Tag Archives: VR

Lenovo intros 15-inch VR-ready ThinkPad P52

Lenovo’s new ThinkPad P52 is a 15-inch, VR-ready and ISV-certified mobile workstation featuring an Nvidia Quadro P3200 GPU. The all-new hexa-core Intel Xeon CPU doubles the memory capacity to 128GB and increases PCIe storage. Lenovo says the ThinkPad excels in animation and visual effects project storage, the creation of large models and datasets, and realtime playback.

“More and more, M&E artists have the need to create on-the-go,” reports Lenovo senior worldwide industry manager for M&E Rob Hoffmann. “Having desktop-like capabilities in a 15-inch mobile workstation, allows artists to remain creative anytime, anywhere.”

The workstation targets traditional ISV workflows, as well as AR and VR content creation or deployment of mobile AI. Lenovo points to Virtalis, a VR and advanced visualization company, as an example of who might take advantage of the workstation.

“Our virtual reality solutions help clients better understand data and interact with it. Being able to take these solutions mobile with the ThinkPad P52 gives us expanded flexibility to bring the technology to life for clients in their unique environments,” says Steve Carpenter, head of solutions development for Virtalis. “The ThinkPad P52 powering our Virtalis Visionary Render software is perfect for engineering and design professionals looking for a portable solution to take their first steps into the endless possibilities of VR.”

The P52 also will feature a 4K UHD display with 400nits, 100% Adobe color gamut and 10-bit color depth. There are dual USB-C Thunderbolt ports supporting the display of 8K video, allowing users to take advantage of the ThinkPad Thunderbolt Workstation Dock.

The ThinkPad P52 will be available later this month.

Combining 3D and 360 VR for The Cabiri: Anubis film

Whether you are using 360 VR or 3D, both allow audiences to feel in on the action and emotion of a film narrative or performance, but combine the two together and you can create a highly immersive experience that brings the audience directly into the “reality” of the scenes.

This is exactly what film producers and directors Fred Beahm and Bogdan Darev have done in The Cabiri: Anubis, a 3D/360VR performance art film showing at the Seattle International Film Festival’s (SIFF) VR Zone on May 18 through June 10.

The Cabiri is a Seattle-based performance art group that creates stylistic and athletic dance and entertainment routines at theater venues throughout North America. The 3D/360VR film can now be streamed from the Pixvana app to the new Oculus Go headset, which is specifically designed for 3D and 360 streaming and viewing.

“As a director working in cinema to create worlds where reality is presented in highly stylized stories, VR seemed the perfect medium to explore. What took me by complete surprise was the emotional impact, the intimacy and immediacy the immersive experience allows,” says Darev. “VR is truly a medium that highlights our collective responsibility to create original and diverse content through the power of emerging technologies that foster curiosity and the imagination.”

“Other than a live show, 3D/360VR is the ideal medium for viewers to experience the rhythmic movement in The Cabiri’s performances. Because they have the feeling of being within the scene, the viewers become so engaged in the experience that they feel the emotional and dramatic impact,” explains Beahm, who is also the cinematographer, editor and post talent for The Cabiri film.

Beahm has a long list of credits to his name, and a strong affinity for the post process that requires a keen sense of the look and feel a director or producer is striving to achieve in a film. “The artistic and technical functions of the post process take a film from raw footage to a good result, and with the right post artist and software tools to a great film,” he says. “This is why I put a strong emphasis on the post process, because along with a great story and cinematography, it’s a key component of creating a noteworthy film. VR and 3D require several complex steps, and you want to use tools that simplify the process so you can save time, create high-quality results and stay within budget.”

For The Cabiri film, he used the Kandao Obsidian S camera, filming in 6K 3D360, then SGO’s Mistika VR for their stereo 3D optical-flow stitching. He edited in Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC 2018 and finished in Assimilate’s Scratch VR, using their 3D/360VR painting, tracking and color grading tools. He then delivered in 4K 3D360 to Pixvana’s Spin Studio.”

“Scratch VR is fast. For example, with the VR transform-and-vector paint tools I can quickly paint out the nadir, or easily delete unwanted artifacts like portions of a camera rig and wires, or even a person. It’s also easy to add in graphics and visual effects with the built-in tracker and compositing tools. It’s also the only software I use that renders content in the background while you continue working on your project. Another advantage is that Scratch VR will automatically connect to an Oculus headset for viewing 3D and 360,” he continues. “During our color grading session, Bogdan would wear an Oculus Rift headset and give me suggestions about changes I should make, such as saturation and hues, and I could quickly do these on the fly and save the versions for comparison.”

VR at NAB 2018: A Parisian’s perspective

By Alexandre Regeffe

Even though my cab driver from the airport to my hotel offered these words of wisdom — “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” — I’ve decided not to listen to him and instead share with you the things that impressed for the VR world at NAB 2018.

Back in September of 2017, I shared with you my thoughts on the VR offerings at the IBC show in Amsterdam. In case you don’t remember my story, I’m a French guy who jumped into the VR stuff three years ago and started a cinematic VR production company called Neotopy with a friend. Three years is like a century in VR. Indeed, this medium is constantly evolving, both technically and financially.

So what has become of VR today? Lots of different things. VR is a big bag where people throw AR, MR, 360, LBE, 180 and 3D. And from all of that, XR (Extended Reality) was born, which means everything.

Insta360 Titan

But if this blurred concept leads to some misunderstanding, is it really good for consumers? Even us pros are finding it difficult to explain what exactly VR is, currently.

While at NAB, I saw a presentation from Nick Bicanic during which he used the term “frameless media.” And, thank you, Nick, because I think that is exactly what‘s in this big bag called VR… or XR. Today, we consume a lot of content through a frame, which is our TV, computer, smartphone or cinema screen. VR allows us to go beyond the frame, and this is a very important shift for cinematographers and content creators.

But enough concepts and ideas, let us start this journey on the NAB show floor! My first stop was the VR pavilion, also called the “immersive storytelling pavilion” this year.

My next stop was to see SGO Mistika. For over a year, the SGO team has been delivering an incredible stitching software with its Mistika VR. In my opinion, there is a “before” and an “after” this tool. Thanks to its optical flow capacities, you can achieve a seamless stitching 99% of the time, even with very difficult shooting situations. The last version of the software provided additional features like stabilization, keyframe capabilities, more cameras presets and easy integration with Kandao and Insta360 camera profiles. VR pros used Mistika’s booth as sort of a base camp, meeting the development team directly.

A few steps from Misitka was Insta360, with a large, yellow booth. This Chinese company is a success story with the consumer product Insta360 One, a small 360 camera for the masses. But I was more interested in the Insta360 Pro, their 8K stereoscopic 3D360 flagship camera used by many content creators.

At the show, Insta360’s big announcement was Titan, a premium version of the Insta360 Pro offering better lenses and sensors. It’s available later this year. Oh, and there was the lightfield camera prototype, the company’s first step into the volumetric capture world.

Another interesting camera manufacturer at the show was Human Eyes Technology, presenting their Vuze+. With this affordable 3D360 camera you can dive into stereoscopic 360 content and learn the basics about this technology. Side note: The Vuze+ was chosen by National Geographic to shoot some stunning sequences in the International Space Station.

Kandao Obsidian

My favorite VR camera company, Kandao, was at NAB showing new features for its Obsidian R and S cameras. One of the best is the 6DoF capabilities. With this technology, you can generate a depth map from the camera directly in Kandao Studio, the stitching software, which comes free when you buy an Obsidian. With the combination of a 360 stitched image and depth map, you can “walk” into your movie. It’s an awesome technique for better immersion. For me this was by far the best innovation in VR technology presented on the show floor

The live capabilities of Obsidian cameras have been improved, with a dedicated Kandao Live software, which allows you to live stream 4K stereoscopic 360 with optical flow stitching on the fly! And, of course, do not forget their new Qoocam camera. With its three-lens-equipped little stick, you can either do VR 180 stereoscopic or 360 monoscopic, while using depth map technology to refocus or replace the background in post — all with a simple click. Thanks to all these innovations, Kandao is now a top player in the cinematic VR industry.

One Kandao competitor is ZCam. They were there with a couple of new products: the ZCam V1, a 3D360 camera with a tiny form factor. It’s very interesting for shooting scenes where things are very close to the camera. It keeps a good stereoscopy even on nearby objects, which is a major issue with most of VR cameras and rigs. The second one is the small E2 – while it’s not really a VR camera, it can be used as an underwater rig, for example.

ZCam K1 Pro

The ZCam product range is really impressive and completely targeting professionals, from ZCam S1 to ZCam V1 Pro. Important note: take a look at their K1 Pro, a VR 180 camera, if you want to produce high-end content for the Google VR180 ecosystem.

Another VR camera at NAB was Samsung’s Round, offering stereoscopic capabilities. This relatively compact device comes with a proprietary software suite for stitching and viewing 360 shots. Thanks to IP65 normalization, you can use this camera outdoors in difficult weather conditions, like rain, dust or snow. It was great to see the live streaming 4K 3D360 operating on the show floor, using several Round cameras combined with powerful Next Computing hardware.

VR Post
Adobe Creative Cloud 2018 remains the must-have tool to achieve VR post production without losing your mind. Numerous 360-specific functionalities have been added during the last year, after Adobe bought the Mettle Skybox suite. The most impressive feature is that you can now stay in your 360 environment for editing. You just put your Oculus rift headset on and manipulate your Premiere timeline with touch controllers and proceed to edit your shots. Think of it as a Minority Report-style editing interface! I am sure we can expect more amazing VR tools from Adobe this year.

Google’s Lightfield technology

Mettle was at the Dell booth showing their new Adobe CC 360 plugin, called Flux. After an impressive Mantra release last year, Flux is now available for VR artists, allowing them to do 3D volumetric fractals and to create entire futuristic worlds. It was awesome to see the results in a headset!

Distributing VR
So once you have produced your cinematic VR content, how can you distribute it? One option is to use the Liquid Cinema platform. They were at NAB with a major update and some new features, including seamless transitions between a “flat” video and a 360 video. As a content creator you can also manage your 360 movies in a very smart CMS linked to your app and instantly add language versions, thumbnails, geoblocking, etc. Another exciting thing is built-in 6DoF capability right in the editor with a compatible headset — allowing you to walk through your titles, graphics and more!

I can’t leave without mentioning Voysys for live-streaming VR; Kodak PixPro and its new cameras ; Google’s next move into lightfield technology ; Bonsai’s launch of a new version of the Excalibur rig ; and many other great manufacturers, software editors and partners.

See you next time, Sin City.

Dell makes updates to its Precision mobile workstation line

Recently, Dell made updates to its line of Precision mobile workstations targeting the media and entertainment industries. The Dell Precision 7730 and 7530 mobile workstations feature the latest eighth-generation IntelCore and Xeon processors, AMD Radeon WX and Nvidia Quadro professional graphics, 3200MHz SuperSpeed memory and memory capacity up to 128GB.

The Dell Precision 7530 is a 15-inch VR-ready mobile workstation with large PCIe SSD storage capacity, especially for a 15-inch mobile workstation — up to 6TB. Dell says the 7730 enables new uses such as AI and machine learning development and edge inference systems.

Also new is the 15-inch Dell Precision 5530 two-in-one, which targets content creation and editing and features a very thin design. A flexible 360-degree hinge enables multiple modes of interaction, including support for touch and pen. It features the next-generation InfinityEdge 4K Ultra HD display. The Dell Premium pen offers precise pressure sensitivity (4,096 pressure points), tilt functionality and low latency for an experience that is reminiscent of drawing on paper. The new MagLev keyboard design reduces keyboard thickness “without compromising critical keyboard shortcuts in content creation workflows,” and ultra-thin GORE Thermal Insulation keeps the system cool.

This workstation weighs 3.9 pounds and delivers next-generation professional graphics up to Nvidia Quadro P2000. With enhanced 2666MHz memory speeds up to 32GB, users can accelerate their complicated workflows. And with up to 4TB of SSD storage, users can access, transfer and store large 3D, video and multimedia files quickly and easily.

The fully customizable 15-inch Dell Precision 3530 mobile workstation features eighth-generation Intel Core and next-generation Xeon processors, memory speeds up to 2666MHz and Nvidia Quadro P600 professional graphics. It also features a 92WHr battery and wide range of ports, including HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt and VGA.

The-Artery embraces a VR workflow for Mercedes spots

The-Artery founder and director Vico Sharabani recently brought together an elite group of creative artists and skilled technologists to create a cross-continental VR production pipeline for Mercedes-Benz’s Masters tournament brand campaign called “What Makes Us.”

Emmy-nominated cinematographer Paul Cameron (Westworld) and VFX supervisor Rob Moggach co-directed the project, which features a series six of intense broadcast commercials — including two fully CGI spots that were “shot” in a completely virtual world.

The agency and The-Artery team, including Vico Sharabani (third from the right).

This pair of 30-second commercials, First and Can’t, are the first to be created using a novel, realtime collaborative VR software application called Nu Design with Atom View technology. While in Los Angeles, Cameron worked within a virtual world, choosing camera bodies and lenses inside the space that allowed him to “shoot” for POV and angles that would have taken weeks to complete in the real world.

The software enabled him to grab and move the camera while all artistic camera direction was recorded virtually and used for final renders. This allowed both Sharabani, who was in NYC, and Moggach, who was in Toronto, to interact live and in realtime as if they were standing together on a physical set.

We reached out to Sharabani, Cameron and Moggach for details on VR workflow, and how they see the technology impacting production and creativity.

How did you come to know about Nurulize and the Nu Design Atom View technology?
Vico Sharabani: Scott Metzger, co-founder of Nurulize, is a long-time friend, colleague and collaborator. We have all been supporting each other’s careers and initiatives, so as soon as the alpha version of Nu Design was operational, we jumped on the opportunity of deploying it in real production.

How does the ability to shoot in VR change the production paradigm moving forward?
Rob Moggach: From scout to pre-light to shoot, through to dailies and editorial, it allows us to collaborate on digital productions in a traditional filmmaking process with established roles and procedures that are known to work.

Instead of locking animated productions into a rigid board, previs, animation workflow, a director can make decisions on editorial and find unexpected moments in the capture that wouldn’t necessarily be boarded and animated otherwise. Being able to do all of this without geographical restriction and still feel like you’re together in the same room is remarkable.

What types of projects are ideal for this new production pipeline?
Sharabani: The really beautiful thing for The-Artery, as a first time user of this technology, is to prove that this workflow can be used by companies like us on every project, and not only in films by Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. The obvious ideal fit is for projects like fully CGI productions; previs of big CGI environments that need to be considered in photography; virtual previs of scouted locations in remote or dangerous locations; blocking of digital sets in pre-existing greenscreen or partially built stages; and multiple remote creative teams that need to share a vision and input

What are the specific benefits?
Moggach: With a virtual pipeline, we are able to…
1) Work much faster than traditional previs to quickly capture multiple camera setups.
2) Visualize environments and CGI with a camera in-hand to find shots you didn’t know were there on screen.
3) Interact closely regardless of location and truly feel together in the same place.
4) Use known filmmaking processes, allowing us to capitalize on established wisdom and experience.

What impacts will it have to creativity?
Paul Cameron: For me, the VR workflow added a great impact to the overall creative approach for both commercials. It enabled me to go into the environment and literally grab a camera, move around the car, be in the middle of the car, pull the camera over the car. Basically, it allowed me to put the camera in places I always wanted to put the camera, but it would take hours to get cranes or scaffold for different positions.

The other fascinating thing is that you are able to scale the set up and down. For instance, I was able to scale the car down to 25% its normal size and make a very drastic camera move over the car, handheld with a VR camera, and with the combination of slowing it down, and smoothing it down a bit, we were able to design camera moves that were very organic and very natural.

I think it also allowed me to achieve a greater understanding of the set size and space, the geometry of the set and the relationship of the car to the set. In the past, it would be a process of going through a wireframe, waiting for the rendering — in this case, the car — and programming camera moves. It basically helps with conceptualization of camera moves and shot design in a new way for me.

Also being a director of photography, it is very empowering to be able to grab the camera literally with a controller and move through that space. Again, it just takes a matter of seconds to make very dramatic camera moves, whereas even on set it could take upwards of an hour or two to move a technocrane and actually get a feel for that shot, so it is very empowering overall.

What does it now allow directors to achieve?
Cameron: One of the better features about the VR workflow is that you can actually just teleport yourself around the set while you are inside of it. So, basically, you picture yourself inside this set, and with a left hand controller and one for the right hand, you have the ability to kind of teleport yourself to different perspectives. In this case, the automobile, the geometry and wireframe geometry of the set, so it gives you a very good idea of the perspectives from different angles and you can move around really quickly.

The other thing that I found fascinating was that not only can you move around this set, in this case, I was able to fly… upwards of about 150 feet and look down on the set. This was, while you are immersed in the VR world, quite intoxicating. You are literally flying and hovering above the set, and it kind of feels like you are standing on a beam with no room to move forward or backward without falling.

Paul Cameron

So the ability to move around in an endless set perspective-wise and teleport yourself around and above the set looking down, was amazing. In the case of the Can’t commercial, I was able to teleport on the other side of the wind turbine and look back at the automobile.

Although we had the 3D CADs of sets in the past, and we were able to travel around and look at camera positions, somehow the immediacy and the power of being in the VR environment with the two controllers was quite powerful. I think for one of the sessions I had the glasses on for almost four hours straight. We recorded multiple camera moves, and everybody was quite shocked that I was in the environment for that long. But for me, it was like being on a set, almost like a pre-pre-light or something, where I was able to have my space as a director and move around and get to see my angles and design my shots.

What other tools did you use?
Sharabani: Houdini for CG,Redshift (with support of GridMarkets) for rendering, Nuke for compositing, Flame for finishing, Resolve for color grading and Premiere for editing.

Samsung’s 360 Round for 3D video

Samsung showed an enhanced Samsung 360 Round camera solution at NAB, with updates to its live streaming and post production software. The new solution gives professional video creators the tools they need — from capture to post — to tell immersive 360-degree and 3D stories for film and broadcast.

“At Samsung, we’ve been innovating in the VR technology space for many years, including introducing the 360 Round camera with its ruggedized design, superior low light and live streaming capabilities late last year,” says Eric McCarty of Samsung Electronics America.

The Samsung 360 Round offers realtime 3D video to PCs using the 360 Round’s bundled software so video creators can now view live video on their mobile devices using the 360 Round live preview app. In addition, the 360 Round live preview app allows creators to remotely control the camera settings, via Wi-Fi router, from afar. The updated 360 Round PC software now provides dual monitor support, which allows the editor to make adjustments and show the results on a separate monitor dedicated to the director.

Limiting luminance levels to 16-135, noise reduction and sharpness adjustments, as well as a hardware IR filter make it possible to get a clear shot in almost no light. The 360 Round also offers advanced stabilization software and the ability to color-correct on the fly, with an intuitive, easy-to-use histogram. In addition, users can set up profiles for each shot and save the camera settings, cutting down on the time required to prep each shot.

The 360 Round comes with Samsung’s advanced Stitching software, which weaves together video from each of the 360 Round’s 17 lenses. Creators can stitch, preview and broadcast in one step on a PC without the need for additional software. The 360 Round also enables fine-tuning of seamlines during a live production, such as moving them away from objects in realtime and calibrating individual stitchlines to fix misalignments. In addition, a new local warping feature allows for individual seamline calibrations in post, without requiring a global adjustment to all seamlines, giving creators quick and easy, fine-grain control of the final visuals.

The 360 Round delivers realtime 4K x 4K (3D) streaming with minimal latency. SDI capture card support enables live streaming through multiple cameras and broadcasting equipment with no additional encoding/decoding required. The newest update further streamlines the switching workflow for live productions with audio over SDI, giving producers less complex events (one producer managing audio and video switching) and a single switching source as the production transitions from camera to camera.

Additional new features:

  • Ability to record, stream and save RAW files simultaneously, making the process of creating dailies and managing live productions easier. Creators can now save the RAW files to make further improvements to live production recordings and create a higher quality post version to distribute as VOD.
  • Live streaming support for HLS over HTTP, which adds another transport streaming protocol in addition to the RTMP and RTSP protocols. HLS over HTTP eliminates the need to modify some restrictive enterprise firewall policies and is a more resilient protocol in unreliable networks.
  • Ability to upload direct (via 360 Round software) to Samsung VR creator account, as well as Facebook and YouTube, once the files are exported.

NextComputing, Z Cam, Assimilate team on turnkey VR studio

NextComputing, Z Cam and Assimilate have teamed up to create a complete turnkey VR studio. Foundation VR Studio is designed to provide all aspects of the immersive production process and help the creatives be more creative.

According to Assimilate CEO Jeff Edson, “Partnering with Z Cam last year was an obvious opportunity to bring together the best of integrated 360 cameras with a seamless workflow for both live and post productions. The key is to continue to move the market from a technology focus to a creative focus. Integrated cameras took the discussions up a level of integration away from the pieces. There have been endless discussions regarding capable platforms for 360; the advantage we have is we work with just about every computer maker as well as the component companies, like CPU and GPU manufacturers. These are companies that are willing to create solutions. Again, this is all about trying to help the market focus on the creative as opposed to debates about the technology, and letting creative people create great experiences and content. Getting the technology out of their way and providing solutions that just work helps with this.”

These companies are offering a few options with their Power VR Studio.

The Foundation VR Studio, which costs $8,999 and is available now includes:
• NextComputing Edge T100 workstation
o CPU: 6-core Intel core i7-8700K 3.7GHz processor
o Memory: 16GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM
• Z Cam S1 6K professional VR camera
• Z Cam WonderStitch software for offline stitching and profile creation
• Assimilate Scratch VR Z post software and live streaming for Z Cam

Then there is the Power VR Studio, for $10,999, which is also available now. It includes:
• NextComputing Edge T100 workstation
o CPU: 10-core Intel core i9-7900K 3.3GHz processor
o Memory: 32GB DDR4 2666MHz RAM
• Z Cam S1 6K professional VR camera
• Z Cam WonderStitch software for offline stitching and profile creation
• Assimilate Scratch VR Z post software and live streaming for Z Cam

These companies will be at NAB demoing the systems.

 

 

Supersphere offering flypacks for VR/360 streaming

Supersphere, a VR/360° production studio, will be at NAB this year debuting 12G glass-to-glass flypacks optimized for live VR/360° streaming. These multi-geometry (mesh/rectilinear/equirectangular) flypacks can handle 360°, 180°, 4K or HD production and seamlessly mix and match each geometry. They also include built-in VDN (video distribution network) encoding and delivery for live streaming to any platform or custom player.

“Live music, both in streaming and in ticket sales, has posted consistent growth in the US and Worldwide. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry and only getting bigger. We are investing in the immersive streaming market, because we see that trend reflected in our client requests,” explains founder/EP of Supershere. “Clients always want to provide audiences with the most engaging experience possible. An immersive environment is the way to do it.”

Each flypack is standard equipped with Z Cam K1 Pro 180° cameras and Z CAM S1 Pro 360° cameras, and customizable to any camera as productions demand. They are also equipped with Blackmagic’s latest ATEM Production Studio 4K live production switchers to facilitate multi-camera live production across a range of video sources. The included Assimilate Scratch VR Z enables realtime geometry, stitching, color grading, finishing and ambisonic audio. The system also offers fully integrated transcoding and delivery — Teleos Media’s VDN (Video Distribution Network) delivers immersive experiences to any devicewith instant start experience, sustained 16Mbps at high frame rates and 4K + VR resolutions. This allows clients to easily build custom 360° video players on their websites or apps as a destination for live-streamed content, in addition to streaming directly to YouTube, Facebook and other popular platforms.

“These flypacks provide an incredibly robust workflow that takes the complexity out of immersive live production — capable of handling the data required for stunning high-resolution projects in one flexible end-to-end package,” says Wilson. “Plus with Teleos’ VDN capabilities, we make it easy for any client to live stream high-end content directly to whatever device or app best suits their customers’ needs, including the option to quickly build custom, fully integrated 360° live players.”

Z Cam, Assimilate reduce price of S1 VR camera/Scratch VR bundle

The Z Cam S1 VR camera/WonderStitch/Assimilate Scratch VR Z bundle, an integrated VR production workflow offering, is now $3,999, down from $4,999.

The Z Cam S1/Scratch VR Z bundle provides acquisition via Z Cam’s S1 pro VR camera, stitching via the WonderStitch software and a streamlined VR post workflow via Assimilate’s realtime Scratch VR Z tools.

Here are some details:
If streaming live 360 from the Z Cam S1 through Scratch VR Z, users can take advantage of realtime features such as inserting/composting graphics/text overlays, including animations, and keying for elements like greenscreen — all streaming live to Facebook Live 360.

Scratch VR Z can be used to do live camera preview, prior to shooting with the S1. During the shoot, Scratch VR Z is used for dailies and data management, including metadata. It’s a direct connect to the PC and then to the camera via a high-speed Ethernet port. Stitching of the imagery is done in Z Cam’s WonderStitch, now integrated into Scratch VR Z, then comes traditional editing, color grading, compositing, multichannel audio from the S1 or adding external ambisonic sound, finishing and then publishing to all final online or stand-alone 360 platforms.

The Z Cam S1/Scratch VR Z bundle is available now.

Editing 360 video with Lenovo’s Explorer WMR headset

By Mike McCarthy

Microsoft has released its Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) platform as part of the Fall Creator’s Update to Windows 10. This platform allows users to experience a variety of immersive experiences, and thankfully there are now many WMR headsets available from many familiar names in the hardware business. One of those is from Lenovo who kindly sent me their Explorer WMR headset to test on my Thinkpad P71. This provided me with a complete VR experience on their hardware.

On November 15, Microsoft’s WMR released beta support for SteamVR on WMR devices. This allows WMR headsets to be used in applications that are compatible with SteamVR. For example, the newest release of Adobe Premiere Pro (CC 2018, or V.12.0) uses SteamVR for 360 video preview.

My goal for this article was to see if I could preview my 360 videos in a Lenovo headset while editing in Premiere, especially now that I had new 360 footage from my GoPro Fusion camera. I also provide some comparisons to the Oculus Rift which I reviewed for postPerspective in October.

There are a number of advantages to the WMR options, including lower prices and hardware requirements, higher image resolution and simpler setup. Oculus and HTC’s VR-Ready requirements have always been a bit excessive for 360 video, because unlike true 3D VR there is no 3D rendering involved when playing back footage from a fixed perspective. But would it work? No one seemed to know if it would, but Lenovo was willing to let me try.

The first step is to get your installation of Windows 10 upgraded with the Fall Creators Update. This includes integrated support for Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Once installed, you can plug in the single USB3 cable and HDMI port and Windows will automatically configure the device and its drivers for you. You will also need to install Valve’s Steam application and SteamVR, which adds support for VR content. The next step is to find Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR in the Steam store, which is a free installation. Once you confirm that the headset is functioning in WMR and then in SteamVR, open up Premiere Pro and test it out.

Working in Premiere Pro
Within Premiere Pro, preview and playback worked immediately within my existing immersive project. I watched footage captured with my Samsung Gear 360 and GoPro Fusion cameras. The files played, and the increased performance within the new version of the software is noticeable. My 4K and 5K 30fps content worked great, but my new 3Kp60 content only played when Mercury Playback was set to software-only, which disabled most of the new Immersive Video effects. In CUDA mode, I could hold down the right arrow and watch it progress in slow motion, but pressing the space bar caused the VR preview to freeze even though it played fine on the laptop monitor. The 60p content played fine in the Rift, so this appears to be an issue specific to WMR. Hopefully, that will be addressed in a software update in the near future.

The motion controllers were visible in the interface, and allow you to scrub the timeline, but I still had to use space-bar to start and stop playback. (Update: The 12.1 release of Premiere Pro support WMR headsets, and testing confirms that 60p now works, and the motion controllers are fully functional and can control playback.) One other issue that arose was that the mouse cursor is hidden when the display is snapped down into place over my eyes, which is an intrinsic feature of WMR. I had to tip it up out of the way every time I wanted to make a change, instead of just peeking under it, which is a lot of snapping up and down for the headset.

I found the WMR experience to be slightly less solid than the Oculus system. It would occasionally lag on the tracking for a couple of frames, causing the image to visibly jump. This may be due to the integrated tracking instead of dedicated external cameras. The boundary system is a visual distraction, so I would recommend disabling it if you are primarily using it for 360 video — because it doesn’t require moving much within your space. The setup on the WMR is better; it is much easier and has lower requirements and fewer ports needed. The resolution is higher than the Oculus Rift I had tested, (1440×1440 per eye instead of 1080×1200), so I wanted to see how much of a difference that would make. The Explorer also has a narrower field of view (105 degrees instead of 110), which I wouldn’t expect to make a difference, but I think it did.

By my calculations, the increased resolution should allow you to resolve a 5K sphere, compared to the 3.9K resolution available from the Rift — 1440pixels/105degrees*360 vs 1080pixels /110degrees*360. You will also want a pair of headphones or earbuds to plug into the headset so the audio tracks with your head (compared to your computer speakers, which are fixed).

The Feel of the Headset
The headset is designed very differently from the Rift, and the display can be tipped up out of the way while the headband is still on. It is also way easier to put on and remove, but a bit less comfortable to keep on for longer periods of time. The headband has to be on tight enough to hold the display in front of your eyes, since it doesn’t rest on your face, and the cabling has to slide through a clip on the headband when you fold the display upward. And since you have to fold the display upward to use the mouse, it is a frequent annoyance. But between the motion controllers and the keyboard, you can navigate and playback while the headset is on.

Using the Microsoft WMR lobby interface was an interesting experience, but I’m not sure if it’s going to catch on. SteamVR’s lobby experience isn’t much better, but Steam does offer a lot more content for its users. I anticipate Steam will be the dominant software platform based on the fact that most hardware vendors have support for it — HTC, Oculus, WMR. The fact that Adobe chose SteamVR to support their immersive preview experience is why these new WMR headsets work in Premiere Pro without any further software updates needed on their part. (Adobe doesn’t officially support this configuration yet, hence the “beta” designation in SteamVR, but besides 60p playback, I was very happy.) Hopefully we will only see further increased support and integration between the various hardware and software options in the future.

Summing Up
Currently, the Lenovo Explorer and the Oculus Rift are both priced the same at $399 — I say currently because prices have been fluctuating, so investigate thoroughly. So which one is better? Well, neither is a clear winner. Each has its own strengths. The Rift has more specific hardware requirements and lower total resolution. The Explorer requires Windows 10, but will work on a wider array of systems. The Rift is probably better for periods of extended use, while I would recommend the Explorer if you are going to be doing something that involves taking it on and off all the time (like tweaking effects settings in Adobe apps). Large fixed installations may offer a better user experience with the Rift or Vive on a powerful GPU, but most laptop users will probably have an easier time with the Explorer (no external camera to calibrate and fewer ports needed).


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.