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OTOY Talks VR Live Streaming, 360 Degree Sports Broadcasting and More

It’s been a big week for Los Angeles-based cloud rendering company, OTOY. The company has recently announced OctaneVR, a new production tool for cinematic virtual reality (VR) that will allow content creators to produce high-quality 360 degree video for viewing on head-mounted displays (HMD). The system works in tandem with the company’s ORBX Media Player, destined to launch on Gear VR in the near future. ORBX itself will support OTOY’s own VR projects, including its ongoing work in live streaming sports such as hockey in VR.

VRFocus recently spoke to OTOY Founder and CEO Jules Urbach about its work in sports broadcasting, which is currently being filmed in partnership with the NHL. In the interview beloce, Urbach touches on the potential of live streamed sports broadcasting in VR. He also talks about the possibility of OTOY’s work expanding into other sports and areas and support for other HMDs.

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VRFocus: VR live streaming is thought to be a long way from being consumer-viable. How is it that you’re achieving it now?

Jules Urbach: Live-streamed VR is definitely consumer-viable today. We’ve brought on a world-class team to get this to work now. Our team includes Immersive Media and New Deal Studios and we’ve improved the process not just for live 360 HD VR streams, but we’ve enabled this for 6K. To that end, we filmed the game between the Kings and Sharks at 6K and we’re testing how that can be streamed live, initially to the Gear VR.

VRFocus: Is the fast action of a game like hockey easy to keep up with in VR or do HMDs themselves need to advance before it becomes accessible?

Jules Urbach: The quality of HMDs is great. It’s really down to the quality of the shoot. 60 frames per second is the absolute minimum that you’d want for a game like hockey, and that’s what we can live stream for the NHL game.  We’re moving towards 120 to 200 frames per second captures, which is something you’d be able to appreciate more on the higher-end PC VR devices coming out later this year and next. For the game we just did, the experience at 60 frames per second is really good. Executives from the NHL were watching the VR streams live and were thrilled, and if there’s any group who is going to be critical of how suitable VR is for hockey, it would be that group. Many people testing this out were using their Gear VR devices from their homes, several of them on the East Coast. They had really good experiences, even at 2K, which will only be augmented by the 6K resolution that we’re targeting for consumers.

We’re also enabling light field captures. We will do our first live test in a few weeks (following the prototype shoots which we have already started). We’ve been working very closely with Paul Debevec, one of the experts on light fields, to get a production-quality 8D Lightstage system in place.  Our production partners will be able to use this in the field for our shoots which will make the experience even better.

VRFocus: Despite this being a new concept, you’re not the only company delivering VR sports broadcasting. How does your tech compare to the likes of NextVR?

Jules Urbach: As far as I know there is no other company that delivers live light field streaming, or even working on the problems needed for reflectance field (8D light field) recording and streams. 8D light fields are going to be necessary for AR devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens.

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VRFocus: What do you think VR brings to sports broadcasting that makes it better than on standard screens?

Jules Urbach: Ultimately VR lets us experience sporting events in a way that we couldn’t before, even if we were there in person. For example, with the NHL game we just live streamed, there was a nice option to switch views if there was a play happening at the net.  If you looked down, the camera instantaneously switched your perspective to being above the goal so you could see the puck as it crossed the line. Beyond that, I think VR for sports is really going to come into its own with light field streams that allow you to see the action from any angle in a volume that is completely in your control. The result would be like a combination of Sim City and ultra-high resolution zooming. That’s something that will have a huge impact on events that are in a ring, like boxing or wrestling, but will also apply equally well to hockey, tennis and basketball. You won’t have to pick a camera angle. You’ll be able to look at the entire volume of a sporting event as you wish and zoom in and out if you’d like. That’s the holographic video experience we’re delivering.

VRFocus: You’ve mentioned support for Gear VR, will this be through the Milk VR app?

Jules Urbach: The NHL will make the call on where and how to bring this experience to fans. Ultimately we’re committed to delivering a stream that is viewable on many different players and any platform, even the web itself. The light field video stream format is open enough to be decoded in JavaScript and WebGL 2, so it’s something we imagine being easily embedded into many different platforms and apps. Milk VR could be one of them, but that’s up to the NHL.

VRFocus: How far does your agreement with the NHL extend? Will you be streaming more games in the near future?

Jules Urbach: We have a strong relationship with the NHL and are very enthusiastic about future work. There’s nothing we can share publicly at the moment though.

VRFocus: Are you looking to livestream any other sporting or live events in the near future?

Jules Urbach: Yes, stay tuned! We’ll have some more news to share very shortly.

VRFocus: Are you hoping to bring your work to the Oculus Rift and other HMDs?

Jules Urbach: Yes. As I mentioned, our goal is to support as many devices and platforms as possible. PC VR devices are definitely on that list, as are AR devices like the HoloLens.