AH Tech Talk: Like Everything Else, TV Is Going VR Soon

The virtual reality industry is seriously taking off as the amount of VR content skyrockets. If you want to strap on your Oculus Rift and do some PC gaming, you can. If you want to use a Google Cardboard set with your smartphone to take a tour of Buckingham Palace, that's also on the menu. Tons of indie content and more far-out uses for VR are available, as well. The writing on the wall is pointing to VR becoming one of the dominant entertainment channels of the near future, if not the absolute top player. When Google rolled out its humble recyclable headset, when Palmer Luckey took to the stage in 2014 and when HTC announced they were hedging their bets on their new Vive headset as their phone business began to stall, they were all playing their part in a burgeoning revolution.

Investors were fairly wise to the new trends making waves as well. Things like head-tracking technology and the mysterious Magic Leap startup were scoring tons of funding while bigger names were using their clout and money to run experiments, such as IBM's experiments with reproducing Sword Art Online, a Japanese anime centered around a virtual reality online game. The newest category of entertainment to start jumping on the bandwagon seems to be live television. Given the waves of cord-cutters looking for alternatives and cutting into traditional cable providers' revenues, it was inevitable that they would begin catering to that crowd. Filming something in a 360 degree, VR-friendly manner is far different from traditional filming and can prove much more difficult. This is where companies like NextVR and IM360 come in.

These companies have special equipment custom made for VR filming and people with the know-how to use said equipment. One of their biggest sources of income is to record shows and live events like concerts, sporting events and political events in a way that caters to the rapidly growing VR industry, predicted to be a $14.5 billion dollar beast by 2020, roughly 97 million users strong. While each company has different setups, the goal is the same; a crystal-clear, user-navigable view of what's going on. There are a number of challenges associated with VR filming, however, that traditional filming doesn't have to work with. One example is a recent democratic presidential debate shot by NextVR that was a bit blurry due to the cameras being too far away. According to NextVR, this was because of the way that CNN had their cameras set up; they weren't able to put their own cameras quite where they needed to be without CNN's cameras being able to clearly see them.

Traditional television as a format is not yet entirely VR-friendly. 180-degree sets, cameras that have to be in the action to get a clear shot and, at times, fourth wall breaking, all come together to make it quite difficult for VR equipment to replace traditional cameras and have VR-ready TV shows just like that. While a game show may be fine, with the viewer being able to check out the action on stage, the audience, or have a random glance at the rafters as they please, something like a sitcom, with a 180-degree set, may not be quite as immersive. One possible way to work around this limitation would be for specialized cameras to be placed creatively throughout the set, with users able to switch between feeds and perspectives at will. While this may not entirely alleviate the aforementioned issues, it would provide more immersion in some setups and would definitely be a great first step. Cable companies and broadcasters, likewise, are not yet completely willing to count traditional TV out, despite falling revenues. For the time being, VR TV is still in its infancy, but all signs are pointing to it becoming the main method of TV consumption in the near future, as VR gains a bigger foothold on entertainment in general.

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