the funds, the HTC Vive is the VR setup to have at home. But if you have a Pixel phone, you absolutely should have Google’s Daydream headset.
VR Wrap up
2017 is already off to a running start with amazing projects at the Sundance Film Festival. We’re looking forward to a wide range of developments this year. Who knows? We may even see something from Magic Leap.
It’s been an exciting year exploring radically new technology. And as we push the boundaries of a new medium, it will transform art, education, business, and entertainment in ways we’ve yet to imagine.
We are on an incredible journey that will transform our experience of the world and ourselves – no matter what field you’re in, be a part of it!
Maya Georgieva is an EdTech and XR strategist, futurist and speaker with more than 15 years of experience in higher education and global education policy. Her most recent work focuses on innovation, VR/AR and Immersive storytelling, design and digital strategy. Maya actively writes and speaks on the topics of innovation, immersive storytelling and the future of education and consults organizations and startups in this space.