VRLA is the largest — and most accessible — conference and exhibition in the industry. The 5th annual event takes place on May 4th & 5th at the sprawling Los Angeles convention center in the beating heart of the entertainment industry. The not-for-profit event is organized by John Root of the Technicolor Experience Center, who represents the more established wing of the nascent industry, and Cosmo Scharf, creator of popular VR experience “Mindshow”. The two connected on Reddit in 2014, when then USC student Scharf suggested an LA VR meetup and Root offered the Digital Domain motion capture stage, thinking of a more conventional industry gathering. They met in a Vietnamese noodle shop and conceived a unique event somewhere in the middle, what Root calls “The peoples VR conference. A platform for everyone to stand and be heard.” He elaborated further in an email earlier this week. “There were two visions. Mine, which was to gather all the C level executives, hot content creators, decision makers and big money fat cats to talk about VR. And then Cosmo’s, which was to geek out about VR in a coffee shop with his college friends.”
In collaboration with LACMA, the centerpiece of this year’s show floor will be Mezo, a 20-foot tall futuristic temple equipped with synchronized LED panels, lasers and spatial music.
Industry-leading companies sponsoring this year’s expo include Intel, Dell, Qualcomm, Viveport, Microsoft, Neur, gaming and OptiTrack, help subsidize dozens of indie developers who are able to exhibit for free. “The combination creates a kind of very open, exuberant event,” Root explained. Indeed, over 10,000 people attended VRLA last year. Unlike industry events, which charge as much as $1,000 for a ticket, not including hotels and airfares, VRLA tickets are as low as $30. “We love that it’s a bottom-up event, celebrating the excitement everyone feels, that attracts so many people that the leaders like Intel, HTC, and Oculus have to be part of it. We keep prices low, but the scale of it allows us to do big things.”
Indeed, every VRLA has featured hundreds of demos and this year, in collaboration with LACMA, the centerpiece of this year’s show floor will be Mezo, a 20-foot tall futuristic temple equipped with synchronized LED panels, lasers and spatial music. The interactive art installation will evoke an alternate future where ancient Mesoamerican societies have become technologically advanced, taking attendees on a visually and sonically exciting journey through destruction, creation and rebirth. very year there are also dozens of demos as well as a full lineup of innovative companies shaping the future of immersive tech.
Big companies do big things for big crowds at VRLA 2017.
Root says he is particularly excited about Augmented and Mixed Reality, which will have a big presence at the year’s event. “AR is less about entertainment and more about the evolution of man, and it’s happening right now. There’s a lot of momentum. If the first machine age, the industrial revolution, allowed machines to replace muscle, the second machine age, the computer revolution, is an industrial revolution of the brain.”
VR and AR professionals who purchase the two-day industry-focused Pro Pass will gain access to Friday’s keynote in the Dell Theater, featuring a performance by Digital Deception, a.k.a. Doug McKenzie and Ryan Oakes — an illusionary duo that combines interactive magic with technology.
Friday keynote speakers include:
- Cliff Plumer, CEO, The VOID.
- Rikard Steiber, President Viveport and SVP of Virtual Reality, HTC Vive.
- Gary Radburn, Director, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Dell.
- Hugo Swart, Senior Director of XR Product Management, Qualcomm.
- Katie Kelly, Head of Engagement, AltspaceVR / Microsoft.
Visitors can wait in line for up to an hour for the most popular demos at VRLA.
In addition to Friday’s keynotes, attendees who purchase the Pro Pass will benefit from access to the full expo, shorter demo lines and an exclusive lineup of professional and developer programming — including “VR Valuation: What Drives ROI,” “Artificial Minds in Artificial Spaces,” “Can VR Be Decentralized Using Blockchain?” and “Discovering New Worlds: Using VR/AR/MR for Space Exploration,” a session with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Friday tends to be a sort of B2B and Saturday tends to be more B2C,” Root told me. “The reason is, Friday tickets cost a lot more, and Friday is a work day. So… most people that are there on Friday are on the clock… they are there to do business. Saturday tickets start as low as $20, so it becomes a fun thing for the whole family to do. Oddly… most of the success stories end up coming from Saturday meetings. Like some dude who owns a pizza parlor ends up buying a VR pod or something because he found out such things exist at on the Saturday.”
A wide variety of VR experiences are demo’d at VRLA.Add paragraph text here.
Saturday’s keynote will feature a live performance by Light Balance, the captivating dance group from “America’s Got Talent.” Equipped with custom-designed suits that integrate a complex light system with unique wireless controllers, Light Balance blends expert synchronization of music, neon lighting and choreography with breathtaking performances. The Saturday keynote lineup also includes:
- Walt Disney Imagineering SVP Jon Snoddy.
- A world premiere from Skydance, with Chris Hewish, EVP Games & Interactive and Pablo Leon-Luna, VR Developer.
- Special announcements from Intel, with Kumar Kaushik, GM, Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality.
- YouTube star Vsauce3 (aka Jake Roper).
- A special announcement from Ricoh.
- VR/AR expert, author, and futurist Charlie Fink.
Saturday sessions feature industry experts from companies including Facebook, Glitched, Viveport, The Third Floor, Vulcan, Kilograph, Framestore, VIBEHub, Walt Disney Animation, TheWaveVR, Chaos Group, Light Sail VR, Sunnyboy Entertainment and OTOY.
For horror fanatics, Red Frog Digital’s Zombie Holomaze will offer a terrifying AR experience for attendees to explore while wearing a Microsoft HoloLens. Mega Particle will debut its cross-platform Virtual Poker Table, with live play culminating in a tournament with award-winning poker champion Phil Hellmuth. For zen and psychedelic experiences, attendees won’t want to miss the Visual Reality Zone, featuring mind-bending immersive digital art installations. Additional expo highlights include Xtrematic’s extreme sports simulator, bHaptics’ full-body haptic suit, Bioflight’s VR medical training simulations and Phasespace’s large-scale motion capture system.
For industry professionals, students and attendees looking to cultivate their skills in VR and AR development, Circuit Stream — the official workshop partner of VRLA 2018 — will offer a variety of cutting-edge educational sessions designed to teach Unity development for platforms like Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, ARKit, ARCore and Microsoft HoloLens. Attendees can sign up for Circuit Stream’s workshops when they register for VRLA. The “Girls Make VR” workshop is also returning to this year’s expo, offering teenage girls 13–18 the opportunity to learn and create with the latest technology behind today’s most popular VR experiences.
[Disclosure: I will be keynoting on Saturday, May 5th. Talking about why AR is white hot right now. Consistent with the themes of this unique conference, I receive no fees and am participating entirely at my own expense.]