‘Sky VR: Hold the World’ – Go face to face with David Attenborough
Sky’s virtual reality experience, Hold the World, offers the unique opportunity of a one-on-one audience with Sir David Attenborough. The ground-breaking interactive experience transports you from the comfort of your home to London’s Natural History Museum, where you can get your hands on rare specimens from its world-famous collection as you go behind the scenes to explore areas usually closed to the public.From the product description
About the Experience
Anyone who loves learning about the world through high-quality nature documentaries is likely already acquainted with Sir David Attenborough. He’s been producing videos about our natural world for decades and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. One very cool thing about him is that he seems to really embrace technology and is often at the forefront of innovation in presenting his information. Even now, in 2023, volumetric video isn’t super common. It’s pretty cool that in 2017 he was already willing to sit in a green room full of cameras in order to have his full likeness captured for this experience.
Similar to his documentaries, Sir David talks about the natural world, specifically discussing bone and fossil specimens found in the extensive collections of the Museum of Natural History. You can “manipulate” them with your controllers to see them from every angle, stretch them bigger or smaller, and even give them a toss! He talks about the specimen, then you get to see a full-scale example of it placed within the full skeleton that it came from with everything in motion. The conversations take place in the museum’s geology library, fossil lab, and herbarium, along with a selection area represented as a grand hallway.
Graphics and Sound
Everything about this experience is top-notch. The captured models are detailed, the rooms are true to life, and the videos are integrated seamlessly. You can lean in closer to listen to him talk (always behind the table) and it really is like a full-size hologram of him is in front of you.
As you transition from sitting at the desk to the simulation area, the walls slide away from you smoothly. The models and animations in the simulations are a bit more simple (due to being cut-aways) but move smoothly and realistically.
This is a documentary with the added benefit of being able to sit in the middle of it. You’ll learn great details about the specimens, the original creatures, and sometimes about the discovery itself. I especially enjoyed the clip they showed of Sir David originally finding an egg that we got to look at.
The information is presented well, and it would be interesting to most adults and even kids. I’m not a big fan of VR content which is mostly repackaged 360 videos, so I really appreciate the deeply interactive element. Seeing the specimens come alive in front of you really makes a big impact so the information is easier retained.
Navigation and Interactivity
You start in a hallway that leads to museum rooms. Each one is a different artifact theme. After exploring a room, you exit back to the hallway to select another. It’s so much nicer than just showing a menu screen and it looks first-rate.
You can pick up items to interact with them somewhat, including turning them around naturally and moving your hands apart and together to zoom in or out. This works well. As you move them around, make note of the hotspots that appear in different places (rotate to see them all). I didn’t realize at first that you need to gaze at them for a second or two to activate them.
I also didn’t immediately understand that you can interact as long as you want. This means that you need to signal when you want David to continue by placing the item down in the zone in front of him. This could be more intuitive, but is easy enough to do.
Overall, most interactions are comfortable, and you’ll be making your way through the museum in no time. Don’t be afraid to try interacting with anything you can.
Updates and Support
This came out in 2017 and hasn’t seen any content updates. I’m assuming that the level of effort that goes into producing the volumetric video makes it prohibitively expensive to just add more content, but it would be great if it was possible.
Overall, I highly recommend this experience. I understand that it’s free to UK citizens, but the price is pretty reasonable for everyone else. The quality of the graphics and sound is high and having a fully volumetric version of David Attenborough is exciting and really demonstrates the promise of immersive learning with virtual reality. The user interface is good, although a few interactions weren’t as clear as they could be. Regardless, it’s hard to complain about something that hits the mark in so many ways. Give it a try and let us know what you think in the comments.
- Volumetric video of Sir David himself
- High-quality environments and artifacts
- Sound and graphics are top-notch
- Could use some additional content (paid or otherwise)
- User interface takes some time to understand