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Streaming Media East [7-8 May 2019]
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OTT Leadership Summit [7-8 May 2019]
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Content Delivery Summit [6 May 2019]
Streaming Forum [26 February 2019]

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.

Hardware

So those are the key players developing solutions specifically geared to VR production and streaming. What else will you need to get into the VR game?

VR requires a lot of processing power, and having high-end GPU is key. You can choose to build your own workstation or purchase a unit from a manufacturer.

If you’re building your own rig, I would recommend a system with maximum RAM, a high-powered graphics card with at least an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 GPU, and an Intel processor such as a Core i7 Intel 6700 or above.

Few companies are currently building high-end workstations that are specifically configured for VR production. But one company, Shinobi Systems (full disclosure, I am a Shinobi Systems shareholder) does build turnkey systems that can handle the entire VR streaming process. These workstations are able to take multiple direct camera inputs from 8, 16, 24, and 32 camera sources such as GoPros, stitch them in real time, and encode directly out to a CDN via RTMP stream.

360 Video-Stitching Software

After you’ve decided on what camera to use, stitching software is a critical component for streaming. Most of the software out there is designed to stitch video in postproduction.

But VideoStitch, a French company has developed real-time auto stitching software for video, called Vahana VR. Vahana VR (Figure 5, below) provides automatic camera calibration and can stitch video in real time in an equirectangular format. It is an extremely powerful piece of software that allows you to create templates and adjust the control points as needed.

Figure 5. VideoStitch’s Vahana VR real-time video-stitching software. Click the image to see it at full size.

With Vahana VR you can preview both the equirectangular projection as well as the spherical projection with a VR headset, so there is less guesswork involved. Real-time stitching allows you to record a single stitched output instead of multiple ISOs from each camera, thus reducing the amount of storage needed on your hard drive. The single stitched output file can be modified in post because there is no need to sort, sync, and stitch ISOs with additional software or rendering.

Although Vahana VR has a lot of advanced features that make the stitching easier, the current state of the software is in need of some basic features such as undo, and bug fixes that can improve its stability. Fortunately, they just received a fresh infusion of venture capital and are addressing some of the missing features.

Encoding

Elemental Technologies recently just announced that its streaming encoders are now equipped to deliver full-frame-rate Ultra HD HEVC and 4K virtual reality streams. Following the company’s recent acquisition by Amazon, I expect to see more integration o Elemental into Amazon Web Services and more embedded support for VR.

CDN

Wowza Streaming Cloud is compatible with most VR streaming systems and is a pay-as-you-go video delivery platform. It is easy to set up and its flexibility makes it a top choice for live streaming.

Viewing Platforms

There are several viable methods of viewing live 360° video. You can view it directly on a web browser with either a custom Flash or HTML5 player, or through an app. The current preferred method is to view the live stream within an app on your mobile phone typically provided by a VR company or a hardware manufacturer.

You can send streams to any 360° mobile app that supports streaming as well as playback of 360° videos. Codeplex’s VR Player supports a wide range of formats and geometric projections as well as live streaming as an Android app. Homido, VRplayer, and VRlive.tv are iOS and Android apps available in the Apple App Store or Google Play. All of these apps play recorded 360° video and live streams as well.

You can stream directly to desktop browsers through a player such as KrPano, which is a Flash- and HTML5/WebGL-compatible custom player, supporting RTMP and HLS playback.

Conclusion

So, what’s the answer to the million dollar question, Is 360 VR Live Streaming Ready for Primetime? My answer is, not yet—but it will be very soon.

Although there have been great advances in VR over the last couple years, many issues are still being worked out. Over time, the production process will definitely become easier, as well as much more stable and standardized. From the content creator’s perspective, VR streaming is still a work in progress, but consumers will be ready to embrace live 360° viewing when it is available on easy-to-access mainstream platform such as YouTube.

When YouTube integrates live VR streaming to its site with mobile support (which it inevitably will), and begins to feature high-profile VR events such as the music awards, concerts, and fashion shows, this in effect will create more compelling reasons to view VR live streaming. Only then will VR streaming be ready for primetime and become part of our everyday lives.

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.