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Is Virtual Reality Streaming Ready for Primetime?

Virtual Reality is poised to revolutionize many industries including live video streaming. Join us as we cover the techology and possibilities of it opening the door to new markets.
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Virtual Reality (VR) has recently caught the attention of the press, inspired the creativity of a multitude of content producers, and captivated the imaginations of the public. Many companies are entering the VR arena and are throwing their hats in the ring with their own Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs), cameras, hardware, and software for the consumer market.

While the biggest market to date for VR has been in the gaming world, there are emerging opportunities in other arenas that can benefit from the use of 360° VR video. Potential VR applications abound in several verticals, including training, education, real estate, travel, cinema, medical, enterprise, entertainment military and law enforcement, security, therapy, and more.

Since VR takes an interactive, immersive sensory experience to a whole new level, it is literally a new form of communication with its own language, user interfaces, and technical requirements. It is a new storytelling and experiential paradigm that can virtually bring people into live events and locations so they can view the events as if they were actually there.

Impressive as VR seems, the process of producing high quality recorded 360° video content is difficult, time consuming, and frustrating since there are no set standards. VR production is fraught with quirks, bugs, and workarounds in almost every step of the production process.

Each manufacturer throwing its hat in the VR ring is still developing its own development systems and delivery mechanisms, and some are still finalizing the production workflows and ecosystems. Companies such as Oculus VR, HTC, and Sony will be launching their final consumer hardware and platforms in 2016, which in effect may prove a catalyst for widespread adoption of VR and usher in its mainstream acceptance.

Live Streaming 360° VR Video

How likely are we to see VR streaming move into the mainstream in the coming months or years? Live streaming alone presents plenty of challenges for most producers, since there are so many moving parts. VR production is even more difficult. The fusion of the two can be a technical nightmare that requires a lot of trial and error and patience. If you can overcome the frustration and stay on course, it can truly lead to the creation of a new viewer experience that’s both exciting and groundbreaking.

VR’s clunky production process and unpredictable workflow hasn’t stopped creators, producers, software developers and companies from experimenting and exploring new methods of creating VR content. The process of shooting recorded VR is starting to gain a lot of traction. Live streaming panoramic video goes a step further by taking the core concept of VR 360° and streaming it out live to a mobile app or website that can be viewed with HMD in conjunction with a mobile phone or computer.

Introducing Equirectangular Video

They main objective in VR video is to output an equirectangular, spherical projection stream. Much like the construction of panoramic photographs, equirectangular video takes video from several camera sources and “stitches” them into a single sphere. Then it maps that sphere to a flat plane, like a flattened map of the Earth.

Once the video is stitched and flattened, you can stream that single video output to an RTMP server which then can be viewed through headsets, mobile devices, and desktops.

Components of a VR Streaming Workflow

The VR streaming workflow has several key components. In order to start producing and live streaming 360° VR, you will need the following:

• a complete camera rig
• a high-end graphics workstation with a powerful graphics card that can ingest and stitch in real time
• stitching software to show you what your shot looks like on the fly so you can make adjustments accordingly
• an encoder to send it to a CDN
• a final delivery platform.

Related Articles
In this series of articles, I will discuss the tools and workflows that I used in a recent testing project to see how VR compares to 2D video and audio as an educational tool.
VR remains a niche market at this writing, but it's a growing one with huge potential. Here are the latest developments and what it means to adoption in the live production and streaming world.