Live events – VR style
Wireless Technologies

Live events – VR style

Live events and VR seem to be a match made in heaven — and it seems big players like Intel agree. On 8 November, SeatWish launched NEXT360, a multi-camera platform to monetise live streams in 360-degree video and Virtual Reality. The technology allows the ticket company to sell VR tickets to events – and not just sporting events either. They are not alone. TechCrunch reported recently that Intel is buying Virtual Reality startup Voke VR in an effort to build out a portfolio of services for its new immersive sports business, the goal being to be able to broadcast live events in VR. In fact, VR seems to be everywhere.

While the potential may be clear, there are still challenges and questions about whether VR events can really deliver. 3Glasses' COO Philip Kong explains that, according to IDC the Virtual Reality industry is predicted to be worth $162 billion by 2020, which means that whether it is for gaming, watching live events or exploring faraway places, many people see opportunities for VR content.

“The atmosphere inside a music venue cannot be denied, so in my view VR should not be positioned as a substitute for the real thing, but rather the next best option,” he says. “For years, fans have enjoyed watching live music and sports events online or on the TV, but this is a very 2D, detached spectacle. What VR offers users is a fully immersive experience where they can actually step into that world, look around them, and get a feel for the audience and those performing at the event simultaneously.”

Kong believes that VR can be a great option for those unable to get tickets to an exclusive event, those with disabilities and many who want to experience it from the comfort of their own homes. “VR will never replace the electric atmosphere of events, but it is the closest thing to being there,” he says.

Charlie Krauss, senior product marketing manager at Limelight Networks, emphasises that live events really do work VR style, adding that, as is typical, live sports events are where new video technology is tested first. He points out that there have been several VR sports broadcasts in 2016, starting with the Masters Golf Tournament in April, where two golf holes were covered with VR broadcasts. Other events included the final four games of the March Madness college basketball tournament and some matches of the 2016 Euro Championships.

Krauss has also experienced a demo of a rock concert broadcast in VR at NAB in the spring. A band playing in an outdoor venue had a VR camera positioned in their midst. In the exhibit hall there was a VR pavilion where attendees could watch this concert on a VR headset. Krauss tried it and was impressed with the experience.

“If I faced the drummer, it was as if I was on the stage in front of him, with the sound perception coming from the drummer. If I turned my head to look at the bass player, the drum sound came from my right side. It put people in someone else’s shoes — virtually. Very cool,” he says.

Mark Blair, VP of EMEA at Brightcove, cautions, however, that VR is still very much in the experimental stage at the moment. Though he is quick to add that it is here to stay and that, based on what he is seeing in the market and from talking to customers, it will grow much quicker than the industry is currently indicating as the affordability of the hardware drives its adoption into the mainstream.

 

He believes that VR will not only be for live events – like business conferences, music gigs and sports matches – but also for Video on Demand (VoD). “Take for instance the playback of a football game – imagine being able to use VR to feel like you are running around a pitch during game analysis, reliving a player taking a shot on goal or going backstage at a live concert – I could totally see consumers being willing to pay for this,” he says.

Despite this, there are hurdles, especially to the use of VR devices for longer immersion, such as would be the case in events or gaming. Blair says the VR playback experience for consumers is different to what we are used to so there is an element of viewers having to acclimatise to that. For some users, VR can cause nausea, dizziness and motion sickness, especially if they are in the virtual environment for long periods of time.

Ultimately, though, Blair says that the quality of the content experience will be VR’s biggest hurdle. “If you were to take a close look at existing VR content, lots of it has lost high-definition or has a jerky experience during playback – which causes motion disturbance. It’s going to be down to leaders in the video industry – like Brightcove – to help get this stuff right. We’ll also start to see a lot of more focused new entrants innovating in VR,” he says.

Krauss explains that VR sickness is a problem with your body’s sense of balance. It is usually caused when what you see does not agree with your head movements, or when the environment around you moves, but your body is stationary. He said that in addition to the hardware “fixes”, the next focus needs to be on movements in the field of view.

“Movements that differ from what we experience in real life, and that our brain is expecting, cause most of the sickness issues,” he says. Krauss uses the example of moving forward while looking to the side. “This can be fixed by only allowing movement in the direction the user is facing, but this is limiting for game play. A bigger cause of sickness is accelerations. Elliptical movements such as turns and jumps, and changes in velocity, adds potential to make people sick. The best example is roller coaster demos that are a sure way to induce nausea. Reducing these movements help, but are also limiting.”

Kong adds: “Ultimately the aim for VR headset manufacturers is to create the technology for people to enjoy Virtual Reality worlds anytime they like and for as long as they wish. For this to be possible, VR headsets must have a fast panel response time, high resolution and be lightweight so that it will cause the body the least discomfort.”

Despite these potential challenges, most agree that VR is here to stay and will offer new and exciting ways to experience everything from sporting events to festivals and concerts. Dr. Yue Fei, CTO and co-founder of uSens, says that in addition to addressing the user experience and minimising the potential for motion sickness, we need to continue making both capturing and consuming VR less expensive and better performing.

“Tackle those obstacles and you can push further to recreate the excitement by using ‘inside-out’ hand and position tracking. That would not just recreate an environment, but also let you move and interact with it,” Fei says.

Krauss points out that for VR to look great in a VR headset, the video resolution is best at 4K. The challenge here is most users do not have an internet connection that supports a 4K video stream, which currently requires 20Mbps bandwidth. “Receiving multiple VR streams just amplifies this bandwidth problem. Solving this requires advanced video compression technology that is still in development,” he says.

For Henry Stuart, CEO and founder of Visualise, there is another issue: the social dimension. He says while some aspects of a VR event experience can actually be better than the real thing – like being back stage or on stage with a band – making a VR event social is the big challenge. “Allowing people attending the virtual event to talk to each other or even to real people at a live event while they are connected virtually [is a challenge]. What should the avatars look like, how should the interaction work, all [this] needs to be figured out,” he says.

Stuart adds that VR is commonly seen as isolating, but this is all going to change. The change, he says, will come first with multiplayer games, then with the likes of Second Life’s High Fidelity, a completely alternate reality, and finally with Facebook’s plans for a social metaverse, somewhere we can meet, communicate, explore and so much more.

“For VR to become ubiquitous and part of daily lives for billions of people, we will need the social side of VR to start delivering on its promise,” he says.

 

Also read:
VR vs. 360-degree video: When YouTube moves immersive to ‘live’
Social VR: New 10,000 square miles of ‘idyllic shared’ outdoors
Virtual empathy: Connecting with refugees in 360˚

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Bianca Wright

Bianca Wright is a UK-based freelance business and technology writer, who has written for publications in the UK, the US, Australia and South Africa. She holds an MPhil in science and technology journalism and a DPhil in Media Studies.

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