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The VR 360 Ecosystem Is Starting to Take Shape

March 2, 2016
2-Minute Read

This blog will review what has recently happened in the VR space, why we believe VR is here to stay and have a major influence in the way we consume video in the future.

The VR narrative in 2016 started in January at CES where we saw pre-announcements of the new VR devices (Oculus, HTC Vive & Sony PlayStation VR). It continued with Facebook announcing they have found a way to save up to 80% of the VR video transmission cost, by mapping the video on different surfaces. As it is described though, it can be a breakthrough only for offline delivery. See Facebook’s post for details.

The following month at the MPEG meeting in San Diego, we witnessed contributions from Nokia, Samsung and QUALCOMM advocating for a standard way to deliver VR video over DASH. If you combine this with the Facebook proposal, this could benefit the entire video industry.

As a result of the momentum in VR, there are now a group of companies that have started discussing the formation of a “VR Video Forum,” that would define guidelines of an end-to-end VR system for live & on demand distribution. Harmonic is part of this group, which had an informal meeting at CES, with another planned at NAB to solidify the directive. In parallel, the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) group has launched a study on VR video, which Harmonic is an active participant in. Note - if you plan to attend the DVB World Conference in Venice this year, VR will be an active topic.

These initiatives show that VR is not only a phenomenon limited to the big web giants (Google, Facebook) or startups (Jaunt, NextVR, etc.), but that the video ecosystem that generates several hundred billions of revenue with TV, is also looking at it very seriously.

Now, if you look at the news from Mobile World Congress (MWC) last week in Barcelona, you can clearly see things are also moving fast on the devices side. Samsung made several significant announcements on VR. First it announced that the Galaxy S7 would have 40% more CPU power and 4x GFX acceleration, while offering a Gear VR for the first 300K pre-orders. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook was also present to reinforce the VR collaboration of the 2 companies.

The second Samsung announcement was the introduction of the Gear 360 camera, which can capture VR 360 video and store or stream it in Bluetooth to the Galaxy S7, which will do the stitching and HEVC compression. The output format is 3840 x 1920 x 30, which is good enough for recreational content.

We should note that the main competitor of Samsung, LG, also announced its new G5 smartphone, a VR headset and a VR 360 camera at MWC, so we see competition increasing for the entire VR ecosystem. Of course the elephant not yet in the room is Apple, which has not made any announcements but has been prone to multiple rumors.

These are the first real mobile consumer solutions that will open a VR 360 user-generated content market, much like GoPro and YouTube 10 years ago. Will this replace the cinematic infrastructure used to produce professional content? Absolutely not, but this will democratize VR content and who else than Samsung, Facebook and YouTube are better positioned to democratize VR 360 video?

What is the take away for the VR players in the market? Well, first new standards are being defined, new devices are coming to the market and new consortiums are going to seriously look at VR. Next is the VR content and consumer experience that will be the subject of our next VR blog.

– Thierry Fautier, Vice President, Video Strategy at Harmonic and President of the Ultra HD Forum

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