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Live Streaming Summit [2-3 November 2017]

360° VR Live-Streaming Workflow

To help VR content creators contend with the deluge of information and product announcements, this article will focus on VR streaming workflows and toolkits that have worked well together in various VR/360 productions I've done.

The hype around VR is dwindling, and the industry is now faced with the reality of delivering on the promise of giving consumers compelling content and experiences. 360° VR live streaming has gained some traction over the past year as the production process has improved. Until recently, capturing 360° video was difficult, complex, and often convoluted, and panoramic camera systems combined a morass of different technologies based on work-arounds and compromises.

Today, cameras have increased in resolution and features, the production hardware has become more powerful, and the software is easier to use, making 360° VR video content production more accessible and efficient. VR production isn’t plug-and-play yet, but it’s getting closer.

Streaming 360° has become a much a more refined process, allowing creativity to reign supreme for content creators instead of burdening them with technical challenges and limitations. There are still some hurdles to overcome, such as the need to increase frame rates, resolution, compression, and bandwidth, but those problems will be solved in time. In addition, much of the required equipment for VR production and delivery remains too costly and unreliable to engender widespread adoption and growth to match the interest in VR on the consumer end.

There is currently a large number of manufacturers drowning creators in a sea of confusing options. To help VR content creators contend with the deluge of information and product announcements, this article will focus on VR streaming workflows and toolkits that have worked well together in various VR/360 productions I’ve done.

But let’s start with a quick overview of camera options and other components before we look at how they fit together in different VR streaming setups.

Cameras

VR/360 cameras now come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll find them configured in rigs utilizing an array of cameras in a premade or custom harness, or as a complete camera unit featuring built-in stitching.

For video streaming, you can use either type of camera setup, depending on your particular project needs or budget. You must determine which camera fits your intended purpose, since each has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, you may want a rig that is small and compact to cover an outdoor sporting event, as opposed to a larger rig that has greater resolution and coverage.

There are many uses for streaming VR. Some current implementations include product launches, brand activations, and concerts. Choosing the right camera can make or break your production. A good, general-purpose camera rig might consist of four to eight GoPro HERO5 Blacks with a Freedom360 or 360RIZE array (Figure 1, below). Alternatively, you might build a 360 rig with Blackmagic Design Micro Studio Cameras in a harness also available from 360RIZE.

Figure 1. GoPro Black cameras in a 360RIZE harness

Two things to be aware of with GoPros are their tendency to overheat and their limited battery life. If you’re going the GoPro route, I recommend adding a fan and a battery-based USB power source to keep your rig running reliably longer.

Right now, all-in-one cameras are gaining cachet, since they add simplicity, synchronization, and automation to the capture process. Selecting the right camera is key, since each system configuration has its strengths and weaknesses. I recommend using the ImagineVision Z Cam S1 (Figure 2, below) featured in Case 2, since it delivers high-quality capture overall with its fantastic optics and fantastic reliability while offering end-to-end features that make production easier.

Figure 2. The ImagineVision Z Cam S1

The S1 is a professional VR camera with four high-resolution sensors that have synced auto white balance and exposure. The camera can shoot 6K video at 30 fps and 4K video at 60 fps. In addition, it captures video files directly to the camera’s four SD cards and can record up to 120 minutes on a full battery. It is also equipped with four HDMI outputs and an Ethernet port for file transfer and control. The camera has a rugged, full-metal body embedded with four directional microphones.

My company has used this solid performer with great success, and I would absolutely trust it on future productions. For now, if it were my choice, I would exclusively use the Z Cam line of cameras over any other VR camera systems we’ve tested. It rivals most others that cost up to 10 times as much.

 

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