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NAB Show 2018: VR Takes Back Seat To Plan For Better Future

by David Mercer | Apr 11, 2018

VR headsets are not entirely absent from this year’s NAB show floor, and major vendors like Harmonic and Intel continue to promote VR technologies, if only in tucked-away corners of their stands. During panel sessions presented by the VR Industry Forum there was optimism that the arrival of VR specification standards would encourage further and faster market development.

Major broadcasters like Sky have been building libraries of 360 content in recent years. Sky now has 10 people in its Sky VR Studios group and has created 73 pieces of 360 content so far. Productions such as “Rebel Queen”, an interactive presentation of Tuthankhamun’s tomb, demonstrate how sophisticated the leading VR productions have become, and experiments such as allowing the boxer Anthony Joshua to “fight himself” using a VR headset give some idea of where VR could take the entertainment industry in years to come.

In spite of this progress, frustration was evident in slow consumer adoption of headsets which would allow full appreciation of this content. According to Sky, the vast majority of 360 video is consumed on flat screens, not headsets, and Intel Sports’ Shaun Carrigan made it clear that cardboard headsets and even Gear VR were not offering consumers the experiences Intel was trying to deliver. Intel has ambitious plans to enhance sports coverage with its Intel True View technology, surrounding playing areas with many cameras and allowing producers to create virtual skycams from any position or to model the viewpoint from any point or indeed player. Such technologies will surely be encouraged sooner or later by leading sports rights holders in order to drive the value of sports even higher, but the rate of development will be limited if consumer technology adoption does not keep up.

There seems little doubt that VR technology will continue to move forward rapidly, allowing experiences to be considerably improved. Higher resolution displays are on the horizon (Japan’s NHK is showing the world’s smallest 8k OLED displays in a VR demo), and volumetric capture and even light field capture technologies may eventually bring step changes in the VR experience. But not every part of the workflow is able to move at the same rate; very few 8k tools are available today even if displays begin to arrive. Realistically it seems that we will have to wait until the early part of the next decade before VR entertainment experiences can be delivered to the quality which many in the broadcast industry would like to see.

David Mercer

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