Streaming Media

Streaming Media on Facebook Streaming Media on Twitter Streaming Media on LinkedIn
 

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.

Live Stitching

360° video production requires stitching together footage from multiple sources, since each camera outputs a separate video stream that represents only one segment of the 360° image. Stitching is processor-intensive, and requires a powerful workstation and graphics card to run the stitching software.

The Z Cam Controller WonderLive software (Figure 3, below), which is included with the Z Cam cameras, enables real-time stitching. It also has an external audio input with Nadir logo patching, which allows you to insert a logo for branding. There is even a method for outputting a stitched feed via SDI out to support a separate encoder if needed.

Figure 3. Z Cam Controller WonderLive stitching software. Click the image to see it at full size.

Overall, the software is simple and easy to use, and is a great package for live stitching and streaming. ImagineSoftware has recently paired the Z Cam with Assimilate Scratch to extend its capabilities. This development looks promising but is not yet fully proven.

Hardware system requirements and key supported features (such as 4K output and Facebook Live integration) for WonderLive can be found at z-cam.com/wonderlive.

If you decide to use cameras from manufacturers that don’t supply their own stitching app, then VideoStitch Vahana VR is the go-to piece of software. Vahana VR (Figure 4, below) is the only standalone PC application that is capable of stitching VR video in real-time for livestreaming separate cameras.

Figure 4. Vahana VR stitching software

I recommend incorporating four-input video cards from either Magewell or AJA, which enable stitching video feeds from multiple cameras, whether HDMI or HD-SDI, into a single 360° video for a streamed output via RTMP.

Vahana VR system requirements and key supported features (such as 8K output and Facebook 360 Live integration) are available here: go2sm.com/43.

A viable stitching/streaming alternative is the Teradek Sphere (Figure 5, below), which is a unique hardware and software solution that allows for live preview and live stitching of panoramic video. The Sphere, which retails for $3,000, enables you to combine four HDMI feeds from various cameras (up to eight when networked), such as the GoPro Hero or Blackmagic Design Micro Studio Cameras, and stitch and stream them in real time from an iPad app.

Figure 5. Teradek Sphere

Teradek charges a one-time license for livestreaming with the Sphere. It’s also available in an SDI version, which costs an additional $400.

Encoding/Streaming Hardware

The next stage after stitching is encoding, either via software or dedicated hardware encoders from reputable manufacturers such as Harmonic, Haivision, or Elemental. Streams should be delivered at multiple bitrates to cater to viewers with different internet speeds.

Encoding VR content requires more processing power than typical HD or UHD content. A high-end workstation or a higher-performing hardware encoder is critical. I recommend investing in as much CPU and GPU processing power as you can afford to prevent any bottlenecks and to future-proof your system as well.

Related Articles
The cameras have poor controls, the headsets are bulky, and the results sometimes make people sick. Still, don't write off virtual reality just yet.
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.
AP Digital Storytelling Editor Seth Mayerowitz discusses the pros and cons of different 360 VR camera solutions in terms of features and price points.
Scott Mayerowitz, Digital Storytelling Editor at the Associated Press, breaks down the differences between "VR/Virtual Reality" and "360," two terms often used interchangeably.