NAB 2016: NextVR Gets VR Moving With New Production Truck
Virtual reality in all of its forms had a big presence at NAB 2016, although much of the talk seemed to be more about its potential than about the reality of its current place in the market (which may be fitting given that it is virtual).
One of the few places where a VR roadmap was actually made available was in the outside exhibits area, where NextVR’s new mobile production unit, dedicated to VR content creation, was on display at the Gerling & Associates booth. NextVR is more than serious about VR, with plans for one event to be done each week and growth to two or three events per week sooner rather than later.
“We still have flight packs [that can be scaled up or down] for production, and we will continue to use those, but the truck is an opportunity to learn and grow and build VR on a broadcast foundation,” says DJ Roller, co-founder, NextVR. “You can plug it right in, and the time saving of being able to pull it up and go saves time and is a big leap forward for the market.”
The new VR truck goes hand-in-hand with the construction of a new transmission-operations center in Southern California. Right now, according to co-founder David Cole, NextVR submits content directly to a content-delivery network from the site of the event.
“Once the transmission center is operational, we can move to a contribution model,” he explains. “Our outbound signal to the end user is really complex.”
For example, the signal needs to be treated differently depending on the bitrate, the viewing device, and/or conditions and other factors. The transmission center will be a big step forward in ensuring that the signal is optimized for each user’s VR experience. Ultimately, the goal is to do one thing: create a consistent and high-quality experience.
“We started this six years ago, and quality really does matter,” says Roller. “It’s an exciting new space, and we are front and center in the new medium. But a lot of people are not pushing for the highest quality but rather for a quick VR ‘wow,’ and that lower-quality content is not sustainable.”
Cole agrees, adding that bad content can be toxic for everyone involved in VR, especially those who are working in live action capture.
“The cream will rise to the top,” he says. “As long as we keep our end of the bargain and have a high-end experience, people will keep coming back and want to know when the next show is.”
The truck, ultimately, provides a test bed for content creation, and a step inside makes it clear that audio will be a big part of getting VR right: there is a dedicated high-end mixing console.
Ryan Sheridan, SVP, imaging and production technologies, NextVR, describes it: “This truck is one-third audio, one-third production, and one-third data center.”
Audio gets equal billing with video production and with data because virtual reality demands a higher level of audio production and mixing.
“We knew audio was going to be important, because the engines of game audio, higher-order audio like Atomos and DTS, are what we’re putting into it,” says Sheridan, referring to ambisonic, non–channel-based sound. “Working on head tracking” — the ability of the audio to follow the VR viewer’s field of vision — “in a live capacity proved to be harder than we anticipated. No one supports it. What’s out there now is all based around postproduction: you capture, you acquire it, you sweeten it, render it, and put it out there. But doing audio for VR live is far more complex.” (For a complete overview of NextVR’s audio plans, click here.)
The VR movement on handheld devices and headsets is occurring at the same time the UHD movement is occurring on larger display panels. That means sports-production professionals are fighting a multifront war. Roller says the fact that VR is a whole new medium is a true differentiator that can ultimately create a new business mode.
“UHD is tough to upsell,” he adds, “but consumers will pay for this because it’s different.”