The Challenges and Opportunities of VR Streaming
Dacast is pleased to introduce Eduardo Yeh, co-founder of Selvz, who is going to share with us the challenges and opportunities of VR streaming.
Every time a new technology comes around, the possibilities it presents are astounding. Take for instance the recent rise of virtual streaming. Now, who wouldn’t have wanted to sit in the cockpit of an F-16 and press forward in a dog fight? Or, stand on another planet? Vr streaming has suddenly allowed us to relive our childhood fantasies, which is probably why it is so exciting! However, even though VR startups are receiving a good amount of investment, is the technology here to stay? or will it go the way of 3D TV?
The fact of the matter is that VR is not 3D, it is so much more! While 3D is a natural fit for VR, every other video format out there can also be viewed within it. This is what makes VR such an exciting new development. Let’s take a look at some of the most persisting misconceptions of VR are. Then we will see how technology is paving the way to consume information like we never thought possible…
Misconceptions about VR and Video
Today, we can easily say that video is the king of content. No marketing strategy is complete without it. Not surprising, given that video generates 1200% more shares than text and images. Embedded videos on a website can increase traffic by 55% and, simply mentioning the word video in email subject lines can increase open rates by 13%.
So, when a new method of consuming video content (i.e. VR) came around, it was bound to generate both questions and assumptions. To most people, VR is limited to 360 videos where they can look around with some sense of depth. After all, you can only consume 360 content if you have a smartphone paired with Google Cardboard like VR-viewers. This “myth” was fueled by the fact that most platforms have not made regular video content available in their VR mode. Although Youtube made a good effort with their VR app by enabling regular videos to be played in their VR player, the technology is capable of much, much more.
In point of fact, we can stream the full gamut of current videos, 2D, 3D, 180, 360 monoscopic, stereoscopic, either live or on-demand within a virtual environment such that a viewer can consume all of them seamlessly without needing to take the headset off.
Multi-format VR media players such as those Selvz has been developing can totally immerse viewers in a virtual environment they can interact with. Think of it as having your own private cinema hall (or living room/lounge) where you can play any video you like in a setting that you like. The concept is a little hard to envision using only words, here’s a video presentation showing how Selvz VR player can work…
Another good example is Sliver.TV a platform that allows users to record, view and stream eSport games inside their VR player. Content can either be 360 or regular 2D videos. While there are quite a few VR players out there, most of them are designed for end consumers and are limited in functionality/interactivity.
Companies can also greatly benefit from having their own multi-format players by creating customized environments that not only deliver their branded content but can set the mood as well.
The Challenges of VR Streaming
While the prospects that VR brings with it are no doubt fascinating (and long overdue), there are significant hurdles that we need to overcome. VR streaming faces hurdles on two fronts…
Even though VR content is becoming increasingly available thanks to falling hardware costs and lowered entry barriers, the proper infrastructure required to distribute it is still lacking. Most people who try a 360 video today often complain about their grainy, pixelated nature and experience nausea or disorientation. This is an inherent limitation of today’s hardware.
In a VR HMD, 360 content is split into two images, each of which is displayed to one eye. So, a 1080p video is essentially seen as 640p per eye. Each image is stretched over 360 degrees horizontally and 180 degrees vertically but a typical VR HMD can only display 90 degrees at any given time. Therefore a viewer will effectively be seeing the video at a much lower resolution even though it’s “HD quality.”
To achieve better content quality, we need a far higher base resolution. In fact, 4K will only be the starting point here and we should be looking at 8K to achieve reasonably good content. Now, obviously this presents us with bandwidth problems. A 10-minute 4K video can be as large as 1GB, in which case users would be blowing through their broadband data caps way sooner than they expected should they start streaming 4K content today. All to watch a video that will effectively be around 720p!
VR motion sickness is still prevalent due to varying degrees of sensitivity to a simulated environment. Part of the reason why this happens is that viewers often have to keep taking their headsets off in order to interact with controls, change video or watch a different video. The problem has been resolved in 360 streaming at least, where filmmakers have solved it by placing a static 360 camera within the scene, and by streaming all kinds of content – 2D, 3D and 360 to a single “VR player,” more on this later.
Essentially, VR streaming is today where video was 20 years ago. Think back to 1995, when a top of the line computer featured a 66 Mhz processor and 8 MB of RAM. Also, the fastest internet connection available worked over a telephone line and operated at a whopping 28.8 Kbps. Now, imagine what it would be like to watch a regular 1080p Youtube video over such a setup.
As each VR image is split into two streams (one for each eye), the demands on internet bandwidth increase exponentially. Even a minimal level 360 experience will require at the very least a 25 Mbps line. Streaming HD level content on VR can need as much as 80 to 100 Mbps of throughput, while for Retina-quality, we are looking at something closer to 600 Mbps data lines.
The average broadband speed in the USA is around 50 Mbps as of now, so things are looking up. Gigabit range (1 Gbps and up) broadband services are also beginning to crop up. AT&T, for instance, are installing their Gigapower 1 Gbps lines in 100 US cities, while Google is providing its Google Fiber Gigabit internet service to 9 US cities.
VR HMDs are still a novelty that has found a niche in gamers but are out of reach for most people. The high cost of dedicated HMDs such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and the rig required to power them coupled with the lack of content means that they aren’t getting the traction their developers hoped for. Not surprisingly though, mobile-powered HMDs are driving mass-market adoption thanks to their adaptability and low cost with Samsung’s GearVR at the forefront.
But things are definitely picking up. A range of new developers is stepping into the VR game. Acer and HP have recently released $300 VR headsets that can work with Windows. Likewise, Levono, HTC, and Facebook have announced all-in-one HMD versions priced at around $200 that will be available next year.
Big Risks, Big Rewards!
While VR streaming no doubt faces significant challenges ahead, the opportunities that it presents are greater still. For instance, one of the many reasons why progress is slow is because robust monetization strategies are yet to emerge. But the writing’s on the wall.
VR development is a natural fit for the way branded experiences are evolving today. Content marketing has proven to be a winning strategy primarily because it gets past banner blindness by using storytelling that reaches deeper into a company’s vision and knowledge. VR streaming can prove itself to be very useful as it can put the viewer right in the middle of the experience or story, which is something any present medium cannot.
Ariel Shimoni, head of VR advertising development at Startapp explains in an interview why advertising in VR should be taken more seriously…
“Advertisers are slowly learning the potential of the strength of a brand’s message using VR. Until now. Whether you were on mobile or on TV or desktop, there has been that boundary between you and the message. But, when you enter VR, you tap into real emotion, and for marketers and advertisers, that has always been the thing that they’ve been looking for. To create that emotion when someone comes in contact with the message the brand is trying to send is very powerful.”
A few business use cases are already beginning to emerge. VR Apps can be put as pay to play downloads to online stores such as Steam, Google Play, iStore or Oculus store. Or, the apps can be treated as “freemiums,” where it is given away for free. Then it is monetized through in-app purchases or upgrades.
There are also a few monetizations uses cases where VR streaming can prove to be a real winner. For instance, you can distribute real-time events such as sports (NBA, MLB, boxing) to VR viewers at a price.
Hollywood is busy exploring VR, too. Paranormal Activity is one of the first franchises to have used VR to its advantage. IMAX has tied up with Starbreeze that makes ultra-high FOV (210 degrees diagonal) and high definition headsets. You will be able to use these headsets to watch 10 minute long VR films for $7 and $10.
On the movie distribution front, Selvz helped the producers of the film The Recall, featuring Wesley Snipes (Blade, Demolition Man) and RJ Mitte (Breaking Bad), to distribute and monetize their film in multi-format VR streaming experience. Unlike traditional distribution models where consumers need to choose between…
- Purchase and Watch 2D, 3D, IMAX or Barco Escape versions at Movie Theaters (at venue).
- Purchase and Watch the 2D movie version on iTunes, Play, Amazon Video, Netflix (on devices).
- Wait and Watch the 2D movie version on TV (through cable networks).
- Purchase and Watch the VR movie version on VR HMDs (on desktop/mobile).
Selvz VR OTT solution enables producers to offer all the options (2D, 3D, IMAX, Barco Escape, 360, VR) in just one bundle that can be consumed within the VR Movie App that is customized to their specifications. Once the customer puts on the headset, all formats of content can be enjoyed without the inconvenience of having to take the HMD off.
Beyond entertainment, we can already acknowledge the utility of VR in education and training. Schools are increasingly making use of videos to educate students. A natural extension here can be VR streaming. For instance, Altspace, AlchemyVR, and Universiv are producing top-quality educational content for schools.
Since VR is all about creating a more personal experience, its value should already be readily apparent to brands. It’s no big news that interruptive marketing is on its way out. Indeed, people are more banner blind than ever before. Not that it’s a new development (who liked sitting through ads, anyways). With VR streaming, companies can create lasting connections by imparting experiences rather than trying to sell. We are already beginning to see how powerful such an approach can be.
Project Water is a charity that helps bring clean water to villages in Africa. They raised $2.4 million with a 360 video showing a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl getting fresh water for the first time. Likewise, UNICEF commissioned a 360 film called “Clouds over Sidra”. This video showed the story of a 12-year-old Syrian girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The documentary inspired one in six persons who watched the documentary to donate. Examples such as these make it clear that people act when they feel. The average response rate to direct marketing is often less than 1%. With VR, it can go as high as 15% even with a soft sell.
Probably the biggest problem with VR streaming is its inaccessibility at the moment. As the saying goes – there are two types of people. The first type of people is those who think VR will change the world. The second type of people is those who haven’t tried it. The experience itself is hard (if not impossible) to convey in words. Advancements in VR streaming technologies along with improving network topologies will drive greater adoption. As a consequence, that will inspire more content creators to add VR to their inventory. The future belongs to brands that are willing to make the first move. This includes turning VR into a decisive competitive advantage!
More information on Eduardo Yeh
Eduardo Yeh was co-founder/President of iPing, Inc., and co-inventor of Integrated, interactive telephone and computer network communications system, which served as the basis for iPing’s time-sensitive notification platform. iPing pioneered the ubiquitous notification/messaging services by marrying the Internet with PSTN. It’s a highly publicized product that aimed to “humanize” notification, Mr.Wakeup.com drove the success of iPing, culminating with its acquisition by eCal Corporation. In 2011, Eduardo co-founded his current startup, Selvz.