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SME 2016: VR Video Is Cumbersome, But Still in its Infancy

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"I'm calling it the camera disaster right now," said Josh Courtney, chairman and executive producer for SkyVR. Courtney delivered the second day keynote address at Streaming Media East 2016 in New York City, and from his perspective virtual reality cameras are a huge problem.


VR recording started with people using multiple GoPro cameras to shoot every angle, then merging those recordings with software. GoPros are cheap and easy to use, Courtney said, so that was a good starting point. The problem is that all of the VR cameras created after that do the same thing: They're essentially ripped apart GoPros that work as a single device.

"That's absolutely the wrong direction to go," Courtney said. Producers can't change the exposure or the shutter speed, and can't independently control the lens. In a challenging lighting situation, where an area has both strong lights and shadows, one part will be poorly exposed. "You have no control over that."

For the team at SkyVR, the current solution is to build their own rigs using Blackmagic cameras. But the good news is that the camera field will change soon: This is only version one, with camera makers testing the waters.

"This market is going to mature really fast." Courtney said.

The headset market is also just starting. There are four options for those who want to try VR right now, Courtney said. First is the Samsung Gear VR, which is the only one that doesn't require cables. "It probably should be everybody's first headset," he said. The Samsung requires a phone to use and is low-priced. After that is the Oculus Rift, the biggest name in the space. This device and Facebook's support of the company pushed the market forward.

The other two models are the HTC Vibe, developed with Steam, which offers the highest quality but is bulky and has cords; and the Sony PlayStation VR, which is targeted at gaming. Gaming will be an enormous part of the space, Courtney said.

For anyone tempted to write-off VR after one bad experience, Courtney said motion controls have gotten better. Previously the X, Y, and Z axes didn't all work well together, but that's been repaired.

"We're really at the very beginning," Courtney said. Television took 30 years of research and development before it took off. Virtual reality has only been around for four. The field still needs a lot of testing and playing to see what audiences engage with.

"There's a lot of people walking around saying their experts in virtual reality. If anybody tells you they're an expert in virtual reality run the other way," Courtney said. 

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