First of all: it is a mouthful. Therefore we abbreviate Virtual Reality Content Management System to ‘ VR CMS‘.
So what does a ‘VR CMS’ do? It obviously ‘manages’ VR content. But what does ‘managing content’ mean in this context? Does it mean creating (interactive) content? Distributing VR content to App Stores? Or managing VR devices with content on them?
Or perhaps all of the above? In that case, isn’t it a bit confusing to use one term for so many different things?
Yes, it is.
To make things more confusing: what kind of content is meant by ‘VR content’? Video, text and audio? Or games? Or just 360 video? 3D video maybe? 3D assets perhaps? Or interactive video? Or combinations of these things?
So if content has no clear definition, hopefully the term VR might shed light on all of these questions.
Because VR means VR goggles right? Or perhaps 3D websites and 3D web applications? Maybe looking around on a smartphone like on Google Streetview? Or content for a smartphone, which in turn is placed into a VR device like a Google Cardboard?
Or does it actually mean all of those things?
So ‘VR’ in ‘VR CMS’ is not easy to define. Also, with both the C of content and the M of management being so ambiguous, the question of what a VR CMS is, becomes rather vague.
But do not despair: after reading this article you will know more about what kind of different content types there are, what VR CMS solutions are available for what content type and what VR CMS solution(s) you need.
Interactive Content Creation
Most companies that build VR CMS systems allow users to create interactive VR content. They enable people without coding skills to create interactive VR content by simple drag and drop builders. Companies like VIAR 360, Insta VR, Wonda VR, VRMaster, EyeQ-Learning, Warp VR and Covince have solutions for creating interactive branched narrative videos.
The branching narrative is perfect to create multiple choice questions with different video paths behind each question. This is used for training, onboarding or assessments.
Other companies focus more on creating interactive virtual tours for real estate presentation. With 360 video and photo, viewers can navigate through a 2D or 3D space while pop up icons show regular images, audio clips or videos. It allows viewers to walk around in a building, museum or city. Some examples of such companies are 3D Vista, Kuula and My360.
There is some overlap in the two types of companies described above. Some, like WondaVR, are targeting both the training and real estate market. Others focus exclusively on training or real estate.
There are other companies that also allow users to upload 3D models in 360 video. Fectar, a Dutch built platform, is an example. Because users can upload 3D assets, the platform is not only suitable for creating VR but also Augmented Reality (AR). So with it you can build training, tours and also add 3D models.
A different type of platform is Headjack. The platform allows users to easily create an app with plain 360 video. Their focus is not on adding interactive elements to video. Rather, it is to facilitate the creation of custom apps that allow high-quality playback of video content and are easy to use for the end user. There are many templates with visually attractive app templates that users can buy in their store, making it super easy to build a branded 360 video app.
Their target market consists of VR agencies that create VR but do not develop software themselves and need an easy way to publish whitelabel apps to all different kinds of app stores. So, with Headjack it is easy to make a custom app, easy to publish that app to different stores and platforms but at the same time it is limited, feature-wise in creating interactive VR content.
EZ360 builds a platform that allows users to download their standard app in the VR app store. By connecting the standard app to your account on their webpage, users can upload content to their VR device from their computer. This type of product is not for creating interactive content but for distributing content to all connected devices. Also, they focus on usability through turning off the use of controllers which can be useful when presententing VR video on a congress. The difference with Headjack is that you can not build custom apps: you have one app and you can change the video content.
Another feature which most app distribution platforms offer is synchronisation. The platform allows multiple VR devices to start in the same video at the same timecode. This feature is useful when there are 20 people in a room who need to see the same part of a video. By simply asking them to navigate to the specific timecode, it is impossible to get them to start at the same time. Another example of a distribution app with sync mode is ShowTime VR.
Content for what kind of device?
Apart from the different functionalities all mentioned platforms have, they also differ in what devices the users can view their apps in. Interactive VR training with a branching narrative is nearly always portable to dedicated VR devices like the Oculus Rift, Quest and Go. Sometimes they also offer smartphone or web based publishing, however that is less common.
Virtual tour software for real estate is usually more focussed on web and smartphone possibly in combination with a smartphone VR headsets such as a Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR. Some platforms also support dedicated VR goggles such as the devices made by Oculus and HTC.
How does the content get to the device?
For web based publishing, viewers always stream the content to their device. Some platforms (like VR Master) stream all content through web browsers. So whatever device somebody is using, a phone, desktop or dedicated VR device, you still need a web browser and an internet connection to access the content. And a pretty badass connection at that. At least, if you want to stream 4K video with 30 people simultaneously.
Other platforms will upload the content to the device once through a wifi connection. Then the content is stored on the VR device and each playback will happen locally from the device’s memory. But to create that connection between your desktop or server and VR device you will need an app. But the important question is: how does that app get to the device?
Sideloading vs App store
The first option is to publish your app to an app store. When you publish an app to a VR app store like the Oculus Store, Pico Store or Viveport, everyone can download it. Some apps in the store contain content downloaders can access. All that content is publically available for everyone who downloads the app.
For example, the YouTube VR app lets users download all content that is publically available. You download an empty app but it gives you access to the YouTube server with the biggest content library in the world. Even though you can view all YouTube videos, you can not download them to watch them without streaming them. You need a Premium account and only then it lets you download and store videos locally. The free version always requires an internet connection to view videos.
Other apps create a connection to a server where users can download their own uploaded content. This could be content that they uploaded to their own account and which is not downloadable for other people. The EZ 360 platform that was mentioned above works this way: download the app which still has no content. Then you link it to your account where your uploaded content can be downloaded.
How to Sideload applications?
Another option is to sideload content or apps. Sideloading is a fancy word for putting a usb cable in your VR device and uploading content from your desktop computer. You can sideload videos and play them with the native video player on the VR device. Or you can sideload apps.
Sideloading is a way to install an app on your device which does not require you to upload your app to an app store. Because if you submit your app to a store you will have to wait for approval to see if it complies with the store’s guidelines. Also, by publishing it, the app becomes available for everybody in the store.
With sideloading you just plug in your cable, upload your videos or apps and be done with it. And nobody can download your content because it is not downloadable in the app store. Sideloading is useful for developers who want to test a new version quickly or companies who do not want to share their custom build apps.
The downside of sideloading is that you need to plug in every single VR device you want to upload content to. If you test software on one device, this is not an issue. But if you want to maintain 30 devices and regularly want to change the content, then it is very time consuming.
There are alternatives for sideloading while not publishing content to an app store. This is yet another type of VR CMS: those that manage devices instead of content. So instead of sideloading your new in-company app to your 30+ devices, you can simply upload it to the CMS and select on what devices you want to install it.
Managing your VR Devices: App Management
These VR CMS platforms focus on managing different apps on VR devices rather than managing the content within one single app. So instead of creating interactive content or distributing specific apps, their focus is on managing apps from different creators and sources on multiple devices at once.
The most well-known of this type is Oculus Business. This platform is only for Oculus devices. It allows users to connect all their devices to the platform. From there you can not distribute (video) content but rather apps containing content. You can select on which devices you want to install what apps. And by simply pressing a few buttons on your desktop you can install apps on 10 or more VR devices in one go. The target audience for such operations is non-technical staff. The system is easy to use so that could mean that the sales department can control the VR content without help of the IT department.
Similar platforms are Radix and 42 Gears. A big difference with Oculus Business is that these platforms are cross-device. So the platforms can also be connected to VR devices from different brands whereas Oculus Business can only handle Oculus devices. The technical possibilities of Radix and 42 Gears are very overwhelming and they are mainly targeting IT departments and developers.
Smart VR Lab is an Amsterdam based company that has built a platform that combines some of the features of content distribution and device management. Users can connect multiple VR devices to the platform. On the platform they can upload high quality 3D, 360 video content and distribute it to all connected VR devices through a wifi connection. The content will be downloaded locally and is then ready for playback.
The Smart VR Lab platform also allows users to upload and install different apps on multiple devices at the same time. It makes it easy to distribute your own video content but also install your own apps on multiple devices. Like Radix, 42 Gears and Oculus Business, Smart VR Lab also comes with a Kiosk mode.
All platforms that let you manage different apps on devices all offer a Kiosk mode. Kiosk mode lets your VR device boot in a custom app. Through the custom app, administrators can not just manage what kind of app(s) is/are available, but also what native features of the VR device are accessible.
Kiosk mode’s purpose exists mainly to improve the usability of the VR device. By blocking certain options, menus and settings, the users will not be overwhelmed or get lost. Kiosk mode is also often used to block users from entering the App store and to prevent them from downloading entertainment apps.
VR CMS have many different purposes, functionalities and use cases. You might need one. Or you might need two different type systems to implement VR in a scalable and efficient way. It depends if you want to make your video content interactive, how many devices you have and how many applications you use.
To make interactive content some CMS will suffice. But if you use multiple apps or want to build whitelabel apps, you will also need another one.
If your organisation has only one application on the VR devices, you might not need one at all. Or if you only use a handful of devices and you do not change the content often. Then it can also be done by plugging in the usb cable.
If you have more than one application, it depends if you have different users which can not view the same content. For example, our customers use the Smart VR Lab platform to quickly change the content on the device. Because the training content for their staff is not suitable for their customers (or patients). Therefore, they need to adjust what content can be accessed very often.
Hopefully it is a bit clearer what kind of systems there are out there and what the functionality is.