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Virtual Reality Tools and Workflow, Part 3: Lessons Learned

In the concluding segment of a series of articles about my first virtual reality (VR) project, which I produced using equipment supplied by, and assistance from Mobeon I describe the lessons learned during the project.

This is the third in a series of articles about my first virtual reality (VR) project, which I produced using equipment supplied by, and assistance from Mobeon, an advanced media studio and consultancy out of Los Angeles. By way of background, the project was part of a science project for my youngest daughter, where she measured the effectiveness of VR as a learning format as compared to 2D video or audio only instruction.

In the first article, I covered gear and pre-production; in the second, the VR shooting and editing workflow. In this article, I describe the lessons learned during the project.

Understand the Shoot

First recognize that there are (at least) two kinds of VR shoots. The first is a live event where you're just trying to capture what’s going on, whether a concert, basketball game, or ballet. For these shoots, extraneous items like light poles, mic stands, stagehands, and videographers in bad clothing just add character. The other type is a staged production, like a debate or a wedding. Here these same extraneous items evidence bad production planning.

The thing about 360° VR is that everything is on-camera, including the camera operator, mics, lights, producers, assistants, groupies, paparazzi, and other assorted hangers on. So when planning your shoot, first you have to figure out how all that is going to work.

In my shoot, for example, we’re comparing the effectiveness of traditional 2D video against VR. This means there was a 2D camera in the VR shot, and a beefy 2D camera operator in an orange shirt who didn't realize he would be on camera (Figure 1, below). I’m not sure there’s a way around this one, but at least I could have dressed more appropriately.

Figure 1. Everything is on camera in 360 VR production. Click the image to see it at full size.

While your shoot probably won’t have the same 2D/VR requirements as mine, there will be lights, perhaps a computer capture rig, a random operator, and other stuff you’d probably rather not have on camera. So plan ahead for this, and figure out where you’re going to pull all this gear and other detritus.

Think 180 Degrees, Not 360

One way to avoid many of these problems is to use a 180° production rig or workflow. That way you can hide all the stuff you don’t want people to see in the 180 degrees not shown.

Concerned that this will limit the effectiveness of your presentation? Perhaps in a live event setting, but not in a staged shoot. As you'll see below, another key lesson I learned is to keep the required head motion to a comfortable range. Unless you're shooting for Linda Blair in The Exorcist (Figure 2, below), few viewers will actually use a 360° view, particularly if they are sitting down.

Figure 2. Unless you’re really trying to turn heads with a full 3D production, covering 180 degrees will likely be sufficient.

Most early VR production is full 360 degrees, but 180° production is coming, both with 180° cameras and lenses that convert traditional 2D cameras to 180° VR capture devices. So if you’re considering a VR shoot in mid-2016 or later, check the availability of these devices.

If you’re producing a staged VR shoot with 360° gear, recognize that most viewers will likely watch only a much smaller view of that production. So plan your set so that as much of the extraneous gear and personnel is out of the region that your viewers will mostly watch.

This is shown in Figure 3 (below). Here we’re using VR to allow the viewer--who essentially replaces the camera from a positioning perspective--to turn and watch each subject, say for a debate. Even though the rig is capable of 360° production, your viewers wouldn’t naturally look at the rest of the audience behind them, so you can put all lights and other gear behind the dotted line.

Figure 3. When planning your shoot, plot where the viewer will be looking and put gear in other places.

Camera Placement is Complicated

With the six-camera GoPro rig that I used, the regions directly in front of each camera were the clearest, and regions between cameras most susceptible to ghosting. You see this in Figure 4 (below), where the student on the left is clear, while the student on the right is ghosted, because she’s between two cameras.

Figure 4. The student on the left, directly in front of a camera is clear. The student on the right, between cameras, is ghosted. Click on the image to see it at full size.

As you’ll learn in the next section, however, the need to place critical subjects directly in front of the camera can make it challenging to create a comfortable viewing experience.

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.
In Part 2 of this 3-part series on VR streaming, I detail the workflow for producing VR video in Vahana VR, which is the software in charge of stitching together the video from the 6-camera GoPro rig I used to shoot the video.
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.