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TECHNOLOGY Keeping it real With Sky buying into an immersive video start-up, and the BBC trialling content on an Oculus Rift headset, virtual reality could be about to move from simply sets and studios to a whole new realm. by Will Strauss O nce residing purely in the realms of science fiction and, latterly, video gaming, it appears that virtual reality (VR) is about to become something a bit more mainstream. Well, that is if you believe everything you see and hear. Which, of course, you have to if you want VR to work (if you see what I mean). VR has been around since the 1950s in various forms. And we’ve had virtual studios and virtual sets in TV for some time. For many years though, the UK broadcasters ignored them. Where studios space was big enough, they were not relevant. Where space was not, and virtual sets were deployed, the production values were not high enough or the set up costs were unjustifiable. Despite ITV’s ‘Theatre of News’ being nominated for an RTS Craft Innovation award in 2004, that attitude only changed in the last five years or so when improved computer processing power and better camera tracking technology allowed for decent looking virtual sets. There are now several good examples of virtual sets working well. Vizrt worked with Sky Sports on its Monday Night Football (MNF) set, used for the first time last season. It did exactly what it was supposed to do: give the illusion of there being a much larger physical set in the studio than there really was. At the same time it also successfully allowed virtual studio graphics to sit happily alongside - and be visually indistinguishable from - the physical-set elements. To make it work required graphical rendering that was photo-real and highly accurate tracking for cameras moves. As a viewer, you cannot see the joins. BBC News has had similar success with virtual sets on its election coverage. In May, for the local and European elections, Studio D at Elstree Studios was transformed thanks to the VR tracking system, MoSys Star Tracker, deployed by BBC Studios and Post Production. Attached to several studio cameras, including one on a crane, it used an upward looking camera that tracked markers on the studio’s grid and sent positional information to a computer to render the correct viewpoint. Working this way allowed presenter Jeremy Vine to be “virtually immersed” in graphics and up-to-the-minute statistics, and to move freely around the green screen environment without affecting the position of the virtual graphs and charts. 38 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 92 AUGUST 2014 TV-BAY092AUG14.indd 38 08/08/2014 15:28