Roy Taylor works as corporate vice president of alliances at Advanced Micro Devices, a chip maker that creates processors and graphics chips for personal computers. But he cares just as much about software as he does about hardware.
That’s because new virtual reality applications will fuel demand for graphics hardware, such as AMD’s new family of Radeon graphics processing units (GPUs). So Taylor has been busy creating alliances with Hollywood entertainment companies, VR startups, and game companies. He sees VR as the dawn of a new entertainment medium.
AMD has opened an office in Hollywood, and it is supporting efforts to improve content creation for VR entertainment. And Taylor said he is looking forward to eye-popping imagery of 4K resolution per eye in future VR technologies — far better than the 1080p resolution per eye in today’s VR headsets.
We caught up with Taylor at the AR/VR day at our GamesBeat 2016 conference. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. You can also watch it on the video embedded below.
GamesBeat: Can you start by telling us more about your career?
Roy Taylor: I was a founder for Nvidia in Europe in 1998, working in Northampton, England. I moved to the U.S. in 2005, left Nvidia in 2010. Went to a startup in Hollywood, which brought me down to Los Angeles. I joined AMD a while later. Today I work with content creators around the world.
GamesBeat: You’re known for your roles in content. You recently took a position with the Advanced Imaging Society and BAFTA. What are those, and why did you join them?
Taylor: The AIS came about when stereoscopic 3D came to the movie business. There were concerns that the best 3D was very good, but some 3D was not so good, and that was hurting the industry. The AIS — headed by a wonderful man, Jim Chabin — came together to support best practices together with Jim Maynard and the folks at Dreamworks and others. Today they’re doing the same for VR, making sure the best VR is really great.
GamesBeat: Tell us about your views on VR. You’re so much more excited about it than people are actually selling headsets.
Taylor: I am excited about it. I was lucky enough to be around the invention of the GPU. We forget — today everybody accepts that GPUs are standard and 3D is what it is. Back in the late ‘90s, that wasn’t the case. You didn’t see the wealth of games we have today. But you could see what was coming. You could see the vision. In particular, if you worked with content creators and saw how excited they’d become, it gave you that glimpse.
Thomas Edison invented the kinetoscope in 1891. It took four years for the Lumiere brothers to make the first movie. It wasn’t until 1907, when the nickelodeon came along, that the movie industry took off. I feel like we’re in a similar position right now to about 1895 or 1896. But the similarity is that there are people who can see what this industry is going to become.
I’m lucky because I get to talk to those people. Yesterday I was in Vegas at the university there. Just seeing and talking to the academics, the faculty, and some of the student filmmakers about their ideas for VR tells me that this is going to be, as I’ve said — It’s not going to be a big thing; it’s going to be everything.
GamesBeat: We’ve seen the first generation of VR hardware launch. Can you tell us a bit about that and about what’s coming?
Taylor: I love the hardware that’s out there. Without Oculus, I wouldn’t even be here. I completely applaud Palmer, Jason, Brendan, and the team there. What they’ve done is fantastic. Yet as good as the headsets are, there’s a correlation between distance from the screen to the eye and the need for higher resolutions. We’ve worked with a company in New York called Imagine, which has a 4K headset for a while. 4K close to your eye is really beautiful. I won’t take anything away from what Oculus and HTC have done, but the jump from current resolutions to 4K is really big. That will happen.
The movie industry doesn’t want you to be distracted by pixels. They want to get to 4K fast and then to even higher resolutions. Higher resolutions will come. At the same time, the prices will come down.
GamesBeat: How are we going to make it more affordable?
Taylor: Of course we need to be more affordable. Everyone understands that. But there’s a deeper reason, a much more important reason to bring price down. The production cost of one minute of modern content is roughly a million dollars, whether it’s Battlefield 4 or Ghostbusters. Unless we can give content creators production values around a million dollars a minute, that won’t happen.
Around 12 million people will go to watch Ghostbusters. Electronic Arts sold around 10 million copies of Battlefield 4. They could only do that because the infrastructure supports that kind of audience. We have to bring the price down so that tens of millions of people have headsets, so we can give the content industry a million dollars a minute in production value. That will create triple-A content and make this industry happen.
GamesBeat: You recently opened an office, as a chipmaker, in Hollywood. Why is that important?
Taylor: It’s true. We’re at 6600 Sunset Boulevard. VR just gobbles up chips. Whether it’s us or Intel or Nvidia, VR is great for us. You need lots of high-performance processing for content creation and of course for content consumption as well. But that won’t happen, this tremendous market opportunity, unless content exists. And so there is a direct correlation between our ability to help produce content and consumption.
I don’t want to wait 12 or 16 years for that to happen. Nor do our competitors or anybody else. We opened up in Hollywood because we want to support the content creators — and we’re fortunate that Los Angeles has a lot of them — to accelerate the time to market.
GamesBeat: You started talking recently about something called “VR as a service.”
Taylor: This has been something that has really surprised me — VR being used in ways that are completely unanticipated. It’s using VR to do things like safety training. Boeing is using VR to do realistic safety training. We’re also seeing VR used in medicine. At SIGGRAPH we saw Skip Rizzo from USC on stage, talking about how he’s using VR to treat PTSD. We’re also seeing VR used by realtors. We’re seeing it used in design and manufacturing.
This is important because it will take us past the first wave of consumer experiences. Even if we do take too long to deliver something completely compelling, VR as a service — these other uses of VR — will continue to keep VR going.
GamesBeat: You get to see both upstream and downstream. Where do you see the most investment in VR today?
Taylor: Right now we’re seeing the biggest investment in VR content take place in Hollywood. Big experiences like The Martian, Paranormal Activity — we call these VRE, or VR Experiences. We’ve seen more than 160 of those made. In our estimate it’s about $70 million spent on producing those. We’re aware of another 200 pieces incoming. Hollywood isn’t waiting. They’re just producing it. They’re using the content to promote traditional-format films.
GamesBeat: AMD also just announced it has some new stitching solutions for 360 VR. How do you see those progressing versus game-engine-based VR? Should we focus on one or the other?
Taylor: The time is approaching when game engines will be a suitable quality level that they’ll be used in movie production. That time is close. That’s important because 360 — most of the entertainment industry likes 360 because they like cameras. The quality is very good, particularly if you get the stitching right, which has been a problem to solve. That’s why we’ve been working on our stitching solution. However, ideally what you’d like to have is the quality of the 360 camera together with the interactivity of the engines.
We believe they will come together. Those are not easy problems to solve, but we think that through things like light field capture and modern cameras — where we put the computer before the lens — will allow us to bring those two worlds together. Today they’re separate, but they will become one. As soon as we can do that it will be better for everyone.
GamesBeat: You haven’t talked much about augmented reality yet. Why is that?
Taylor: I love AR, but I’m a little afraid of it, inasmuch as I think consumers need time to get used to mixing the two. We joke about Pokemon here, but the sad fact is some people have lost their lives. Those two kids went off a cliff. That’s not funny. The first time someone’s watching a cooking lesson with their AR headset and they chop the end of their finger off, that’s not going to be good either. We need time to adjust to new technology.
We’re big supporters of companies like DAQRI that use AR for industrial applications and automotive. I love what OSG are doing. But we need time to evolve.
GamesBeat: Is there anything that worries you about VR, and what can we do about it?
Taylor: It may well be that the killer app is not an app. Rather, it’s social. It might turn out that Mark is just the smartest guy around. I’ll give you an insight. My mother says to me, “Roy, will you give me a VR headset for Christmas?” My mother is 72 years old. I said, “Sure. What do you want it for?” She says, “In VR, Roy, I can be young again.” And I thought, good lord. In VR I’m going to have a six-pack. But then I realized something else. It’s no good having a six-pack if nobody can see it. So actually I’m going to want to use VR to have all my friends around. I’m going to want to show off my new self.
Here’s the thing. We could create an environment where we can become a better, sexier, prettier version of ourselves. That will become so compelling that it might become addictive. I’m not sure what we would do about that, if our alternative lives are better than our real ones.
GamesBeat: We’re going to see a Ready Player One movie pretty soon. The older folks among us also remember reading Snow Crash and how that inspired us about VR. How soon are we going to get some of this stuff?
Taylor: Not soon enough for my liking. There’s a lot of important elements that have to come together. One of the most important — Jason mentioned about social, and not having tens or hundreds of people, but thousands of people in that environment. If you think of the computational power we’ll need to do that — we’ll need to render a lot of that in the cloud. We’ll need to render it locally.
Putting all those parts together is going to be challenging, but we will get there. I don’t know how soon that will be. Years, obviously. The question is decades away or five years away? If we work out the remuneration model—this is where I’ll return to what I was saying. We have to get VR down. It’s not going to work with a thousand-dollar PC, getting to tens of millions of users. It has to be a $500 PC. When we get to that installed base, then somebody can say, “I’ll build Oasis. It’ll cost me $250 million, but I’ll build Oasis and I’ll sell real estate and charge you to travel between planets.” I’m assuming you’ve all read the book. For that novel to work, for someone to slap down $250 million and do it, we have to have an installed base that will run the thing he invents. We have to get pricing down.
GamesBeat: How are you distinguishing AMD from other hardware companies when it comes to VR?
Taylor: I would say focus. We have a lot of respect for our competitor. I worked for our competitor. They’re a tremendous company that works very hard to make our lives miserable. They sometimes do a good job. We’re different in that we got into VR a little sooner. We took it a little more seriously. We invested in it in terms of events and engineers. We introduced Liquid VR in January of 2015. Seems like a very long time ago now. We’re focused on the community and the content creators to a tremendous degree.
The next Sergei, the next Mark, is probably about 15 or 16 years old now. I met a young filmmaker called Sam Wicker at Chapman University. His ideas are absolutely fantastic. The fact is, we’re engaged at Chapman University, NFTS in the U.K., the Beijing Film Academy in China so hard because we want to find those guys who will make the content.
So the biggest differentiation is understanding that we need to engage content creators, and also take a different view. We could have launched our recent graphics card at $350. We deliberately did not, because we understand that the opportunity here is for us to create an industry. That’s bigger than the short-term benefit of charging extra. To anybody, if you’re looking to partner, we have a good competitor. They’re good guys who work hard. But we believe we’re more focused on VR than anyone else.
GamesBeat: It’s a little confusing to decide which VR events are the important ones to go to. There are so many of them now. Meetups have matured into expos and conferences. GDC announced its own VR conference. How do you sort through this and figure out what to target?
Taylor: It’s really gotten quite ridiculous, to a point where once or twice a day — I mean this literally — we get asked to come along and talk, or usually sponsor another VR event. We focus on where the content creators are. If you’re not directly a content creator, is the audience able to reach them? That’s our singular focus.
If we’re asked to go to an event just to say how great AMD is, I know you already know how great AMD is. We don’t need to do that. We want to find out who can make the introduction for us to that next Larry or Sergei. That’s where we focus.
GamesBeat: What’s the best thing you’ve seen in VR to date?
Taylor: I’ve been asked this before and I’ve said it, and then I get an inbox full of, “Why didn’t you mention…?” So let me be indulgent and bring up two or three. The scariest VR I’ve done is Paranormal Activity. It’s terrifying. The best game piece of VR content is Eagle Flight from Ubisoft. Doesn’t make me sick. It’s laugh-out-loud fun. I really liked that.
My best entertainment piece is The Martian. An interesting thing about The Martian. It’s 30 minutes long and it feels like about five minutes. I’ll have some things to say about the way we fill and experience time in VR coming up soon, after some work we’re doing with a professor at one of the big schools.
Question: Do you have a feeling that VR will enter a vertical canyon, potentially, and if we wind up in a place like that, how can we get out?
Taylor: It will be directly proportional to how fast we can create revenue models. The ability to sell content on Steam and creators’ web pages is great, but again, I’m going to return to the point made earlier. We have to give the Michael Bays, the James Camerons, the Andy Wilsons, the ability to return a million dollars a minute. That won’t happen unless we create revenue models that produce hundreds of millions of dollars?
Location-based VR will be a big part of that. If we can give people a chance to try VR who either can’t afford it or are not inclined to install it at home, but make them curious enough about it that they then want to go and pay money for it, we can create real revenues. If we get the revenues, we get the production values.