YouTube Makes VR a Reality

The future is finally here.

YouTube Inc. announced today that its Android app now supports virtual reality (VR), a way of experiencing video that makes it look like the action is happening all around you. The news has two different parts. First, users can view videos that were specifically designed for the VR experience. Second, existing YouTube videos can be screened through a filter of sorts designed to simulate VR viewing.

Both VR options require the Android app, the user's phone and a Google Cardboard viewer. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) links to a number of low-cost Cardboard headsets on its Cardboard site.

Google Cardboard viewer
Google Cardboard viewer

Probably not coincidentally, Google, which owns YouTube, is also kicking off a partnership with The New York Times today to bring VR to NYT stories. The newspaper is publishing select stories with a VR component and making the content available on an NYT VR app. As part of promoting the new feature, Google is shipping a Google Cardboard headset to New York Times subscribers.

So what does all of this mean from a service provider perspective? It means the tipping point for early-stage VR is close, and the demands of the experience are going to put pressure on service provider networks. The issue isn't so much about bandwidth, although experts put the required bandwidth for a VR stream anywhere between roughly 8 Mbits/s and 16 Mbits/s, which is a 2x to 4x increase over a Netflix stream today. Rather, the problem will come with the latency requirements for virtual reality. As technology analyst Antonin Lapiche from Orange Silicon Valley told Light Reading in the spring, fiber connections are the best option for VR apps, which typically require sub 60-millisecond latency to be successful. (See Gigabit Cities: I've Seen the Future.)

Want to know more about the impact of web services on the pay-TV sector? Check out our dedicated OTT services content channel here on Light Reading.

The other bottleneck for VR is likely to come on WiFi connections. Even with fiber to the home, broadband is usually accessed at far less than peak speeds because users connect from their devices over WiFi. WiFi performance can drop precipitously when multiple devices are sharing a network; when older-model smart phones and tablets cut into network efficiency; and when users move out of ideal range of a wireless access point.

Unfortunately for broadband providers, many users still blame their ISPs when WiFi performance is sub-optimal. Virtual reality is one of the applications that's going to tax performance further and ultimately heap more blame on broadband operators despite their still-limited control over the WiFi user experience.

The future is here, and the future needs better broadband. Virtual reality and Google are making sure of it.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

nasimson 11/8/2015 | 10:44:36 PM
Looks funny I've tried Google VR recommended by an exColleague working in Google. It was awesome. But to any second person looking at me it was surely looking funny. So I am not sure if I would be using it in office or outdoors.
wanlord 11/7/2015 | 11:39:11 AM
Re: Buy dramamine stock! I think the nausea problem may depend on the application and experience, and vary by person. I personally have used Oculus Rift for 30+ mins and experienced nothing. They have come along way and will solve these problems.
mhhf1ve 11/6/2015 | 2:06:51 PM
Re: Buy dramamine stock! The NYT seems like a weird starting point for VR? What kind of VR content does the NYT have that will be compelling? 

KBode 11/6/2015 | 10:31:54 AM
Re: Buy dramamine stock! I thought that was pretty clever myself.

There's about a million $10-$20 options on Amazon that look promising, I should probably give one of them a whirl. Very eager to see if I can grab a Vive later in the year, though (assuming that's even going to be possible, which I doubt).
msilbey 11/6/2015 | 10:22:42 AM
Re: Buy dramamine stock! Lucky for me it looks like we'll be getting a Cardboard viewer with the Sunday NYT paper. Yes, my house still gets the paper. Though more often than not recently someone's been tossing it up out of reach on our porch roof. Funny the first couple of times...
KBode 11/6/2015 | 10:15:51 AM
Re: Buy dramamine stock! I have the same problem, but plan to jump in with both feet initially anyway. Take a few dramamine. Hopefully most developers have conquered the problem.

Been meaning to try out cardboard until the release of the Vive and Occulus, but it seems kind of like a gimmick and there's about fifty headsets to choose from, all with very different build quality.
mhhf1ve 11/5/2015 | 8:47:27 PM
Buy dramamine stock! Solving the "nausea problem" for VR is still out there... so I'm not sure how big VR can get without a non-lagging and non-sickening version that actually works.

I'm optimistic that VR will become a common tool, but I still get really seasick just watching regular FPS games.
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