VR 360 or virtual reality video has been in the limelight with the Oculus acquisition by Facebook for $2B, and more recently with the HTC Vive and Sony Morpheus announcements, all of which are wired experiences where a second device (PC or Game station) is needed to power the experience. The alternative approach is the Samsung and Google one, which favors a powerful smartphone and a head-mounted device ($99 for Samsung, $20 for Google) to enable a full VR 360 video experience. Analyst Piper Jaffray estimates that in 2020, the unwired virtual reality market will be 10x the size of the wired one.
IBC2015 saw several demonstrations of VR 360 video technologies:
- GoPro showed its new camera rig together with the stitching capability of its Kolor acquisition
- JauntVR (who has since received a $65M investment lead by Disney) was demonstrating its new 360 NEO camera rig, used for cinematic content
- Elemental was showing a live Oculus Rift demonstration shooting its own booth in VR 360
- Fraunhofer was demonstrating capture, stitching and encoding with soccer footage
- The BBC illustrated how immersive VR 360 can be for events like the migrant crisis in Europe
But the most noticeable demonstration, because it was the only E/E demo with an immersive UHD experience, was the Viaccess Orca, Harmonic and VideoStitch E/E system that showed a 360-degree, live recording, while navigation was driven by the movement of the eyes on a Samsung Gear VR Innovator and Galaxy S6. The power of this platform is that the demo was not pushing the limits of the technology, and therefore, will be technologically valid for some time to come.
In terms of the workflow, the content is captured with multiple cameras and stitched in real time by VideoStitch. It is then encoded at UHD resolution (3840 x 2160) using the HEVC Main 10 codec by the Harmonic VOS platform. The stream is then sent to a Galaxy S6 that can decode natively, which by itself is impressive, given that last year we could barely decode HD HEVC on a high end tablet! The result is a truly immersive experience that was never before demonstrated on a consumer device.
Therefore, this innovative platform provides an end-to-end solution as it serves all the elements of a VR 360 video chain: Capture, stitching (VideoStich), encoding live, VOD, encryption, streaming (Harmonic), secured player and 360 UI (Viaccess Orca).
The possibilities are endless, as the demonstration has caught the interest of leading content & service providers looking at new ways to deliver immersive content to their customers. A representative from Samsung who saw the demo remarked: “If this is what a live feed will look like, then this will be a breakthrough for live sports”.
The Viaccess Orca, Harmonic and VideoStitch solution will continue to participate in live trials in 2015.
Harmonic would like to thank the Viaccess Orca and VideoStitch teams for their active contribution to this endeavor.
-Thierry Fautier, VP, Video Strategy