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Real News in the Times of Virtual Reality

Real News in the Times of Virtual Reality

Broadcasters around the world are exploring augmented reality ranging from stand-alone storytelling experiences to immersive broadcasts, and behind the scene, tours to enhance the viewing experience.

HoloLens[1] defines augmented reality as an offshoot of virtual reality that allows computer-generated graphics to be inserted into a real environment. With Facebook acquiring Oculus Rift and Google investing over $500 million in Magic Leap in 2014, the interest in virtual reality has fueled further.

Broadcasters are using products like Vizrt, Chyron, Brainstorm Virtual Set, WASP3D, Pixelpower, and Orad to make news and storytelling more interesting. For example, Al Arabiya used floating virtual 3D models of the Capitol and White House over an outdoor space to cover U.S. 2016 elections. The Washington Post covered the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore in 2016 by creating an augmented reality story.

Pic Credit: BT Sports
Pic Credit: BT Sports

In a series of firsts, BT Sport made UEFA Champions League finals available in 360° virtual reality on TV and online, 4K UHD on YouTube, and 4K UHD with Dolby Atmos. In 2017, the New York Times produced “Life on Mars” – a 360 video series chronicling the lives of NASA astronauts living on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, which had a Mars-like condition.

NBC made VR replays, highlight packages, and 50 hours of live 360-degree video coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics available on a wide variety of devices via the NBC Sports VR app.

Pic Credit: BBC.CO.UK
Pic Credit: BBC.CO.UK

BBC experimented with traditional CGI-based VR, 360-video, and AR. Both ‘Easter Rising’ and ‘We Wait’ are fully interactive VR experiences, which makes the viewer participate in the action. BBC also has an app with a range of productions for 360-degree video.

UK-based Sky partnered with Jaunt – a white-label VR distribution platform to launch a smartphone VR app to offer 360-degree videos covering material from film, sport, and the arts. Sky also used AR for their marketing campaigns, where passers-by at London’s Waterloo Station could take photos with virtual characters like Spiderman and SpongeBob Squarepants.

All the examples above highlight the fact that VR is gradually becoming an integrated part of many newsrooms. With technological advancements and cheaper options like cardboard headsets, 360-videos is becoming more accessible to viewers.

However compelling it might be, media brands are still holding off from making substantial investments in VR because of the following reasons:

  • Producers are still figuring out ‘what works for VR.’ Though news VR has expanded beyond documentary, there is still not enough content to drive the audience.
  • News VR is still not immersive. Viewable on mobile or a browser, consumers do not get the immersive experience that comes with a high-end headset.
  • Though some broadcasters are partnering with organizations like Samsung and Google for VR operations, monetization is still a challenge. News broadcasters are yet to figure out a way to earn revenue out of the technology.

The news industry needs to work together to deliver on the promise of VR. Though what lies ahead is still not clear, the future of VR in news broadcast looks promising.

[1] https://www.ibc.org/consumption/virtual-reality-and-augmented-reality-in-broadcasting-/2807.article

Cultural institutions preserving heritage in digitization era

Cultural institutions preserving heritage in digitization era

Culture forms the backbone of each place and its people are identified by their cultural uniqueness. Some great thinkers started preserving it over the time to keep it alive even after thousands and thousands of years.

Today, each country or community has so much heritage of such great value, it is unimaginable. There is audiovisual history, artifacts, material objects, paper preserves, books and the list of items goes on. This heritage is only adding up with each passing day. Museums, libraries, galleries, cultural institutions are full of priceless content.

When it all started off, no one must have ever thought of the challenges humankind will face to take care of them and keep them alive for generations and generations to come. But slowly and gradually, these institutions started facing issues as far as the quality of these preserves was concerned. With changing times and depleting environmental conditions, it became very difficult to upkeep with the quality of each heritage. The need to secure these valuables became such a worrisome issue and needed a permanent and a highly durable solution to it.

WORLD OF DIGITIZATION AND ITS CHALLENGES

A lot of research went into it and Digitization provided the one-stop solution to all problems these institutions were facing. It brought new life to the ever-diminishing rich cultural heritage of our very existence. But it was just a start. With the onset of digitization journey, cropped up, many challenges.

What to Digitize & How to Store

Not everything could be digitized or preserved. There were various forms in which our history existed and that too in varied conditions. Selecting a thing which was possible to revive and then deciding on how to preserve it became the first and foremost task of digitization specialists. The content had to be selective, holds significance with the motive of preservation and be in a revival condition.

Another concern for the custodians of these historical assets is storing the items once a digital copy has been created. It is a speculated decision of investing resources to store old physical items, such as obsolete audio-video material, or frail paper items or let them go after they have been archived digitally.

The Copyright Issue

Another major issue which affected many digitization projects was The Copyright Issue which had to go through a lot of clearances. In such cases, there was the high risk of content being frail or sub judice. Google Books Library Project is a well-known example for when it started digitizing books of US libraries in 2002, never had they thought what lay ahead. In 2005, members of Association of American Publishers and Authors’ Guild brought proceedings of copyright infringement against Google. It was only after a long battle that in late 2013, Google’s activities were protected as fair use.

Money Matters

Cost is another major issue. Any digitization project – audio, video, or manuscript etc. – involves a huge investment in terms of technology and highly skilled manpower. A fair amount of budget needs to be allocated which depends largely on the content, in its present analog form and how will it be converted digitally. Initially, the main purpose to digitize content was to create a repository. Further commercial use was not something high on agenda. But, over the period of time, its future viability became a major deciding factor before undertaking any project.

SOME OF THE SUCCESSFUL DIGITIZATION PROJECTS

Overcoming all hindrances and obstacles, many digitization projects were undertaken and accomplished the feat.

To name a few, The Star East Asian Library at Columbia University holds a unique collection of over 200 Chinese “paper gods” which were conserved and digitized.

Digitizing history of Australian Museum and South Australian Museum in 2010 is another example wherein digitizing workstations were built to reduce cost and increase productivity. They also enjoyed the luxury of increased budgets from time to time seeing the outcome.

In 2015, a major digitization project was undertaken by University of Michigan Biological Collections to digitize close to 50,000 natural history specimens.

Many libraries namely Library of Congress, The British Library, Australian Islamic Library, South Carolina State Library, German National Library of Medicine, National Library of Indonesia, National Library of Whales are few of the names who have successfully preserved their rich heritage. Furthermore, world-class universities also went the digital way to not only preserve their assets but also made them available for references.

THE IMPACT & ROAD AHEAD

Consistent and sustainable efforts showed positive results and slowly and gradually, all institutions started adopting digitization or digital archiving to save and preserve their assets. Now, it has become a worldwide phenomenon and every place, big or small, has adopted technology to give a new life to their collection.

It is even envisaged that in years to come, the word ‘Digital’ would have no meaning of its own. It would actually mean ‘Default’. Digital libraries and repositories have helped our cultural organizations in not only preserving the vast history but has also aided in its accessibility to a wider audience thus by satisfying its commercial viability as well.

Digitization seems to be the need of present and future to preserve our glory and pass it on to our coming generations for them to understand their roots, their forefathers’ journey of life and evolvement of the human brain. It helps in beautifully integrating the past into the present and together advance towards the future.