Sky is a company that has always been willing to put its brand on technologies that it thinks consumers will adopt in droves. While its success in the past has been varied, such as its failure with Sky 3D, this time around Sky is hoping that VR finally catches on.
Launching exclusively on Facebook’s 360° video platform, the content will be available to those who own either Samsung’s Gear VR or Facebook’s Oculus Rift.
Like 3D virtual reality as a technology isn’t all that new. In fact, before the 1950s, when early virtual reality experiences truly began, virtual reality as a concept was pretty much everywhere in the works of science fiction.
In the 90s the technology took off; it was inescapable. Several publications were launched to dedicate themselves to this fascinating new technology and everyone from Sega to Nintendo has a VR headset designed for the masses.
Back then though the technology was expensive and uncomfortable for long-use. It was also not that impressive due to the low resolution screens, their inability to reproduce colours and some didn’t even allow tracking.
Fast forward to 2016 and it’s looking like we’re entering a new golden age for virtual reality; almost every big company is either working on a headset or rumoured to be working on something related to VR or AR and there is even a whole new wave of VR cameras and VR content.
Sky is the latest company to add to the increasing amount of content available in VR; in fact, the company has set-up a studio dedicated to the format, aptly named Sky VR Studio.
Until very recently recording VR footage has meant rigging together an array of GoPro or Red cameras, Sky will be using state-of-the-art equipment from Jaunt to film its VR content however. The Jaunt camera uses 24 custom-built lenses to record high-quality 360° 3D video.
Sky’s goal is to have a variety of content available in virtual reality this year; including footage of Formula One, a unique perspective on heavyweight boxing, taking viewers inside the ring as Anthony Joshua bids for a world title, a range of news, arts and entertainment programming and even the Tour De France.
It’s not the first time the company has toiled with VR however. In 2013, the company invested in Jaunt. Since then, Sky has been carrying out testing across a range of events. Already, the Sky News team has produced 360° videos, taking viewers to the centre of the migrant crisis with footage from the refugee landing beach in Lesbos and the refugee camp in Calais. Sky Movies also trialled the technology at the recent premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, giving a unique view of the red carpet.
Sky has already committed to “producing more than 20 individual films, across a unique range of Sky content,” in 2016 alone.
It is not alone however. While Sky is one of Jaunt’s investors, it’s not the company’s biggest. In fact, that honour goes to Disney, which was one of the lead investors in a recent $66m Series C round of funding.
It’s clear that Disney has many use-cases where it will see VR footage being used – including in its theme parks, movies and even on ABC, its U.S. broadcast network.
Don’t expect to see a Disney VR movie in cinemas any time soon however. “I do expect people to start doing more and more in VR and eventually people will be doing feature-length entertainment,” Jen Christensen, Vaunt’s CEO, said in an interview with Fast Company. “Right now, with the state of the devices, I don’t think people will want to wear [bulky headsets] for two-hour features. They need to get a lot lighter.”
Hardcore Henry and Gravity, two films that are filmed through the eyes of the actor, are just two examples of how feature-length content could be created especially for VR – but even then, is it needed? Probably not. VR doesn’t always add something to the storytelling of the film and it can be just as engaging to be locked into the position the actor is looking in, rather than being distracted by everything that is going on around it.
VR doesn’t only have to be through headsets though, or at least that’s the way Disney sees it. In its theme parks Disney is creating experiences that completely envelope the user using gigantic displays and head tracking to enable 2D images to appear 3D, a technology used in Amazon’s Fire Phone called ‘dynamic perspective’.
Microsoft is also testing similar technologies – its IllumiRoom concept expands the TV screen using projectors to create a completely immersive experience that, while not as immersive as VR, can mimic many of the same effects.
So will the future of broadcast be in VR? Will we all want to don VR headsets to watch the latest interview with Michelle Obama or the 27th instalment of Fast and Furious? I doubt it. While VR has a bright future and will likely live on longer than 3D, it’s unlikely that users will give up their big TVs and Dolby Atmos systems just yet.