XR Killed the Television Star
Remember the moment when MTV changed the music industry? It was Saturday, August 1, 1981, when the network broadcast their first music video – Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles.
In I Want My MTV, The Buggles’ songwriter and lead singer, Trevor Horn, writes: “It came from this idea that technology was on the verge of changing everything. Video recorders had just come along, which changed people’s lives. We’d see people starting to make videos as well, and we were excited by that. It felt like radio was the past and video was the future. There was a shift coming.”
With the rise of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies (XR), we’re beginning to see a comparable shift. There are some lessons about media innovation to be learned from MTV and The Buggles. Just as video killed the radio star, XR is killing flatscreens. Additionally, the low resolution of these early music videos – revolutionary in their time but primitive by today’s standards – is a warning to contemporary content creators.
Unless XR creators shoot high-resolution video masters, their media will become obsolete when headset and camera resolution improve.
Resolution matters, especially for virtual reality
Resolution will continue to increase, just like we have seen with music videos jumping from 320 x 160 to 4K. As the next round of HMDs show up with higher resolution, the number of required pixels will grow very quickly. This is great news for intensifying the experience of immersion and presence, but poses some challenges for content creators.
Most VR video content is currently shot in 4K, which is the widely accepted standard for digital media delivery in the film and video production industry. While 4K content may look flawless on your HD flatscreen, it will be soft and blurry in VR.
Why? Because in your VR goggles, 4K video stretches to about 1K per eye.
The Case for 8K Masters
4K video appears fuzzy and pixelated, even in 2K headsets. Worse yet, it won’t be possible to upgrade your masters to match the native resolution of the next generation of headsets.
If you master at 8K, your content will look better in today and tomorrow’s headsets.
After your source material exceeds headset resolution, more pixels aren’t actually displayed, but more image detail contributes to the final presentation. The difference in clarity is dramatic when comparing 8K and 4K content in a 2K headset.
We’ve developed a VR video delivery system for our SPIN Studio platform that utilizes Field of View Adaptive Streaming (FOVAS) to save bandwidth and optimizes huge media files into streamable bit rates. FOVAS projects the master into a series of 30 frustum-shaped streams that switch to maximize resolution depending on network speed and where the viewer is looking. Currently SPIN Studio accommodates up to 10K masters and FOVAS will handle source resolution up to 16K. We deliver the most resolution an HMD can deliver, with low latency switching of under 1/4 of a second between viewports on PC-based platforms, like Vive and Oculus, and minimal latency of under ½ of a second on mobile.
Let’s walk through an example of how FOVAS handles an 8K master. When watching a VR video, the viewer typically has a 120-degree field of view. We begin with a resolution that is greater—8K—than what a 2K headset can handle and encode a focused portion of that for each field-of-view. By oversampling the view, we make sure you don’t see aliasing and are able to deliver maximum native resolution across any headset in market today. For an 8K master, FOVAS encodes to meet native HMD resolution equivalent to a 1920 x 1280 video stream, or roughly 7% of the pixels from the 8K stream.
You’ll see amazing results on SPIN Studio when you upload 6K or 8K master files.
The above image is a simulation of streaming resolution.
Optimize your content for today and protect for tomorrow
Ideally, creators should finish at the highest resolution their capture system can provide. More pixels means more rendering time and more time for detail work. As with anything, there is a tradeoff of quality and time. SPIN Studio utilizes the cloud so you don’t have to make that tradeoff. Instead of spending hours rendering with desktop tools, you’ll get quality results in minutes.
The lesson from MTV and The Buggles? Protect your content by shooting in as high of resolution as you can afford, so that your work lasts through the shifts to come. No one’s killing your VR star on our watch!
Learn more about SPIN Studio and sign up for our beta program.