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VR Live Streaming and Broadcast

VR Live Streaming and Broadcasting
Live VR broadcasting will fundamentally change how we experience events remotely and how we’ll enjoy those experiences with friends and family, no matter where they are.

The advancements in online streaming reflect the sheer scale and speed at which the global market has embraced digital broadcast technology. Across the globe we barely blink an eye at the idea we can stream a Hollywood blockbusters on demand, have an endless catalog of VOD material at our fingertips and can tune in to traditional TV and live broadcasting – sporting or otherwise – on any device we choose. We live in an age where the idea of live broadcast is ubiquitous with digital streaming; what ten years ago was considered “TV” is today expected to be at our fingertips on our mobile devices.

While broadcast media has enjoyed a massive digital revolution through mobility and accessibility, the fundamental experience of broadcast hasn’t changed. Whether you turn on a TV or tap to watch on your mobile, the viewing experience has largely remained a 16:9 ‘boxed window’ of events edited to give you as much perspective as possible.

In 2019 and beyond, the next real big advance for broadcasting is riding on the backbone of the digital evolution and comes with the moniker “VR” attached.

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VR Broadcasting: Becoming a Reality

We’ve only really seen a glimpse of the potential of live VR broadcasting and streaming so far. Amongst a number of players, BT Sports has now served up VR live streaming for one of its biggest global sports events, the UEFA Champions League Final, for two consecutive years.

As trailblazers they saw the potential 360 technology offers fans as literally the next best thing to being there physically or, in some ways, perhaps, even better than being there physically – VR broadcasting can enable money can’t buy first person perspectives and experiences, and multiple vantage points that deliver more compelling and immersive real-time presence than the alternative 2D broadcast feeds built on multi-camera cuts.

Recognizing the next level immersion factor of VR, both Facebook and game streaming juggernaut Twitch have been heavily investing in 360/VR publishing support and evolving their live VR streaming capabilities.  These platforms seek to enable 360/VR content to move beyond single viewer situations by merging the inherit social interaction aspects of their platforms into shared VR streaming environments, where multiple viewers (as ‘avatars’) can see each other, share and interact as part of the immersive experience.

VR Streaming and Broadcasting - BTSports
BT Sports enables 360 multicam streaming

So why aren’t we seeing more people with VR headsets strapped to their faces watching their favorite sports or concerts? The answer is largely down to the barriers VR capture and publishing technologists are working to overcome:

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VR Audience Growth - Slow but Steady

VR has had a relatively slow evolution into the consumer market – initially targeted as a hardcore gaming solution connected to powerful PCs, then by mobile phone manufacturers to enjoy VR on expensive handsets with budget headsets and, most recently, driven by a push for dedicated VR consumer devices like the Oculus Go.

Virtual Reality Headsets - Oculus Go
Oculus Go represents a leap forward in mass consumer VR

These all-in-one devices represent the first true wave of ‘consumer ready and accessible’ VR technology that foreshadows what VR / AR analytics specialists Greenlight Insight report is likely to become a $75 billion USD industry by 2021.

The all-in-one Oculus Go are a superb example of rapid consumerization of VR technology – only two years ago you’d need a powerful PC and dedicated tethered VR headset costing thousands of dollars, whereas the Oculus Go is ‘ready for VR consumption’ for less than $400.  This is the kind of headset that can sit alongside a TV remote or an iPad as a ‘ready to pick up and enjoy’ device – and a critical factor in the broader adoption of VR media.

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8K Stereoscopic Acquisition a Must-Have

VR cameras have come leaps and bounds but it is only the last 12 months where the technology has really started to mature. Consider the requirements of streaming a high quality live 360 degree stream today and taking current generation headsets like Oculus Go.

The Oculus Go offers a 2560×1440 native resolution with a field of view 110 degrees. The field of view represents how much of the 360 degrees scene you can see at any one time, and so if you want to compose a full 360 degree video to suit this resolution, you need to multiply 110 degrees by 3.27 to get to 360 degrees if the viewer turns their head around. That also means you need to multiple the source image pixel resolution – 2560 pixels wide – by a factor of 3.27 as well. Therefore, the full source image of the 360 degrees video the viewer can possibly look at needs to be 3.27 times 2560 pixels wide, equalling 8370 pixels wide, or roughly 8K in media speak.

So the camera that captures broadcast VR needs to be capable of at least 8K capture to be able to deliver a video feed acceptable to the Oculus Go’s native resolution. Put simply, when thinking acquisition camera technology, you need to stop thinking the viewing display device resolution and start thinking total resolution to deliver to the resolution of the viewer’s device based on its field of view. In this example we need at least an 8K 360 degree camera to deliver a 2.5K view to an Oculus Go viewer.

VR Streaming and Broadcasting - 8K Kandao VR Camera
Obsidian R 8K stereoscopic VR camera, released in 2018
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Bandwidth and Adaptive VR Viewport Streaming

VR Streaming and Broadcasting - Adaptive Viewport Streaming
Companies like YBVR are enabling 8K VR streaming through adaptive viewport technology

We’re only just starting to enjoy Ultra High Definition (UHD, 4K) streaming of 2D content. For VR streaming, you’ll need to double the UHD bandwidth to get an 8K 360 degree video, and even more if you want a 3D stereoscopic VR stream that requires an 8K image for both left and right eyes.

So, the biggest obstacle to advancing VR broadcasting directly to a consumer device such as Oculus Go must surely is bandwidth?  Well, yes and no – it’s true you need to build an 8K source image, but if you stream that entirely to the viewer, they are only ‘seeing’ their field of view. Leveraging our last example, if the Oculus Go only has a 110 degree field of view, that means in any 360 degree stream the viewing device is ‘discarding’ the other 250 degrees of video information. It makes sense to only stream the ‘field of view’ – something evolving as ‘adaptive field of view streaming’

A number of companies like YBVR are working on adaptive field of view streaming, and the underlying technology and platforms are fundamental to making live VR broadcasts accessible within today’s bandwidth considerations.

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Advancements in VR Camera Technology and Live Stitching

If we consider a broad consumer base (and so, audience) now has access to cheap VR headsets, and the bandwidth issues can be resolved by some smart thinking in adaptive streaming – the focus for the evolution of VR broadcast technology is perhaps on the acquisition side. VR camera technology and the production companies that can pull off the broadcasts themselves.

When it comes to camera technology, significant strides in real-time VR capture and real-time streaming are enabling cost effective solutions to deliver 8K monoscopic and stereoscopic streams.  Cameras like the Insta360 Pro 2, designed as hybrid high end consumer/commercial use VR cameras, are enabling high resolution 8K mono (60fps) and stereo (30fps) acquisition along with real-time stitching and composition of 8K master streams at a price point that makes multiple vantage point broadcast VR a reality.

They’re also light and portable enough to consider mounting on cable or spider cams, and moving dolly rigs, which can add a whole new dimension of immersion and experience for broadcast VR audiences.

This underpins the core promise of VR broadcasting to event operators: to extend any live event catering to a finite number of physical attendees to a virtual global audience of millions through well placed VR cameras and vantage points that leverage the low footprint of VR camera technology.  Event operators can also offer VR attendees experiences that compares with, or even transcend the front-row experiences by offering equivalent seating positions and other behind the scenes or money can’t buy perspectives.

Premium broadcast VR experiences can foreseeably evolve to a new ‘virtual ticket’ revenue stream that is vastly more convenient and monetizable than the physical seating equivalent.

VR Streaming and Broadcasting - Insta Pro 2
VR cameras like the Insta Pro 2 enable high resolution ‘on demand’ stitch and streaming
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VR Broadcasting – Training, Corporate and Beyond

VR Streaming and Broadcasting - Facebook VR Avatars
Facebook avatars enable shared VR experiences and multi-user interactivity

The increasing demand for remote, interactive, VR training and education is also huge. Turning one seat in a classroom into thousands and providing the same immersive experience of being in a physical environment is a possibility that has huge ramifications across many industries and sectors.

Imagine how advancements in VR training and the creation of streamed training events could test the mental strength and perception of law enforcement, military personal, medical first responders and many others, without the cost and risk of putting them prematurely in to real world scenarios as a trainee.

Having tutors and teachers who can interact in real time with the user’s actions could quite literally be a life saver and create more capable personnel.

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The Final Word

When it comes to broadcast VR production companies, it requires a combination of technical and creative expertise that ensures the live VR broadcast is more compelling than any 2D video or even physical event. Our task it to compel an audience to take the leap to VR as a wholly different experience to anything else a viewer can get. Let’s face it, 2D content is ubiquitous given our smart phones and tablets usage, so if we really expect to take viewers away from the convenience of their mobile devices and put on a VR headset, what we offer has to be mind-blowingly worth it.

At Ignition Immersive, we understand the complexities of delivering a live 360 or VR stream, whilst also constructing vantage points and VR experiences that transcend the physical experience or the 2D broadcast equivalent.  We pride ourselves on lateral and creative thinking in how we deploy our cameras, coupled with the fundamental expertise to deliver 8K mono and stereo feeds reliably and across multiple platforms to bring that experience to life.

Interested in VR Live Streaming and Broadcasting?

Ignition Immersive is an Australian VR production company with extensive VR camera equipment, specialised rigs and in-depth live VR stitching and streaming expertise. Contact Us to find out how we can help you stream your next event in Virtual Reality.

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