December 6, 2016

The German TV industry makes its move into virtual reality

The German TV industry has set its eyes on virtual reality. The first 360° video projects of TV stations like n-tv, RTL, Sky and ZDF allow viewers to immerse themselves in the screen action. The new entertainment form with 'genuine' interactive virtual reality (VR) productions and in-depth immersion of the viewer is still a challenge for all TV stations. Recently, the association 'Deutsche TV-Plattform' (German TV Platform) and the 3IT - Innovation Center for Immersive Imaging Technologies - of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute hosted a convention in Berlin to shine a light on the status quo and the prospects of virtual reality productions in the TV industry.

360° videos are a start – genuine virtual reality is a challenge
"360° videos are a start. The next step is the kicker! That step requires the creation of mixed reality formats with genuine interactivity,” says Frank Heineberg, Senior Manager of Program Distribution with the RTL media group. In the stern TV studio, he produced a 360° video, which brings the viewer closer to the moderator while the 360° view invites the viewer to have a look behind the scenes. The n-tv documentary 'Manheim – Flüchtlinge leben in der Geisterstadt (Manheim - Refugees Live in the Ghost Town)' puts the viewer in the center of the action. The major German TV station ZDF also explores the possibilities of the new storytelling format with its 360° video production of the Terra X sequel 'Mythos Wolfskind (Secrets of the Wolf Child)'.

Stephan Heimbecher, Director of Innovations & Standards with the Sky station describes the biggest challenge for the TV stations: "The big issue for all of us is whether we can develop genuine virtual reality formats and ways to tell stories beyond producing 360° videos". A live sports production by the Sky station showed first approaches to involving the viewer in a VR experience. The Sky team brought three 360° cameras to the DFB Cup Final in 2016 (DFB, German Soccer Association). The team put one camera in the main bleacher and one camera behind each of the two goals. By way of head movements, the viewer was able to switch between views and also call up team information and statistics.

Virtual reality headsets with higher resolution needed
Kathleen Schröter, Executive Manager of the 3IT Innovation Center at the Fraunhofer HHI, adds another point: "There are also still quite a few technical issues to be tackled. We are able to produce 10K 360° videos right now. However, the resolution of the VR headsets is too low to bring this advancement to the viewer. Then there is also the issue of transmitting the large data streams of top quality VR content, which is yet another kettle of fish.“ In response to this issue, the Fraunhofer HHI presented an intelligent DASH streaming solution based on high efficiency video coding (HEVC) at the 3IT.