IBC2022: This Technical Paper focuses on the workflow for live events experienced in a VR headset.
Prior services with 4K VR highlighted the potential of live VR video services but fell short of the resolution required for a great live sports experience. 4K resolution is not nearly enough to meet the expectations of viewers typically watching HD television. Intel is answering business needs with end-to-end solutions powered by Intel® Xeon® processors that are designed to deliver live 8K VR and 360-degree video experiences to billions of viewersacross the globe. One such solution was on display at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, where Intel VR technology platforms enabled the capture and production of the first-ever fully produced live 8K VR video broadcast for Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), which then made it available to rights holding broadcasters (RHBs) worldwide.
Intel is a Worldwide Olympic partner (TOP) for delivering VR technology platforms to the Olympics and Paralympics. Using the latest processors, graphics cards, accelerators, cameras and distribution technologies, Intel collaborated with OBS and other partners to produce and deliver a trailblazing 8K live VR experience. In an industry first, this collaboration streamed over 100 hours of fully produced Olympic events in Beijing in VR, with graphics and commentary. Live coverage included six sports including hockey, snowboarding and figure skating in ground-breaking 8K resolution for both VR180 and VR360. The user reviews were excellent, and we believe that a VR production at this quality meets the bar for attracting a wide, general audience.
VR video, live and cinematic, experienced a hype cycle rollercoaster over the last 7 years. The expectations were severely inflated around 2016 and there was a deep trough of disil-lusionment around the turn of the decennium. Throughout this hype cycle, technology development continued: VR cameras, headsets, and distribution technology have all stead-ily improved. Technology advancements and industry shifts heralded a renewed interest in VR and this time around, the technology exists to meet the quality demands for a compelling, sticky user experience.
While prior live sports trials and services proved their potential, the 4K 360-degree resolution fell short of what is required for a great VR experience. VR video that is spread across 180 or 360 degrees requires a very high source resolution to meet the expectations of viewers typically watching HD television. With the latest cameras, graphics cards and distribution technologies, we can now produce and deliver a trailblazing 8K live VR experience. In an industry first, we partnered with OBS who streamed over 100 hours of Olympic events in Beijing at ground-breaking 8K quality for VR360 and VR180. Enabled by Intel and various third parties, OBS produced and distributed events in six sports: ice hockey, snowboarding, free style skiing, curling, short track, and figure skating as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. All events were streamed live, across the globe, to users in the USA, China, as well as to select users in Europe.
The events were distributed to headsets, mobile devices and web players, and the content included live events as well as on-demand features. This paper’s focus is on the workflow for live events experienced in a VR headset.
The production used five VR180 cameras in a director switched “VR Cast” which the user experienced in a virtual suite environment. They also had access to one VR360 camera for total immersion. The user could freely switch between the 180 and the 360 feeds. Events were available for full replay immediately after the event, with the app also showing event highlights and special features – all in VR. As a part of the experience, a virtual HD “Jumbo-tron” showed the TV broadcast, with broadcast announcers in the audio feed.
The content was available in the USA for users of “NBC Olympics VR by Xfinity” app, and in China with CCTV’s Yangshipin app. Chinese users also had access to web streams in mobile apps and browsers. App store reviews raved about the significant quality increase over similar VR experiences in the past.
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