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Getting Real About VR Video

Alan Breznick

Will virtual reality video turn out to be the next 3D-TV fiasco for the video industry?

That's one of the big questions as TV programmers, broadcasters, pay-TV providers, OTT distributors, tech providers, consumer electronics makers and other players in the massive video chain descend upon Las Vegas this weekend for the latest edition of the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show. Burned by their epic failure with 3D-TV earlier this decade, video industry executives are more than just a bit leery about unleashing another promising but largely unproven technology on consumers.

VR advocates freely acknowledge such concerns. But they argue that VR video's fate will be decidedly different than 3D-TV's because the new technology is far more viable. Among other things, they cite the growing number of VR broadcasts in recent months, particularly of sporting events like the Winter Olympics, NBA All-Star Game and NCAA men's college basketball tournament. (See What's the Reality of VR Video? )

Advocates also argue that consumer demand for VR video appears to be much stronger at this early stage than it ever was for 3D-TV. They note that VR headset sales are rising steadily with the growth of VR video games while VR-enhanced TV programs are drawing more viewers for longer periods of time. The NBA, for instance, has reported that the average viewing time for its VR TV broadcasts has climbed from seven minutes per game initially to 42 minutes per game, although that still pales in comparison to an average of three hours per game for traditional TV broadcasts. (See Intel to Power NBA's VR Coverage.)

But that doesn't mean VR video is a slam dunk to succeed. Not by any means. Major bandwidth and latency issues must still be resolved before video providers can start delivering high-quality immersive experiences to large numbers of viewers. For example, Broadband Forum has calculated that it will take up to 68 Mbit/s per stream to deliver an elementary 360-degree VR video experience to viewers. And the group estimates that it will take a staggering 8 Gbit/s per stream to deliver a truly rich, full-featured VR video experience. (See CTA Bullish on AR/VR, but Challenges Remain.)

Then there's the pesky headset issue, which helped doom 3D-TV. While VR headsets have gotten lighter, more comfortable and more affordable, aiding their rise in popularity, they are still nowhere close to being a mainstream household device. And how many viewers really want to wear clunky headsets just to watch TV?

Given all this, what are the prospects for VR video? How can the technology's potential be realized and the hurdles overcome? In a special Light Reading breakfast forum at next week's NAB Show -- run in tandem with the Streaming Video Alliance and the VR Industry Forum (VRIF) -- experts from across the video spectrum will address the current state of VR video, explore its opportunities and challenges and chart a path forward for the new technology.

Want to learn more the state of VR video, technology opportunities and challenges? Register now for Light Reading’s The Reality of VR Video Breakfast at the NAB Show on April 9 in Las Vegas. The event is FREE for all NAB attendees – don’t miss out!

In a series of short presentations and fireside chats followed by a broader panel discussion, our featured speakers will include: Michael Davies, Senior Vice President, Field & Technical Operations for Fox Sports Media Group; Mark Fisher, Vice President, Marketing & Business Development at Qwilt; Rob Koenen, President of VRIF; Richard Mills, Technical Director of Sky VR Studios; Jason Thibeault, Executive Director of the Streaming Video Alliance; Dirk Van Dall, VP of Multimedia Technology at BAMTECH Media; T.J. Vitolo, Director of Product Management at Verizon; Evan Wimer, Co-Founder & Chairman of C360, Inc.; and Thomas Wrede, Vice President, New Technology & Standards at SES.

So please join us on Monday, April 9th at the Las Vegas Convention Center for this special breakfast forum, which is free to all NAB Show attendees. Sign up here now to register for the breakfast forum. We'll have plenty of coffee, eggs and bacon to start your day off right and keep you going. (See The Reality of VR Video @ 2018 NAB Show.)

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, >Light Reading

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