Immersion Studios to develop interactive content guide with ARIM funding Toronto-based Immersion Studios Inc. has confirmed that it has won an undisclosed amount of funding from the CANARIE Inc./Canadian Heritage Applied Research in Interactive Media (ARIM) Program to create an Interactive Content Development Guide. CTO Rodney Hoinkes tells Canadian NEW MEDIA that the guide will incorporate best practices for developing high-quality, high-bandwidth immersive and group-interactive applications, both for broadband and for faster networks found in institutions and over pipes such as the CA*Net 4. Immersion Studios is best known for its interactive digital installations in museums and other institutions that allow groups to view material on extremely large common video screens as well as interact with that material and each other using individual consoles. The immersive theatres are generally standalone installations, running on their own extremely high-speed intranets, but Immersion has linked its theatres with other locations in the past. Just under one year ago, for instance, the company announced that it would link the Immersion Institute in Mystic CN with several marine life sanctuaries across the continent in real time over the Abilene Internet2 high-speed backbone (CNM, June 26/02). The challenge now, says Hoinkes, is to create a best-practices guide for developing content for these types of applications. In conjunction with the universities of Toronto, Waterloo and Prince Edward Island, Centennial and Sheridan colleges, Envision Sustainability Tools, and Learning Designs Inc., Immersion hopes to have such a guide ready by the end of this year. Says Hoinkes: "It's looking to do two things. One, it's looking at the challenges in taking things that are done in a traditional high-end environment and running them over a medium-level broadband environment. Mainly because that opens up many more markets and opportunities and people that can have access. It really would have the potential of strengthening those businesses that use that type of technology. They wouldn't be fixated on really high-end locations. We can get it out to the people that matter when it matters. That's one. The other side, though, is producing these really high-end immersive environments. That is a pretty complex process. There's really very little in the way of guidelines out there to help them get into producing in these sort of forms. What we're looking to do is produce a guide that's useful to people trying to get into these areas, to help them get going and know what's involved, what the steps are and the challenges ahead." To create the document, the group will consider technical, production and user perception challenges in adapting high-end content for slower broadband. For example, says Hoinkes, the group will work to discover at what quality thresholds content adapted for slower networks becomes a poorer experience for the end-user. The guide is expected to be shared widely, but Hoinkes says broad distribution won't help set up future competitors in the space. Instead, he hopes the lessons learned through the partnership's experiments will help producers create better content for Immersion's proprietary platform and technology. "The more people that can produce, the content there is for our environment. I think it's beneficial all 'round. As long as we are the ones that are out there helping to drive the market forward, then rather than people looking to create new things in and of themselves, it's much easier to go with someone who's well established." While Immersion would likely collect a similar body of knowledge in the course of its day-to-day business over the next several years, Hoinkes concedes, it would be a long process that would follow the demand for such content, of which there is little today. Instead, he says, the ARIM funding will allow Immersion to accelerate the learning curve ahead of technological and market demands. "Everyone needs to know, well, what level do you have to get to to make broadband useful? Unless we start doing research to establish that, you'll have the wrong thing that's going out there and it will take even longer to get the right answers."