Interest in virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 video is growing fast, spurred on by hit video games like Pokémon Go! and fanatical sports fans keen to get even closer to the action. A report published this month by analyst firm Ovum predicts that VR video revenues will reach $8.2 billion (£6.6 billion) by 2020. Currently headsets are the main driver in this sector thanks to large levels of financial investment from venture capital firms, with Magic Leap ($4.5 billion), Oculus Rift ($2 billion) and Mindmaze ($1 billion) leading the charge. Once VR becomes accessible to a wider global audience – delivering the highest quality video and the most immersive experience possible on current devices and existing networks – we can then expect a spike in consumer uptake.
However, immersive 360-video and VR experiences demand high resolutions to optimize consumer engagement and avoid the pixelated experiences demonstrated to date. Today, 4K is already stated as the minimum requirement for 360-video and VR. However, high bandwidth requirements and the latest generation of devices have restricted VR/360-video adoption over fixed and even more so over mobile networks.
We believe that three primary elements need to be refined to unlock the mass adoption of VR and 360-video:
- Picture quality: Consumers are starting to receive 4K content in their homes, leading to more engaging and greater visual quality. 360-video and VR sets display part of the picture at any one time so services need to offer at least 4K resolutions to ensure that they offer a realistic and immersive experience to consumers, who are viewing it on screens already capable of HD resolutions and more. Solutions are becoming available in the market and we are already experimenting with 8K, 12K and even 16K resolutions. Producers are already looking at using 24 cameras to produce content for highly immersive VR experiences. Without high quality, VR lacks life-like details and loses the core of its market proposition – its capacity to engage deeply with the consumer.
- Device support: To become widely adopted for media service delivery, VR needs to move away from big wired headsets to a more seamless experience. We need to be able to leverage existing devices such as smartphones, connecting them wirelessly and enabling consumers to access content conveniently in the home and on the go. Smartphones have the great advantage of being ubiquitous TV consumption devices, enabling consumers to access content in any format, from 2D to 360 and VR. A fan may opt to wear a headset for a few minutes to engage with pre-match activity ahead of a big sports game or to enjoy the atmosphere in 360-video before beaming the match in 4K to a large TV set.
- Affordability: VR and 360-video need to enhance existing programs through short, high value content at a reasonable fee; without impacting mobile data bundles, ISP contracts, or excessive consumer investment in new playback devices. For instance, sports fans might want to take advantage of the opportunity to have unprecedented access to their favourite team’s dressing room, with the possibility of listening to the head coach’s pre-match motivational team-talk. Music fans might enjoy the chance to immerse themselves in backstage proceedings, such as a favourite band member going through their final superstitions and rituals ahead of the concert’s official broadcast on TV or via an Over-The-Top (OTT) service. All of this needs to be provided without consumers having to invest in new and expensive playback devices, while also avoiding impacting the data bundles limit of mobile and ISP contracts – and all for a reasonable fee!
The need for better video encoding lies at the heart of these three challenges. To ensure that truly immersive 360-video and VR experiences can be successful at scale and consumed by the majority of the population, operators need to deploy solutions that leverage their existing infrastructure and ecosystem of current devices. The goal is to deliver the VR experience that consumers want, one that is of high quality, convenient and affordable. By using more effective video compression, operators and TV/VR service providers can offer better quality at the same cost, leveraging the existing infrastructure, including consumers’ smartphones and standard 4G or Wi-Fi connectivity. By reducing bitrates for UHD resolution video to below 5Mbps, the market reach can expand tenfold. By doing this, the VR and 360-video industry will offer the immersive experiences that consumers crave, making its offerings truly relevant for a mass-market audience.
Written by Fabio Murra – SVP, Marketing at V-Nova