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This Minneapolis startup is now a big player in the virtual reality scene

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Visual – a startup company that specializes in filming virtual reality 360 degree videos – recently partnered with the music streaming company Rhapsody to produce the first virtual reality app.

Rhapsody VR allows viewers to download and watch concerts up close in 360 degree video on their Apple or Android smartphones. They're best viewed through a Google Cardboard VR headset.

A total of nine videos can currently be watched through the app, and Rhapsody says that they plan to add more each month.

One of the videos filmed by Visual is a cover of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" performed by rapper Dem Atlas outside of First Avenue the night that Prince died.

Other artists featured include The Blind Shake, Low Cut Connie, Big Ups, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Sweet Spirit and Shannon and The Clams. If you don't recognize those names, you're not the only one. Forbes pointed out that most of the artists on the app thus far are not mainstream, and that Rhapsody will have to feature well-known performers if they want to attract more users.

Minneapolis location

When Visual first launched in Minneapolis, CEO and Founder Chuck Olsen felt like it wasn't great to be here because no one knew what virtual reality was or what they were doing.

It was difficult talking to investors, and the company felt more at home in California near other tech companies, Olsen told BringMeTheNews on Sunday.

"Now, a year later, it’s a different scenario," said Olsen. "VR is going to be huge."

Visual now has the advantage of working with virtual reality longer than anyone in the upper Midwest and can use Minnesota's Fortune 500 companies as a client base, he said.

Growing a client base

Visual was formed in 2014 and filmed its first 360 video one year ago at the popular Minnesota music festival Soundset.

For the last six months, the startup has been working on the Rhapsody VR app. "It’s actually a huge deal for us," said the Fridley native.

Not only is Rhapsody an international company, but now Visual can point to the app as an example of the type of work they produce.

Some of their current clients include the Mall of America and Minnesota's professional basketball teams – the Timberwolves and the Lynx.

Last winter, Visual collaborated with the Pioneer Press to produce this video of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. You can also watch this 360 video on youtube of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in North Minneapolis.

Social Good

Yet Visual wants to expand beyond entertainment purposes.

"Part of our mission is social good and for VR to be accessible to everyone," said Olsen, a University of Minnesota alum.

He recently returned from filming a video at a hospital in rural China with the St. Paul based non-profit the Newborn Foundation. The organization is promoting a sensor that can easily and inexpensively test a baby's hearts for defects, according to Olsen.

Instead of sending investors and policymakers to these rural hospitals to watch the medical equipment in action themselves, Olsen recorded a 360 video that can be watched anywhere.

"We’re basically supporting them [the Newborn Foundation] in this mission," said Olsen. His video will be viewed by United Nations representatives who decide global health policies.

What's next

Visual is planning to film more Minnesota events this summer in 360 degree video, but Olsen can't say what they are yet. He also said that there will be more apps coming out in the near future, but couldn't disclose details about that either.

He did say that Visual is currently working to refine their platform, add new features, and support live 360 degree videos. They're also working on giving viewers a joint virtual reality experience.

"In the future, you could watch with your friends and be in the same virtual space together," said Olsen.

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