The last time The Weather Channel showed off its broadcast augmented reality, the internet couldn't stop talking about how immersive the presentation looked, despite being shown on a 2D display.
Taking viewers inside a virtual version of Hurricane Florence, guided by a host surrounded by virtual peril, the network employed the approach to show residents in the path of the hurricane why they should evacuate their homes.
This time around, the network is showing us some of the dangers of wildfires, a regularly occurring environmental event that has been particularly damaging to residents of California in recent years.
To show off how wildfires start, spread, and impact local communities, Weather Channel meteorologist Stephanie Abrams appeared on Thursday, standing on the same kind of circular platform we saw during the Hurricane Florence presentation. Only this time, the host is shown surrounded by forest and wildlife as she brings up 3D displays that appear to be in front of and behind her.
But this presentation takes things up a notch when, during the part in which Abrams explains how embers can spread fire, the camera appears to go out of focus and zooms in on a floating ember, leaving the host blurred in the background before shifting focus again back to her platform.
The simulation is a great example of the kind of seamless varifocal experience researchers are working to bring to future AR smartglasses and VR headsets to enhance realism.
Similarly, during another moment, Abrams is surrounded by flame, and you see virtual smoke pass in front of her face.
Although it's nothing like the kind of immersion one experiences while wearing an AR headset, or even using an AR app on a smartphone, what The Weather Channel's technique is doing is getting viewers accustomed to consuming content in the context of immersive environments.
Whether the person immersed in the virtual presentation is the host, the viewer, or both, what the network is doing is showing us the future of news production, and it appears to be getting better every month.
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