Sunday, 7 December 2014

Why Sky investigating VR is good for VR

According to Broadcast, following its £400k investment in Silicon Valley start-up Jaunt last year Sky plans to conduct immersive VR trials on up to 15 shows next year to discover more about the technology’s potential. This is a profoundly good thing. Stereo 3D might have crashed and burned in the marketplace but Sky did it better than anyone and its pedigree for investigating new tech is pretty exemplary.

Of course, it also has a pronounced commercial edge, but it does seem to be able to pull off the neat trick of being able to explore new tech without the shackles of having to demonstrate value to license payers, for instance, while also doing it well. Arguably one of the reasons stereo 3D failed was because there was so much awful content out there. Indeed, we have it on good authority that most of the stereo 3D content provided by ESPN to Sky as the result of various contra deals between the to companies actually broke most of Sky’s QC rules and, to European eyes, was close to unusable.

European eyes, you say? Yes, it does seem that there was a powerful Atlantic rift between the US deployment of the technology and the European, with pronounced differences in the way that convergence was treated at the heart of it. Whether that was down to personal taste in the upper echelons or whether it was down to the dominance of the Cameron | Pace group’s kit in the US market and the way that that tended to work as opposed to the (arguably superior) 3Ality Technica driven Europe is a bit of a moot point. Either ways, it wasn’t very good.

Just because you can make Avatar doesn’t mean you can capture a baseball game.

So, it’s good to know that Sky is taking a point position on VR, another paradigm leap with a whole new visual lexicon and capturing a range of genres from sports to LE and drama to test out the way it works. So far it seems, the results have been mixed, with one of the keys to success from the viewer’s point of view apparently resting in having a lot to look at. Visually busy comedy Trollied = good, Arcticly bleak drama Fortitude = bad. Having to build 360º sets to accommodate all this = expensive.

One of the interesting things that is cropping up too is that the audience needs plenty of audio cues to direct their gaze. Once the director no longer has complete control of the viewer’s perspective  they can wander all over the place and techniques such as reveals have to be engineered in a much more finessed way: grab their attention in one direction, sneak in an actor behind them, yell boo! etc.

For our money, this is a technology that has nature docos written all over it. Sport?  That might prove to be a bit too quick in the end, which given the normal pay-TV business plan might cause some problems. It might well go on to find a niche in the adult, one-handed audience too. But all the arguments about viewers being reluctant to wear glasses were only rehearsals for the derision that will be heaped upon VR headsets, not to mention the attendant lawsuits when little Jonny trips over the cat. But, even despite all there caveats, it will be genuinely fascinating to watch the trials as they progress.

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