Getting real with virtual


Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
Read ezine online

It's only February (or it is when I am typing this) but already we are suffering from exhibition overload. I did not go to Mobile World Congress, having no real desire to be mugged in Barcelona. But I did look in at BVE somewhere near London where a conversation with an exhibitor and old friend set me thinking. And perhaps wishing I was at Mobile World Congress.

One of the hot tech topics of the moment is virtual reality, the idea that you can put on a headset and immerse yourself in something completely different. It has been a dream €“ at least of geeks €“ for many years now, but with the launch of the Oculus Rift, at what we were told was going to be an affordable price, it seemed that we might finally be getting somewhere.

Well, the first issue is that the affordable price has already gone out of the window. Oculus Rift is $600 and the HTV Vive, its only real challenger, is $800. Not prices that will frighten the committed technophile, true, but not something that is going to build a mass market.

So if you do not want to pay that, then there are cheaper alternatives. LG has launched a lightweight pair of glasses which it says is like "watching a 130" TV from two metres away". Which is not really virtual reality. And because they are not enclosed goggles like the market leaders, the real world spills in which sort of ruins the illusion.

And at the bottom end of the market is Google Cardboard which is just that: a piece of folded cardboard which holds your smartphone just in front of your eyes. As the LG headset is also powered by an Android phone it suffers from the same problem: that there is not enough processing power in a phone to keep up with delivering two independent video windows with no lag.

But I am not sure that is where the real issue lies, and which brings me back to the conversation I had with someone who thought VR was going to be the next big thing. I am not sure I know what VR is for.

A few years ago Sir David Attenborough was the recipient of the IBC International Honour for Excellence, and I went to talk to him about it. At the time 3D was all the rage, and he had some sage things to say about it. And the prediction for the future was that it would be replaced by holographic videos which would leave the screen and perform in front of you, on your living room carpet.

He said something that I thought then and think now is the most insightful and telling way of analysing new technology. "Yes," he said, "you can make an animal come out of your television screen and stand on your coffee table. But how are you going to tell a story?"

That may have been a blinding statement of the bleeding obvious, but since that day I have approached all new technologies and developments with that key question. Will it help people tell stories? Because if not it is surely doomed.

That is particularly true with virtual reality and the idea that you shoot in 360š, leaving the viewer to explore the scene. That is great if you want to explore a scene €“ find out what a hotel bedroom is going to look like, for example.

But how do you use it to tell a story. Directors today know how to tell a story in film or video. They use light and shade, they use focus to draw our eyes to the key points of the action. How are we supposed to understand a story if we might have our backs to critical acts at critical times.

Yes, I am sure that directors will come up with ways to focus our attention, to ensure we are looking at the right place at the right time. It is only a development of the visual language, after all. But if directors are still having to use the tricks of the trade to keep us looking in the right place, then what is the point in shooting all the rest of it. If we need a 120š field of view to keep our minds on the action, then why waste the bandwidth on the other 240š?

And that is before we get to the other great imponderable. If we are shooting in the round, the full 360š, where does the crew stand? How do you hide the cables from the camera, not to mention the tripod it is standing on? How do you get a fluid, moving shot without seeing the Steadicam operator in the back of the field of view?

Whether you go for smeary, laggy pictures from your phone in a cardboard holder or less smeary, less laggy pictures in a very expensive Oculus Rift, how do you immerse yourself in a story?


Tags: iss111 | google cardboard | virtual reality | dick hobbs | Dick Hobbs.
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Related Interviews
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality support with the Arrow Fx7 from Miller at NAB 2017

    Virtual and Augmented Reality support with the Arrow Fx7 from Miller at NAB 2017

  • Sennheiser VR at IBC 2016

    Sennheiser VR at IBC 2016

  • Elemental Technologies VR at NAB 2016

    Elemental Technologies VR at NAB 2016


Related Shows
  • Dick Hobbs talks to Mark Harrison from the DPP

    Dick Hobbs talks to Mark Harrison from the DPP


Articles
The Future of Broadcast Technology
Sebastian Richter

Spotlight on Sebastian Richter, Vice President Media Systems at Rohde & Schwarz.

We are currently in the middle of a transition phase with migration to several new technologies, from the move to IP-based infrastructure and the shift from linear to video-on-demand (VOD).
The question for all of us is how long that transition phase will last; it is going to be faster for some customers then for others – national broadcasters, for example – it will be a slower process.

Tags: broadcast | 5g | 5g broadcast | rohde and schwarz | Sebastian Richter
Contributing Author Sebastian Richter Click to read
Spotlight on James Gilbert, Director of Product and Solution Management
James Gilbert

Over the next eight years we are going to be in transition, and within that there will be vastly different rates of change among content owners and media organisations. As a technology provider the onus is on us to be flexible and adaptable to meet this wide range of requirements from our customers.

Tags: | James Gilbert
Contributing Author James Gilbert Click to read
Spotlight on Karl Mehring, Director of Professional Services, Broadcast, Amplifier and Media
Karl Mehring

How has the role of Professional Services evolved in recent years and what vision do you have of the broadcast technology business? Covering new opportunities that the move to remote brings, new technologies such as 5G broadcast & the impact on the broadcast industry, and the challenges for broadcasters and how can they overcome them.

Tags: COTS | cloud | remote production | distribution | 5g broadcast | Karl Mehring
Contributing Author Karl Mehring Click to read
The Future of Broadcast Technology
Manfred Reitmeier

Now that OTT and VOD have become more mainstream, many commentators talk about traditional broadcast methods, like terrestrial transmission, being a thing of the past. With so many new platforms and non-traditional content services carving out a growing slice of the market, you can be forgiven for thinking that linear over-the-air television is on its way out. The reality is that the industry must strike a balance between meeting consumers’ shifting habits and the business and operational needs of content providers.

Tags: Rohde Schwarz | 5g broadcast | Manfred Reitmeier
Contributing Author Manfred Reitmeier Click to read
A switch in time: how KVM can unlock the future of broadcasting
Chris Smeeton

One of the major changes for broadcasters during the pandemic has been the shift towards remote production; by no means a new phenomenon in an IP environment, yet accelerated under lockdown to accommodate travel and gathering restrictions. A 2021 report found that almost 40% of broadcast professionals now employ remote production, up 9% on the previous year.

Tags: KVM | ARGOSY | GDSYS | KVM Tech | Chris Smeeton
Contributing Author Chris Smeeton Click to read