Apple Vision Pro: In a strapped-to-your-face TV future, sports might be the killer app

Once you get past the comical appearance of the Apple Vision Pro and similar virtual-reality headsets, and the “WALL-E”-like image of people walking around with such contraptions strapped to their face, you can start considering what kind of content lends itself to this gee-whiz technology. While that will surely depend on individual tastes, sampling the device provides a glimpse of the future, and how it can be put to the best use.

Only the most avid early adopters will likely feel compelled to rush out and buy a Vision Pro at its initial $3,500 price tag, but it’s definitely a user-friendly attempt to introduce the idea of immersive viewing to the public, and it will eventually come down in price. The more pertinent questions aren’t so much whether you need one now (you don’t), but the extent to which it’s a taste of what’s to come (it is); and as a movie and TV critic, what would seem to benefit most from the medium. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a unit of Apple.)

In an early review for CNN Underscored, Mike Andronico pegged movies as the killer app for Vision Pro, calling watching films using the headset “the most engrossing entertainment experience I’ve tried on one of these things … optimized to make you feel like you’re in your own personal theater.”

Others have noted, somewhat wryly, that pornography is the ultimate material for Vision Pro, a genre that, as the Daily Beast noted, Apple doesn’t support. Let’s set that aside, except to note that assuming there is a special market for that, those producers will inevitably figure out how to exploit it.

Still, the movie-watching experience at home, with a large high-definition screen and enhanced sound, is already quite good, however impressive the Vision Pro’s ability to create an immersive sensation might be.

The more intriguing content thus seems to fall into two major buckets: Nature/adventure fare, with its ability to immerse the viewer in those experiences; and sports and other live events, which essentially can make you feel like you’re right in the heart of the action from the comfort (except for that “Alien”-like thing on your face) of the couch.

An image from "Prehistoric Planet," an immersive series shot for viewing on the Apple Vision Pro. - Apple
An image from "Prehistoric Planet," an immersive series shot for viewing on the Apple Vision Pro. - Apple

During a demonstration of the Vision Pro, the short nature/adventure films Apple has produced for the device definitely stood out, from feeling like rhinos (or dinosaurs) were inches away from you to the dizzying vertigo of looking over highliner Faith Dickey’s shoulder as she tightrope-walked over a 3,000-foot-high fjord in Norway.

The market for that, though, would appear to be far more limited than what Vision Pro can do in terms of sports or concerts: Putting you in the front row, or right behind the goalie with 180-degree view, during a soccer game or a performance by Alicia Keys; taking you to the rim along with NBA stars; and panning the locker room as a team celebrates a championship.

Just in terms of return on investment, given the cost for sports tickets or concerts, Vision Pro’s sky-high price tag suddenly seems at least a little less outlandish.

The other advantage of sports, and live music, is that they really are more about an experience, which is precisely what this technology enhances, without needing to follow a story. Sure, getting submerged into the world of “Avatar: The Way of Water” looks spectacular, but even following that basic plot is more intellectually demanding than the visceral qualities that maximize the VR environment.

As noted, it will likely take some time before such consumption reaches any kind of critical mass, but that might not be as far away as we think. After all, talking to an unseen artificial voice named “Alexa” or engaging in video chats on a handheld device would have sounded a lot like science fiction not that long ago.

If VR is destined to be one of the next iterations of our digital lives, then what, other than popcorn, will we be consuming? While dinosaurs and daredevils have their place, after spending a little time seeing the world through those goggles, the words that most came to mind were “Play the hits” and “Play ball.”

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