04.21.2016
sex

VR Porn Is Here: Now What Do You Do With That?

Exploring the future of virtual reality and porn.

(Image courtesy AliceX)

The conventional wisdom is that whenever a new visual medium pops off, pornographers are among the first to embrace it. It happened with photography, film, the Internet, and now—it's happening with virtual reality. Maybe it's because the only thing more inherently fascinating to society than sex is emerging technologies.

Alec Helmy, founder and president of one of the the adult industry’s biggest news outlets, XBIZ, moderated a panel at SXSW last month called "VR Porn: Future Is Upon Us, What’s Next?" The three expert speakers explored ways VR porn consumers differ from "regular" porn consumers, and how they interact with VR content overall, and how VR tech will impact adult entertainment's performers and producers.

(Image courtesy AliceX)

CEO of AliceX.com, Fabian Grey decided to go into VR porn after trying a demo of the Oculus Rift. Now, he uses greenscreen technology to place live webcam girls in front of backgrounds including outer space and the beach. The user communicates vocally with the model through a headset. It's essentially a virtual-reality "room" in which a user can interact with a studio model in private.

"What are we actually doing here? Is it good for humanity, for society, if people can really dive into these worlds for hours of their lives?"

All that's required to use AliceX is a smartphone and a VR headset. That doesn't mean there weren't significant challenges Grey had to overcome when developing his platform. He and his team first focused on doing a lot of research and development with technology, from the tricky live VR camera operation to transcoding. Grey found that, because it's pretty much brand-new, users need to be taught how to use VR. But with numerous high-end VR headsets hitting the market this year, Grey believes the screen-door effect will be reduced and the high cost to produce his type of VR porn will come down significantly.

Despite the challenges with VR porn, Grey feels it's all worth it.

(Image courtesy AliceX)

"You have to have the right camera setup, the converters, the encoding. But in terms of intimacy, it just adds this great emotional layer to the product. If you have the feeling of being there with the model within the room, and you can almost touch her, it's just a perfect application of live cam. What the users are seeking in live cams are not so much the sexual part. People want to talk to the model about their day. The sexual part is maybe 20 percent of the show. With VR you can really create this intimacy and this emotional bond."

Grey's noticed that users spend about six times more money on live-cam shows—seeking that elusive emotional bond—than on prerecorded video. This lust for empathy translates into more revenue for the live-cam models as well as increased user retention. But the feeling of total immersion brings one big fat philosophical challenge:

"What are we actually doing here?" is Grey's big rhetorical question. "Is it good for humanity, for society, if people can really dive into these worlds for hours of their lives?"

(Image courtesy AliceX)

Ex-librarian and the world's first VR porn star Ela Darling doesn't seem to have problems with the ethics of what she's doing. A self-defined feminist and political activist, she's on the board of directors for the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) and serves on an industry testing committee called Performer Availability Scheduling Service (PASS). She's all about porn as an expression of female empowerment through sexuality.

Working in partnership with CAM4, Darling and her service VRTube.xxx offer VR live-cam shows of sexy ladies. Basically, with Darling's site, the user logs in to a 3D digitally rendered lobby with a bunch of performer options—like a lineup at the Bunny Ranch. And just as with real-life working girls, Darling finds that in order to deliver convincing content, VR cam girls need to be stronger, more authentic performers.

"When you're in VR, you really feel like you're in the same room with this person. If they're delivering really noticeable artifice in the way that they're interacting with the camera, you feel like you're in a room with a really hot girl who doesn't really want anything to do with you. For a lot of people, they can experience that in their real life. That's not what they're seeking here."

(Image courtesy Ela Darling)

After trying out different ways to make VR porn, Darling opted to eschew greenscreen technology in favor of a time-of-flight camera that essentially captures both depth information and a video of the performer, which is placed into a 3D environment. Her own challenges with VR have been file size and Internet connection speeds, plus the need for performers to be more aware of their bodies.

"The way that VR is captured, you have to stay within the parameters for the field of view for the camera. Especially if you're doing 360 3D. Because of the way the videos are stitched together, you run the risk of looking really disjointed."

Darling is especially excited about the prospects of VR porn merging with AR in the near future.

"I think it would be really awesome to have a live cam model sitting in your actual bedroom. Right now with my program, you feel like you're in the model's bedroom. But how cool would it be if she could be in yours? Or sitting on your bed, or riding you? Like, just a total immersive sexual experience."

While both Grey and Darling are focused on the live VR cam experience, a company using largely prerecorded content has scaled quickly, making them one of the first VR porn producers to show up on PornHub.

Dinorah Hernandez is content manager at BaDoinkVR, an online, subscription-based site that produces VR content every week. With a BFA from Miami International University, Hernandez is currently working at the company's headquarters in Barcelona. Her responsibilities include writing and developing videos for BaDoink. Since launching last July, they've produced more than 50 VR scenes.

According to Hernandez, the differences between traditional 2D and VR porn include a shift in power dynamics, with the woman more dominant and calling the shots. BaDoink's VR porn is mostly shot from the guy's point of view. He's often in an uncomfortable position for the majority of the shoot. A big camera in front of him blocks his view. Also, Hernandez cites production costs as much higher with VR, about double the cost of a normal shoot, mainly because of the camerawork and the post-production. There's also the problem of resolution.

"We want to share this content in 3D, and we haven't found cameras that are small enough and powerful enough to shoot at a high frame rate for the higher resolution. The reason resolution is important because the viewer is two inches from your eye. Any imperfections can affect the experience and the immersion."

(Image courtesy AliceX)

Hernandez believes there are obvious changes in the way folks are consuming VR. She claims that while subscribing to regular porn is usually an impulsive act, VR users are more "committed." They need to go through several conscious steps in order to watch VR porn. The first step is the acquisition of an actual VR headset. Then there's a level of familiarity (or "education," as Grey calls it) that the user needs to have with the medium. Finally, it takes about three times longer to download a VR video compared to a 2D video. The whole consumption process takes a lot longer, from start to finish.

In terms of VR porn's future, immediate implications include the emergence of biosensory feedback products such as teledildonics, haptic gloves, and the KIIROO. As of yet, it looks like no one has been able to integrate these devices to create truly interactive VR porn. Everyone is still working on improving basic functionality like video quality and delivering the content efficiently and effectively.

Grey, Darling, and Hernandez agree that the public probably won't be downloading VR porn from Steam, PlayStation, Oculus, the Apple Store, or Google Play anytime soon. Instead, the user's own natural curiosity will lead them to VR porn. When they discover it (probably on the open web), they're much more likely to engage in a more intimate, meaningful, and dedicated way than they would with a bunch of videos scattered across open tabs on their Internet browsers.

Maybe the big question is: Will people actually be willing to pay for VR over free normal porn online? Hernandez believes the answer is yes.

"It's the same reason that someone would pirate music but they would attend a concert," she claims. "It's about the experience."

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