This Video Explains Why Streaming Technology Needs A Major Upgrade For VR

by Ian Hamilton • July 21st, 2016

Producing 360-degree video content is incredibly easy now, with new cameras like the Gear 360 on the market. Getting these panoramic videos distributed to people around the world, though, is causing companies across the entire industry to completely rethink the way they stream video.

A post by Facebook earlier this year outlined the problem with streaming VR: “The maximum visual resolution in the GearVR…is 6K — and that’s just for one eye. A 6K stereo video at 60 fps is roughly 20x larger than a full HD video, with an average bit rate of 245 Mbps. However, most mobile hardware can play only 4K video.”

In other words, there’s an incredible amount of data contained within some of the highest resolution 360-degree video files, so companies like Facebook and Google need to intelligently push that detail out to VR headsets so people don’t have to wait for long downloads or look at faces with unrecognizable features. Adaptive streaming, outlined in the link above, was Facebook’s immediate answer — it only streams where you’re actually looking at any given moment. We’ve also now heard from Seattle-based Pixvana, which is developing more efficient streaming techniques too that can be hosted on Amazon’s cloud rather than Facebook’s.

pixvana-projection“We are huge believers/proponents of immersive 360 films, and along with Facebook are working on techniques that will greatly improve the experience,” wrote Forest Key, the CEO of VR startup Pixvana, in an email. “In our case, we are proposing a general method for addressing, which we call Field of View Adaptive Streaming…our industry needs to start to speak to this notion/variation in needs that are specific to VR video delivery.”

How exactly Pixvana does this is of high interest to anybody involved in 360-degree videos, and luckily they’ve made a video (check it out above) which does a great job of explaining a very dense subject. Essentially, when a person turns their head, it switches to a version of the video file optimized for that particular view.

“What we are solving is a general method to bring this Field of View Adaptive Streaming to the broader market, and we aim to work with standards bodies and content publishers to define best practices in this regard,” wrote Key. “Our solution is a general approach for cross-platform HMD and app publishing, and we are in discussion with numerous large media companies about using our system for improving quality/efficiency of video within their branded apps/channels.”



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What's your reaction?
  • Graham J

    These are all just methods of optimizing the transmission of something that is not that great in the first place – fixed-perspective surround video. Anyone who’s tried FB’s adaptive streaming knows it doesn’t keep up fast enough to prevent being noticeable, but even if it did, watching these videos stops being interesting the second you try actually walking around a virtual environment.

    Light fields or some other method for capturing and reproducing a 3-dimensional scene such that you can walk around in it, or at least move your head a bit, is the future. Might as well focus on that, so to speak.

    • People love fixed perspective 360 video, it’s low hanging fruit and easy to implement. (and you don’t try walking around because you can’t) So if we can make it better today so why not?

      Large light fields have to be recorded from the outside in to capture that volume you want to walk around in. Until we can toss a swarm of tiny recording drones into the air that implementation is scaffoldings of hundreds of cameras. It will come but we are talking 2020s. Personally I’ll take imperfect now and take better as it comes.

      • Graham J

        What I meant was actually walking around in a virtual environment lowers the impact of experiences where you cannot, such as 360 videos. I’m sure you’ve noticed this.

        You’re right that it’s a ways off and there’s nothing wrong with looking into optimizing, it’s just important to realize this is an interim step.

        That said, 4k video matches almost perfectly with the angular resolution of today’s HMDs so until that increases I don’t think this is a huge issue anyway.

    • I don’t think improving the technology of today and building the technology of the future are necessarily mutually exclusive.

      • Graham J