LancasterThrivingFallWinter2017 - 17

holding your smartphone up to a product on a store shelf
and viewing a thorough description or demonstration video
of how it works. Or walking through a museum and holding
up your smartphone to a painting and being able to read a
biography about the artist. In short, augmented reality exists
to enhance a real-world experience.
If augmented reality is about enhancing the world we live in,
virtual reality is about transporting the viewer to an entirely
different place. Viewed either through special goggles
or even a cardboard cover that helps to convert your
smartphone into viewfinders, virtual reality removes the user
from this plane of existence and delivers them to another.
At its best, it's an absorbing experience. Users can do virtual
walk-throughs of buildings before construction begins or of
foreign lands tens of thousands of miles away.
But it's also an entirely new experience for human beings
and for that reason, reactions vary from amazement to
unease. In this story, you'll learn about both. Still, proponents
will say that the benefits are clear and it's only a matter of
time until VR progresses from the bleeding edge to the
leading edge.
With a basic understanding of the two technologies, it's
obvious that which you might consider would depend
entirely on the application. If you're looking to add more
nuance to the real world, augmented reality is ideal. But
if you want to show somebody an experience that is
altogether different from our own, you'll need virtual reality.
With that grounding in place, I sought out examples of
both in Central Pennsylvania at the same time I started
experimenting with both within my own organization.
Here's what I learned.
HOPE International was born in 1997, first as an offshoot of
Keystone Custom Homes after years of outreach to the area
by Calvary Monument Bible Church. Launched by offering
12 loans in the city of Zaporozhye in post-Soviet Ukraine,
the organization has grown to serve nearly one million
people in 14 nations. Offering those in poverty support
through discipleship, training, savings and lending, HOPE's
services have made an incredible impact across the globe
and it has grown to a massive organization with an annual
budget approaching twenty million dollars, raised by a large
development team scattered around the country. HOPE
has an in-house marketing department that, according to
VP Kevin Tordoff, primarily exists to offer their development
team "creative forms of engagement."
The challenge for HOPE, according to Tordoff, was how to
"decrease the proximity gap." HOPE's resources are put to
use thousands of miles from where they're raised. While the
organization periodically offers donor trips and has a history

of producing video content,
Tordoff wanted to find a
way to create an immersive
experience without the
expense of travel.
When Tordoff shared this
challenge with Sight & Sound
President Josh Enck last year,
the latter pondered if VR
might be the answer. Enck
had recently explored and
passed on VR at the time but felt HOPE's application might
be an appropriate use of the technology.
HOPE International's VR trips
allow viewers to transport
themselves thousands of
miles away.

Partnering with Lancaster-based Greenfish Labs, HOPE
quickly planned their first shoot in Malawai, the result of
which is an impressive VR experience, grounded in 360
degree video. The user looks through a store bought
headset or simple cardboard viewer with their smartphone
(or dedicated VR goggles) and finds themselves in a village
thousands of miles away where a new business has started
thanks to a small loan, funded by HOPE. The user can
look up, down, left or right and the video pans and tilts,
recreating a lifelike appearance. Those who've never walked
a street in Malawai aren't just watching a video of one, but
rather feel like they're there. Many of the videos include
interactive menus, allowing the user to choose from various
aspects of village life.
Technically speaking, 360 spherical videos are not, by
definition, "virtual reality," as the villages filmed do really
exist. However, the way the content is viewed, via goggles,
creates an extremely immersive experience. As CNET wrote,
"360-degree video is not the same thing as VR... But the
thing is, for most of us, 360-degree spherical content will be
the first immersive "VR" experience we have." And in fact,
Tordoff's greatest surprise with VR has been how immersive
it's been for those who view the pieces.


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