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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.