VR – More Than Just A Headset

“Virtual Reality is currently climbing the hype cycle. There are daily stories about the funding and star-power behind a new VR experience; or the VR content development plans of an internet company, VR equipment start-up, gaming house or production studio.” I didn’t say that, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) said it in the introduction to the upcoming Virtual Reality Summit to take place at the NAB Show in the afternoon of Wednesday, April 20th.

The NAB has gone far beyond what was traditionally viewed as “broadcasting” and NAB member companies have their hand in virtually every form of large scale electronic content distribution. The involvement is not just distribution, it is at all levels from content creation to content consumption.

NAB Lifecycle Wave 2016NAB’s Lifecycle Wave for content

Not only is “Broadcasting” slightly off the mark for the NAB, “National” is as well. For the upcoming NAB Show to be held in Las Vegas April 16 – 21, they expect 697 exhibitors and nearly 27,000 attendees from 166 countries outside the US, compared to an expected total of 103,000 attendees and 1,700+ exhibitors. First-time delegations from Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe are expected to be there.

Philip LelyveldPhilip Lelyveld from the ETC at USC

For VR to go from hype to mass market, the member companies of the NAB will have to be involved eventually. The VR Summit is just one sign of this involvement. The half day program includes an introduction to VR by Philip Lelyveld, who runs the VR/AR Initiative at the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at USC, a think tank within the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

The ETC was founded with the help of George Lucas in 1993 and currently provides a neutral setting that “helps drive collaborative projects among its member companies and engages with next generation consumers to understand the impact of emerging technology on all aspects of the entertainment industry.” Mr. Lelyveld is a good person to break through the hype of VR to reach the reality of VR – he doesn’t have a PhD from the MIT Media lab and he isn’t a kid out of a VR startup. Instead, he has a MBA from UCLA and many years experience with the business aspects of advanced media, including 10 years with Disney.

Following Mr. Lelyveld’s presentation, there will be three panel sessions, “Live Streaming Virtual Reality,” “The Business of Virtual Reality” and “Virtual Reality Audio.” While there is at least one representative from a VR startup in each session, most of the panelists are more like Michael Davies, Sr. VP of Field and Technical Operations at Fox Sports Media Group, a panelist in the Streaming session or Scott Lenet, a venture capitalist since 1992 and currently President of Touchdown VC, a panelist in the business session.

The VR Summit isn’t the only NAB VR event. For example, Kaleidoscope will produce a Virtual Reality Showcase. Realistically, most NAB attendees are not VR people and many of them have never even experienced VR. For VR to go from hype to a mass market, the members of the broadcast community need to know about VR. And not just in the academic sense as represented by the VR Summit. They need to actually experience VR so they can know both it’s advantages and limitations compared to other media forms they are more familiar with. Can you imagine a Hollywood studio executive who’d never seen a movie? I can’t.

Kaleidoscope aboutUs banner 003 resizeVR Content Development at Kaleidoscope

The Kaleidoscope VR Showcase at NAB Show will feature groundbreaking virtual reality films and immersive experiences which hail from North America, Europe, South America and beyond. For the first time, NAB Show attendees will have the opportunity to travel to virtual worlds and experience the most innovative narrative, environmental and interactive content.

“With the rapid evolution of media and entertainment, it’s clear that virtual reality will play a prominent role in the future of film and broadcasting,” said Chris Brown, NAB Executive VP of Conventions and Business Operations. “Kaleidoscope will be a major highlight of our virtual reality educational programming – we can’t wait to see what this next generation of artists brings to the NAB Show floor.”

The VR Showcase will part of the Virtual & Augmented Reality Pavilion in the LVCC North Hall. In addition to the Showcase, the Pavilion with have at least 22 featured exhibitors and has Platinum sponsors Technicolor and G-Technology. G-Technology is a video capture and storage company and there is little hint of VR on their website except the teaser on their home page “Come See What We Are Unveiling at NAB Booth SL6005.” They also supplied Kaleidoscope with storage for its VR World Tour, sort of a moving VR Showcase whose next two stops are Tokyo and Melbourne. As a platinum sponsor of the VR & AR pavilion, I wouldn’t be surprised if the G-Technology teaser is VR related.

Other companies not directly associated with VR will be showing off their VR capabilities at NAB. For example, Anvato (booth #SU9506CM) will showcase 360 Degree Video, a new cloud workflow and other product enhancements at NAB (Booth #SU9506CM). Anvato products will also be shown at its partner booths, which includes Grass Valley (Booth #SL106). As an OTT end-to-end cloud service provider, they will provide “Support for 360 degree video where content creators can take advantage of massively parallel video processing, enabling rapid delivery of files that support this new, growing immersive video offering. This stunning video experience is now possible with no additional resources, special workflows or solutions, as part of Anvato’s MCP [Media Content Platform] solution.”

So it goes. I haven’t covered all the official VR events at NAB, let alone all the companies that will be presenting new VR or AR hardware or software tools at NAB. On the other hand, at the NAB VR Summit, there is an introduction to what VR is. Compare this to Insight Media’s Display Summit at InfoComm in June. No need to tell Display Summit attendees what a “Display” is. VR and AR have a long way to go before they reach that level of maturity. A long, long way to go. –Matthew Brennesholtz