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Samsung’s Gear VR – The Perfect “Second Screen” to Broadcast TV?

The announcement of Samsung’s Gear VR  opens up a whole new avenue that even Samsung may not have thought of yet – It’s a perfect second-screen for Broadcast Television and an OTT (over the top) content distribution platform. We aren’t talking on-demand OTT here, no! this device might be the perfect companion to ‘expand’ the TV canvas into a full 360 experience.

Typical scenarios could include:

  • The News in 360 

How would such a scenario play out? Imagine watching the evening news on CNN or the BBC. Now, as the editing desk cuts to an in-the-field report featuring live coverage, a small “immersive tv” bug imTvlogo-animblinks in the corner of the TV screen if there is also a 360 view available. At the live coverage end, such footage is captured by a one-shot parabolic mirror on any ENG Broadcast camera with the main camera captures the event in a traditional manner. Alternative 360 camera rigs can also be multicam Go-Pro based.

I’m not a fan of the current tech and methodology used in multicam rigs, because of stitching artefacts generated that have a greater chance of appearing in high action scenes and due to stitching overheads that might be encountered in a live broadcast environment. However, one caveat of using a parabolic mirror is the vertical field of view won’t be captured in full, from nadir to zenith.

Back home, in the living room, a person clicks the “red” button on the remote control, or a designated button on the Gear VR gamepad. He or she is then free to wear their Samsung Gear VR, and immerse themselves in the scene being streamed live, or explore a pre-recorded snippet which now gives the audience a chance at seeing the event play-out from a different perspective. This 360 stream can be synchronized to the live coverage.

Such look-around capability when given to the audience can make it hard to “stage” propaganda by governments and could expose biased news coverage. Such use of VR and VR eye-wear is Second Screen usage at it’s best.

Of-course immersion can be for fun and entertainment too. Other scenarios:

  • Concerts and events.
  • The Oscars and Music Awards.
  • Fashion shows.
  • Reality TV shows.
  • Formula 1 racing… and more.

Streaming Virtual Donuts:

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(image credit: Columbia.edu)

How would a complete 360 video be streamed without stitching it from multiple cameras? This is possible without any cumbersome on-site rendering gear, by using one-shot parabolic lenses, such as those developed much earlier than the current VR renaissance, by companies such as Remote Reality. I was lucky back in the year 2000, to have had access to two such lenses, donated by Remote Reality for experiments in live event streaming.

This video “donut” output if from the such a lens, much like Kogeto’s Dot for the iphone, but made of superior grade optics and for pro video cameras. Today, there are a few other makers of such one-shot lenses that fit VDSLRs and professional video cameras. The donut image shown above, is what gets sent by an in-the-field reporter, and in turn can be broadcast live, to finally be unwrapped on such smart-phones as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, which when slipped into the Gear VR case, allows total immersion!

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OTT 360: a new business opportunity for Smart TV manufacturers

Smart TV apps already stream content from internet video sites such as Youtube and others, via “widgets” that are factory installed by TV manufacturers. This has opened up a world of content and has re-defined TV programming. Gone are the days when what one watched was in the hands of gatekeepers; Broadcasters and Cable providers. If regular TV is boring, a simple flick of the remote gives access to tailored content in many genres… Fashion, Cooking, Documentary, Kids shows and of course… 3D!

With devices such as the Oculus Rift, and now Cell-phone powered ‘wireless’ virtual reality such as Samsungs’ Gear VR, there now exists a business opportunity for TV manufacturers…at least for the big fish; Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung. While tech savvy broadcasters already have dedicated cell-phone apps and services such as the BBC’s iPlayer, it isn’t hard to predict how Smart TV manufacturers will soon have portals that offer “Linear” video on demand, where movies and content plays the traditional passive way, and the consumer can choose to activate their second screens for a look-around 360 Cinematic VR experience – at a price, done thru a mobile payment gateway.

This would be a separate route from the already underway – Oculus Cinema and Oculus “Home” offerings.

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Trivia: Live capture and broadcast of look-around 360 is not new. As mentioned earlier, companies such as Remote Reality had one-shot 360 lenses and software to process and un-wrap the resulting ‘donut’ video with high efficiency as early as 1999-2000.

Remote Reality have since been recognized as pioneers in high end usage of Panoramic video. The above screen-grab is thanks to the Internet Archive’s Way back machine which had indexed and saved a website that listed some of my work and experiments in 360 interactive video (interactive: the resulting unwrapped panoramic video had clickable hotspots and trackable object capability).

While a parabolic mirror or multicam GoPro rig still offers mono or a 2D VR experience (I’m not convinced so many go-pros can be kept in sync even with their sync cable), check out this article on the possibility of easy stereoscopic capture for 360 VR with such cameras as the slim profile Ricoh Theta.