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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